Customer research is an extremely broad term — like other high level concepts such as inbound marketing or product management, companies unpack the subcategories beneath these concepts in order to build tailored processes that result in key outcomes. In the same way that an inbound marketing team might prioritize long-form written content and webinars, a research team might find that surveys and customer interviews produce the best product insights. The takeaway is that successful customer research is going to look different for almost every organization, so let’s dive into some best practices and learn how to build a research process for your business.
Customer Research Best Practices
For the purposes of this post we’ll be breaking down best practices for both qualitative and quantitative research.
Surveys: We’ve all been asked to take surveys for products we use. These surveys ask us questions that aim to tell researchers how we interact with products, how we feel about products, and where products fall short. Surveys can be extremely powerful when used correctly, but you have to be careful not to introduce bias to your customers with leading questions, unnecessary length, or even compensation for completing your survey.
ProfitWell wrote up some key lessons from sending over five million customer development surveys — their suggestions are to keep surveys short (less than one minute to complete) and send them frequently rather than sending long surveys less frequently; ask meaningful questions that make it easy for your survey takers to provide feedback; and focus on building a community where customer feedback and input are praised, rather than trying to incentivize survey takers.
Customer Interviews: Interviews are, surprisingly, one of the easiest customer research tools to get wrong. So many people downplay customer interviews by thinking of them as an open conversation between yourself and your customer, but this mindset sets you up to fail. You need to treat customer interviews as important opportunities to get in-depth answers to specific questions. When someone agrees to an interview, they’re signaling willingness to talk about your product candidly; take advantage of this opportunity to learn what excites and engages your customer, but also what frustrates, annoys, or confuses them.
Jason Amunwa has a great writeup about how to prepare for customer interviews and find key insights. He goes into great detail about his process, but some key takeaways are to be intentional with your preparation and allow your interviewee to tell his or her story rather than just answering question after question.
Customer Feedback: Most of your customers want you to succeed, and are willing to give you feedback as long as you make it relatively easy for them to do so. There are so many tools available to us that facilitate customer feedback conversations — chat and support tools like Drift, Intercom, and Zendesk lend themselves to this task perfectly. When you receive feedback, your primary short-term goal will usually be to address that feedback with a solution, an alternative, or at the very least acknowledgement that an issue exists. But this feedback should also factor into a longer term goal of recognizing trends and themes within your feedback so you can recognize when big changes or shifts in your product strategy are necessary.
Intercom has some great suggestions for organizing customer feedback for research purposes, with the main takeaways being to develop a code or taxonomy that allows you to easily find insights within your feedback. Just be mindful of your time, because creating this code and constantly updating a spreadsheet/document with each new piece of feedback can be very labor intensive. Sometimes it makes more sense to find a product that will automate this entire process for you, but more on that later.
Engagement Metrics: Dedicated user researchers spend a lot of time studying how users interact with their products. There are numerous analytics tools that track user journeys, provide heatmaps, and generally track user behavior within your product. These tools are great for providing specific insights, as long as you pay attention to the sample size of the actions being measured. You wouldn’t want to rely on data from only a small subset of users when considering making changes to your growth or product strategy.
Mixpanel published a helpful guide for understanding and leveraging customer analytics to build a better business. A main takeaway is the importance of pairing quantitative user behavior with qualitative data to get more complete picture of your customers. Interviews and feedback are great, but you can’t always trust your users to give you the full picture.
Feedback Sentiment: Customer feedback is qualitative when taken at face value, but when feedback is aggregated and analyzed for trends and themes it starts to become quantitative. One of the best ways to leverage feedback for quantitative research is to organize feedback by sentiment. This can be as simple as organizing feedback into positive, neutral, and negative categories, or as complicated as creating a multi-faceted scoring system that is specific to your company. Regardless of the method you use, the key is to have some way of organizing and coding feedback for research purposes.
Building and automating your research process
To reiterate — successful customer research is going to look different for almost every company. The key is to have an actual research process that incorporates both qualitative and quantitative research so you can get a more complete picture of your customers. If you’re not doing any of the research listed above, start small and try to dedicate just one hour each week to learning more about your customers. You’ll build up from there and find key insights in no time.
Eventually though, all of your research activities are going to be difficult to manage due to the numerous feedback sources and overall volume of feedback. That’s where a product like NomNom can help. Not only do we aggregate all of your feedback in one place, we make it easy to organize and code your feedback automatically. If you want to find key insights faster and build better experiences for your customers, give us a try.