Customer research process

A well-organised customer research process produces valid, accurate, reliable, timely and complete results. Carefully gathered research results that reflect your customers' opinions and needs will help you grow your sales and improve your operations.

To get the results you need, set and follow recognised customer research processes.

Set your objectives

Consider your customer research goals and define a clear set of objectives that identify what you need to know and what you're going to do with the information. Make sure your objectives don't presume your outcome, and be 'SMART' about setting them:

  • Specific – state clearly what you want to achieve
  • Measurable – set tangible measures so you know when you've achieved your goals
  • Achievable – set goals that are within your capacity and budget
  • Relevant – set goals that will help you improve particular aspects of your business
  • Time-bound – set goals you can achieve within the time you need them.

Plan your research

Good planning allows you to use creative and logical approaches to gathering information. Your plan will be influenced by the type and complexity of information you require, your team's customer research skills, how soon you need the information and your budget.

Identify your list of questions and decide on the research methods that will best achieve your objectives. Detail your research approach and give some initial thought to how you'll collate and analyse your data.

Collect and collate your findings

List your research steps, data needs and collection methods. This will help you keep track of your research processes and make sense of your findings. It will also allow you to check that your research accurately reflects your customers' and market's opinions. Create a table to record:

  • consumer research activity
  • the data needed
  • your data collection method
  • your data analysis steps.

Remember, research is only valuable and usable when it is valid, accurate and reliable. Relying on flawed research is dangerous. It can leave you at risk of basing your important decisions on incorrect findings and lead to customer losses and decreased sales. Be careful not to turn one opinion into your research findings.

It's important to make sure your data is:

  • valid – well founded, logical, rigorous, sound and unbiased
  • accurate – free from error and includes the required detail
  • reliable – can be reproduced by other people researching in the same way
  • timely – current and gathered within an appropriate time frame
  • complete – includes all the data you need to support your business decisions.

Learn about collecting and storing customer information.

Analyse and understand your research

Data analysis can range from simple, straightforward steps to technical and complex processes. Take a common sense approach, and choose your data analysis method based on the research you've undertaken.

List and group your information

Choose a spreadsheet that allows you to easily enter your data. If you don't have a large amount of data, you should be able to manage it using basic spreadsheet tools available in standard office software. If you have collected more comprehensive and complex data, you may need to consider using specific programs to manage it, such as a database system or customer relationship management (CRM) program.

Choose a simple structure to record your data – for example, a table that allows you to list survey questions vertically in your table and record your responses as numbers categorised by age, gender, income, or other factors that are important to you.

Review and interpret your information to draw conclusions

Once you've gathered all your data, you can scan your information and interpret it to draw conclusions and make decisions. Review your data and then:

  • identify major trends and themes, problems, opportunities and issues that you observe, and write a sentence about each
  • record how frequently each major finding appears
  • list your findings in order of most common to least common
  • assess and separately list the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats you have identified in a SWOT analysis.

Develop conclusions and recommendations about your research

Before you make any conclusions about your research, revisit your research objectives. Consider whether the process you've completed and data you've gathered helps answer your questions. Ask yourself what your research revealed and identify your conclusions and recommendations. Review your findings and, based on what you now know:

  • choose a few strategies that will help you improve your business
  • act on your strategies
  • look for gaps in your information, and consider further research if necessary
  • plan to review your research outcomes, and consider how effective your strategies have been.

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