Why You Need a Customer Researcher

There are lots of ways that customer research can benefit your projects, your business and your client’s business.

First, what is customer research?

Customer research is the process used to get to know the needs and desires of your customers (or your client’s customers) in order to provide more value to them. It involves various tactics, including customer interviews, and it has benefits for virtually all aspects of a business, from business development and marketing to customer service and sales.

It involves at least these components:

  • The researcher – Who will be conducting the research?
  • The customers – Who will be taking part in the research?
  • The company – Who will be using the research?
  • The process – How will the research be conducted?
  • The results – How will the research be analyzed?

What does a customer researcher do?

They interview your best customers (of your client’s best customers), asking each of them a series of 10-15 questions to help shed light on how they buy, what they buy and why they buy. A good customer researcher can help uncover unfulfilled customer wants and needs (great for business development, sales and other purposes).

But we’re talking hundreds or even thousands of customers in some cases. Surely we can’t interview them all?

Very true. And you don’t want to speak to them all anyway. What you want to do is focus on the best customers, the ones that spend the most money with you now and probably in the future. As you look at the customer list, you’ll likely find that a small group of customers is generating most of your revenue. This might be 10-20 people in total, depending on the situation.

Why speak to just my best customers?

As mentioned, these are the customers who spend the most. You want to make sure that whatever you do on your website, app, marketing campaign or sales training appeals to the type of person who wants to spend the most if given half a chance.

What should I look for in a customer researcher?

First, you need someone who has experience asking good questions — and who knows which follow-up questions to ask depending on the customer’s answers. Look for a person with a background in journalism or even law.

Second, make sure you engage someone who can synthesize customer interview data, combine it with any other customer research or data available, and make actionable recommendations for various aspects of the business. You want a cross between a data nerd, a marketer and a salesperson.

Third, make sure the person knows how to work with other departments and people on a given project. You want a person who likes engaging with people and knows where and when to make recommendations. Flexibility is key.

Fourth, make sure your customer researcher consults with you and gives you creative options for moving forward before a project begins. Many research projects can have scopes that vary greatly, and there may be different and nuanced applications of the research depending on the context. Balancing this, you should also be wary of working with someone who charges by the hour and proposes projects with open-ended objectives and completion dates.

Can’t I just get someone in Marketing to do this?

You could, but most Marketing teams have hands full creating campaigns, developing collateral, planning events, and so on. Plus, many marketers lack the expertise in customer research. A customer research professional can take any customer research that does exist, expand on it, and most importantly, make it actionable so it has benefits that fall to the bottom line.

Isn’t this what a UX researcher does?

A UX researcher is primarily focused on customer research only insofar as it applies to the design and user experience of the app or website, but it can also apply to products. There are typically two goals of UX research:

  1. Learn whether users have any major obstacles when using the website, app or product
  2. Learn about the most common tasks users perform when trying to accomplish their goals as they relate to the website, app or product

Unlike customer research, this doesn’t extend to the words/content on the site, not does it cover things such as possible customer objections to working with a company or possibilities for product development. It’s also noteworthy that a UX researcher’s work isn’t focused on the company’s best customers, but a general cross-section of users. In some situations, however, a customer researcher’s work can complement a UX researcher’s work.

Won’t an online survey do the trick?

Online surveys are useful, but they don’t provide context for answers. For example, a survey might reveal that a majority of your customers don’t like a certain type of product, but they might not get at why, or what products they would like instead.

What about all my website analytics?

Firs, there’s the very real problem that bots (non-human robots) are accounting for as much as half the online user traffic, which naturally skews any website user analytics. If nothing else, interviews with real customers can help a business put its website data into proper context.

Second, even companies developing web analytics software are upfront about the limitations of website data for capturing user intent. For example, as analytics software provider Kissmetrics notes:

…Imprecise [user] measurements are commonplace given current tracking methods. Attributing certain actions to the same user becomes questionable since a user’s identity can never be fully ascertained without an explicit sign-in action. Looking at data from only one source, like web analytics, gives a one-sided view. Without looking at other sources of customer interaction like CRM data, phone logs, surveys, et al only one portion of the picture is exposed.

In addition, the data only tells us what our customers are doing on the site. What it doesn’t tell us is why they are doing it. Without truly understanding what is motivating our customers to take (or miss) certain actions in our online experiences, every optimization effort becomes a stab in the dark.

In truth, you need qualitative (human) and quantitative (statistical/analytical) data to get the best picture of your customers’ wants and needs.

What sort of benefits can I get from customer research?

There are lots of ways customer research can help you. Here are some:

  • You’ll better understand the buying process for the most profitable customers, which can help your apps, website, marketing campaigns and even your sales training.
  • You’ll understand what you do that drives the most profitable customers crazy, so you can course correct and not drive away other potential customers like them.
  • You’ll understand the objections high-upside customers have when considering buying from you, so you can address those in your marketing and sales efforts.
  • You can get new ideas for products and services, so you can leverage those to increase lifetime customer value (LCV) of existing customers and to attract new customers.
  • You’re creating a potential pathway to “pre-sell” products and services by involving your best customers in the product/service development process. This reduces the risk of failed product launches.
  • You’ll deepen relationships with your best customers by listening to them, thus reducing or eliminating the risk they’ll bolt to a competitor. Churn becomes less of a worry.

The goal of good customer research is to make every facet of the business more effective, meaning you can generate more revenue.

When’s the right time to involve a customer researcher?

This depends on your needs at the moment.

  • If you’re an agency developing websites, bringing in a customer researcher at the outset can help you avoid beautiful failures.
  • If you’re in business development, looking to expand your products/services, customer research can help uncover unmet needs your team can develop around and bring to market, while also increasing the likelihood that the launch will be successful.
  • If you’re planning marketing campaigns, you might want to anticipate reasons why customers like and don’t like your products/services, thus helping to build trust leading to more leads and conversions. And customer interviews can always be excerpted to create testimonials and case studies as well.
  • If you’re trying to pull off a complex sale, sell deeper into existing accounts or grow your book of business with new prospects, customer research can help fine-tune your unique value proposition and give you more effective talking points, leading to a higher close rate. It’s also helpful to have a customer researcher and their insights alongside the sales team as they “dealstorm” for complex sales.
  • If you’re focused on customer care or customer success, understanding more about your customer’s context, as well as their wants and needs, you can sharpen customer care training and on-boarding.
  • If you’re working to improve the user experience (UX) of websites and apps, having a greater understanding of customer wants and needs will make your process and your end product much more effective.

Customer research can be a powerful tool for helping your business keep a laser focus on the needs of great customers who love your products/services and want more of the same.

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