Customer research methods

Your customers are the reason your business exists. Gathering as much information as you can about them through customer research will help refine and grow your business. The type of business you have and the kind of information you need to gather will influence the customer research methods you choose. You can conduct customer research yourself or hire a consultant to do it.

The following are some of the main customer research methods. Many of these methods can be combined to achieve multiple customer research goals.

Advertising and promotion research

You can gather information about the effectiveness of your advertising by gauging:

  • your customers likely responses to your marketing and promotional strategies through testing in a forum such as a focus group
  • the effectiveness of each of your past and planned promotional techniques through analysis of sales data.

Customer satisfaction studies

You can determine how satisfied your customers are with your product quality and your customer service by surveying customers using:

  • informal methods such as conversations with staff or product and service scorecards
  • questionnaires that target past and present customers.

Consumer decision process research

You can work out what motivates your customers to buy, and what decision-making process they use, through:

  • your own surveys and questionnaires
  • survey results gathered through market research relevant to your industry.

Concept testing

You can test how well your marketing ideas are accepted by:

  • using surveys to work out whether your customers or potential customers see your products as having a rational, useful benefit
  • conducting personal interviews or focus groups with your customers to understand how they respond to your marketing ideas.

Positioning research

You can work out how your customers and potential customers view your products and performance compared to competitors' by researching:

  • the sales figures for each of your market segments
  • the attitudes of customers within each market segment.

Brand testing

You can determine how your customers feel about your brand and product names by:

  • using focus groups and surveys designed to assess emotional responses to your product and brand names
  • engaging branding researchers to study your brand's performance in your market using existing available brand research.

Price testing

You can work out how sensitive your customers are to price changes by using formulas that measure revenue – multiplying the number of items you sold by the price of each item. These tests allow you to calculate whether your total revenue increased or decreased after making price changes by:

  • calculating changes in the quantities of products demanded by your customers alongside changes in product pricing
  • measuring the impact of your product pricing on product demand.

Customer service audit

You can work out whether you provide adequate customer service by:

  • developing customer surveys or feedback forms
  • conducting customer panels or phone surveys.

Mystery shopping

You can perform quality control on your own store, or research your competitors', by employing a mystery shopper to enter the store as a customer to assess features such as:

  • sales staff behaviour and attitudes
  • customer service approaches
  • sales techniques and strategies.

Social media monitoring

Another way to measure customer feedback and your customer service is by monitoring your social media engagement and feedback. Social media (particularly Facebook) is becoming a common element of many businesses' marketing and is increasingly used by your customers to provide feedback, share customer service experiences and make complaints. It can also be used to run surveys and test concepts. If managed well, it can be one of your most powerful customer research tools.

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