I have used analytics and qualitative research to provide consumer insights for more than 80 clients in 18 different industries.
The best insights come from having a face-to-face dialog with the respondent.
Regardless of if I'm talking to prospects, customers, channel partners or employees, there are five foundational questions that I've found will yield invaluable insights.
- What makes __________ (your product or service) different and better?
- What steps do you (or the customer) go through in the evaluation and buying process?
- What should __________ (your company) do to improve their product or service?
- What should _________ (your company) do to build a better relationship with you?
- What have I failed to ask that you think we need to know in order to __________ (objective of the research)
These are not the only questions to ask, but they're a great place to start.
I find respondents typically take a few minutes to "warm" to you and tell you what's really on their minds rather than telling you what they think you want to hear.
I also find that by letting the respondent know I'm not very knowledgeable about the industry we're discussing, they'll provide a lot more insights and details.
When interviewing insurance agents I provided a couple of insights to the Senior V.P. of Sales who had been managing these agents for 20 years. He was blown away. Since he was an agent himself, the agents he was managing likely assumed he already knew what I did not.
That's why I believe it's important to get down to the fundamental details of what the respondent does, why they do it and the process they go through in making a decision.
I always ask a lot of "why," or "tell me more about that," follow-up questions. These follow-up questions are usually much more revealing than the answer to the initial question.
I also find that wrapping up an interview with the "what have I failed to ask" question gives the respondent the opportunity to bring up subjects or situations that I would have never thought to ask about, as well as go back and provide more feedback on an earlier question that came to them later in the conversation.
Once, when intervieiwing fine paper merchants, the final question revealed that the CEO of our client was not able to personally visit a couple of groups at a recent sales meeting due to an emergency. While the respondent certainly understood the situation the CEO was in, He was disappointed he did not get the opportunity to meet her. By giving the respondent the opportunity to raise an issue we were not aware of, we were able to remind the CEO to reach back out to those paper merchants she may not have connected with due to the situation.
We later heard from the CEO that she had terrific phone conversations with those merchants she had missed.
An example of a seemingly insignificant event actually being a big deal.
It's amazing what you'll learn if you listen intensely. Respondents need to know you care about what they are saying before they'll open up and share specific details that didn't seem significant when the interview began.
- Don't assume your management team is in alignment with what makes you different and better.
- Don't assume you know your customers' evaluation and buying process.
- Don't assume you know what the customer thinks you need to do to improve your product or service.
- Don't assume you know what you need to to build a better relationship with your customers.
- And, most importantly, don't assume you know all the questions to ask.
I am continually amazed by the number of online surveys I that don't any open-ended responses.
Surveys without open-ended responses tell me that the company that's doing the research doesn't really want to know what's on my mind. They just want the answers to their questions. Not a very customer-centric approach that will ultimately cost them.