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Customer Research 101: Definition, Types, and Methods

Pragadeesh

6 min read

Do you want to improve your marketing or product? Then customer research can help.

Your customer is at the heart of all your business decisions. In fact, everything revolves around a customer. A business is about having a paying customer and it wouldn’t exist without one.

The effectiveness of your product or marketing depends on how well you know your customers.

When you know your customers better, you can make better product or marketing decisions.

In this article, we break down what customer research is, why it’s valuable for your business, different types of customer research, and the six customer research methods you can use to refine and grow your business.

What is Customer Research?

Customer research (or consumer research) is a set of techniques used to identify the needs, preferences, behaviors, and motivations of your current or potential customers.

Simply put, it’s a way for businesses to collect information and learn from their customers so they could serve them better.

Businesses typically conduct customer research to uncover new insights on their customers. They then use these newly uncovered insights to improve their product, craft an effective marketing strategy, and more.

Here are 2 key questions customer research helps you answer:

  • Who are my ideal customers? Who is the best fit (or worst fit) for our product?
  • What channels can I use to find and communicate with my ideal customers?

Why is Customer Research Important?

How well do you know your customers? Not knowing enough about your customers can cost you time and money.

A recent survey revealed that 46% of customers broke up with a brand because they received irrelevant content pushes.

Successful marketers realize that research is necessary to understand and cater to the ever-changing needs of today’s customers.

According to a study by Coschedule:

  • Successful marketers are 242% more likely to conduct audience research at least once every quarter.
  • 56% of the study’s most elite marketers conduct research at least once a month.

You shouldn’t make any assumptions about your customers’ preferences or needs. You have to go out there and get opinions from real customers.

And you need to go beyond the general idea you have about your customers. The more you understand your customers, the better you’ll be able to serve them with your product or service.

customer research quote

If you want to make your product the best in the market, you need to identify any unmet needs and learn how well your product serves the needs of your current customers.

And customer research helps you learn more about your customers, both the potential and existing ones. Serving your customers better than the alternatives starts with understanding them better, more deeply.

Here are some key reasons why you should research customers:

  • Know the Why: Your analytics dashboard merely tells you what your customers do. Only research can help you understand why they do that.
  • Validate Assumptions and Best-practices: In most cases, guesswork leads to terrible decisions. Your customers might not need what you think they need. And what works for most businesses might not work for you. The only real way to know is to talk to your customers.

Types of Customer Research

Customer research can be done in two distinct ways: primary and secondary.

Primary research

Primary research is research you conduct yourself. In primary research, you collect the data yourself. Some examples of primary research are face-to-face interviews, surveys, and social media interactions.

Secondary research

Secondary research is research carried out by someone else. In secondary research, you make use of data that’s been collected by other people. A few examples of secondary research are forums or communities, industry reports, and online databases.

Primary and secondary research can be further broken down into two kinds of data: qualitative and quantitative.

Qualitative data

Qualitative data is descriptive and conceptual. And the nature of the data makes it subjective and interpretive. Examples of qualitative data include descriptions of certain attributes, such as blue eyes or chocolate-flavored ice cream.

Quantitative data

Quantitative data can be expressed using numbers, which means it can be counted or measured. As opposed to qualitative data, it’s objective and conclusive. Examples of quantitative data include numerical values such as measurements, length, cost, or weight.

Customer Research Methods that Work in 2021

Now that you know what it is and why it’s important, read on to learn the different methods you can use to make the most of it.

Surveys

In a survey, you ask a series of questions to your customers regarding a subject or concept.

You can conduct a survey in person, over the phone, through emails, or online forms.

Here are some advantages of conducting customer research through surveys:

  • Quickly collect a ton of insightful data without the high costs.
  • The data you collect using surveys is simple to analyze.
  • Since you get a wide range of question formats, you can ask all kinds of questions.

When it comes to surveys, it’s all about how you ask. Clear and concise questions can help you get reliable information

An online survey tool is your best bet when it comes to quickly gathering information from your customers. All you need to do is create a survey with a ready-to-use template and send your customers a link to take it.

Interviews

In an interview, you speak directly to your customers and ask them open-ended questions.

Interviews allow you to have deep, one-on-one conversations with your customers and explore a topic in-depth.

You can go into the details, obtain data that goes beyond the surface-level information, and gather deeper insights.

While interviews give you a chance to probe deeper about a subject, success depends on the expertise and skills of the researcher (or interviewer) conducting the interviews.

Conducting interviews isn’t easy. In fact, it’s time-consuming and costly. But the information you collect can be invaluable for the growth of your company.

You can meet your customers in person to conduct your interviews. Or you can use video conferencing tools such as Google Meet or Zoom to have conversations with your customers online.

Analytics

Your analytics dashboard lets you in on the actions your customers take within your product.

Just a single glance at it and you’d know what your customers do and how they engage with your product.

The irony is that customers don’t know what they want or why. They might think they need something but that might not be the case.

What they say they need doesn’t equate to what they actually do.

The point is, customer-reported behavior is different from actual behavior.

That’s why it pays to track and observe your customers’ behavior.

You can use heatmaps, click tracking, scroll mapping, and user recorded sessions to gain insights into your users’ actions and behavior.

Focus Groups

In this method, you bring together a small group of people based on certain criteria such as demographic, firmographic, or behavioral attributes.

And you ask this group about whatever topic or concept. It could be about your product, marketing message, or something else that’s related to your customers or business.

The idea is to get them to talk to each other and have meaningful conversations.

A moderator helps facilitate the conversations between the individuals in this group.

From these conversations and discussions, the moderator will try to draw meaningful insights.

You mainly use this technique to gain a deeper understanding of a certain topic or subject.

Competitive Analysis

Studying your competitors’ strategies and tactics is a great way to learn more about the target market and the existing solutions.

You can analyze both your direct and indirect competitors depending on the needs you address and the customers you cater to.

You can conduct a competitive analysis from a marketing or product perspective.

If you conduct your analysis from a marketing perspective, you study your competition’s SEO strategy, landing page copy, and blog content, PR coverage, social media presence, etc.

You can also conduct your competitive analysis from a product perspective and analyze your competitors’ user experience, features, pricing structure, etc.

Review Mining

The reviews of you and your competitors are another great way to get inside your customer’s head. This method can be especially valuable if you are a saas company.

It helps you get a better understanding of your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses as well as your own.

This understanding helps you improve your own products and better address the needs of your ideal customers.

This kind of data is easy to acquire as it’s publicly available and you can get them on:

  • Review sites such as G2Crowd and Capterra.
  • Forums and niche communities such as ProductHunt, Reddit, Quora, etc.

Final thoughts

Businesses that deeply understand their customers have a huge advantage over the ones that don’t. Period.

Whatever it is that you’re looking to learn or achieve, it becomes a lot more clearer with a little research.

When done right, customer research can be your competitive advantage.

Be sure to pick a method that’s right for your situation. What are you looking to learn and achieve? Think through each research method carefully and pick the one that works best for you.

Have you conducted customer research? What did you learn? And how did it go? Tell us about that in the comment section below.

And if you’re looking to conduct customer research through surveys, feel free to check out SurveySparrow.

Pragadeesh

I'm a developer turned marketer, working as a Product Marketer at SurveySparrow — A survey tool that lets anyone create beautiful, conversational surveys people love to answer.

pragadeesh

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