Customer research like a pro (even if you aren’t one)

14/02/2022 | By Naveed
Summary points:
  • Three customer research methods to know your customer intimately.

I was uncharacteristically abrupt in my last article, taking aim at companies that refuse to do meaningful customer research.

I’ll show you the only three customer research tools you need to get started, which you can later scale specifically to your business needs.

Think of these tools as jet fuel to get to the coveted 30,000 foot view. They cover (a) what users tell you (b) what users do (c) what users say to others - all gold dust.

Ready? Let’s do it!

The big three

1 on 1 interviews

Interviews are a personal favourite because of the immense flexibility they offer. Ask high quality questions, and you’ll get 10x the insight compared to any team brainstorm.

The best thing about interviews? They allow for new topics that you never considered important to be brought up, which surveys and other objective data collection methods miss completely.

So, how do you ask the right questions? By asking the wrong ones first.

Start by doing this:

  1. Identify all the segments you cater to (including non-customers and churned users)
  2. Come up with 8 highly focused questions for each segment
  3. Interview 3 people from each segment
  4. Get the interviewee to ask you questions

With your findings and user suggestions, repeat the process with new users and improved questions. Keep refining your questions by repeating steps 1-4 until you feel you’ve nailed the key issue that is preventing users from taking desired action.

You may uncover findings, such as your messaging unknowingly speaks more to Segment A, while alienating the more profitable Segment B. Or that Segment C misunderstands your product’s value prop → signs up with low CAC → then churns in high numbers.

Establish a minimum number of monthly interviews you’d like to conduct with each segment and assign someone in your marketing team as responsible for (a) creating interview questions (b) sourcing interviewees (c) interviewing them (d) recording and reporting the findings.

Protip: Befriend users from each segment, and run copy, marketing, and product ideas by them to validate your thinking.

Usability testing

While interviews dig into what users say, usability testing allows you to see what customers do by having them interact with a UI and share their thoughts out loud. User Testing beautifully calls this ‘closing the empathy gap’.

Brands make the mistake of conducting usability tests on landing pages and product UIs after they’ve been coded and shipped. Users are rarely counselled for their input during ideation, which can lead to poor performance out in the wild.

Start by doing this:

Create mockups and prototypes in a tool like Figma, and record users completing tasks. Ask them to actively give you audio feedback on what they expected where, what’s getting in their way and where they feel stuck.

You’d be surprised how many leaks your users will identify, which you and your team completely missed. This process will help you fix those leaks before shipping.

Gradually invest in improving your team’s ability to create environments and design tests in which unwanted variables, that can affect the reliability of responses, are eliminated.

UX research overall is only as good as its reporting, and lukewarm reporting gets ignored. Make your reporting more impactful by tying major findings to company KPIs.

Online communities

The number of marketing teams that never invest time into researching what their target audience is talking about is astonishing. Just because this method of research is almost exclusively qualitative , doesn't mean it's unreliable.

Whether it’s subreddits or dedicated Slack channels, your customers all either (a) hangout somewhere online or (b) have a go-to source for trusted information. If you can’t initially contribute on these platforms, it pays to listen.

Start by doing this:

Join the channels where your target audience discusses problems you’re trying to solve. Take note of recurring themes, language used to describe those themes, and proposed solutions to the problems discussed.

Once you’ve done that, compare your current brand positioning and messaging to what your target audience is actually saying.

Finally, experiment with findings in landing page copy and design to see what resonates most and converts best. Don’t be afraid to stray away from your brand voice (if your current one isn’t converting, you need a new one anyway!) Rinse and repeat until you find the angles that work.

This form of research can go beyond experimenting with copy and into deeper strategic questions, such as new product ideas or geographical expansion. Handle with care.

Somewhat wise words

Customer research is an ongoing process and not a static, one time thing. Like all marketing activities, customer research needs to be systematised, automated and recorded. Only then can it demand a seat at the big boy’s table.

Initially, a little reserah is a lot. Scale the process once reliable systems of research and discussing findings have been found.

Written by Naveed

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