Qualitative research

We believe passionately that improving customer journeys starts by understanding your customers better; what they need, expect and experience – and how they feel about those experiences.

A focus group
A typical focus group

Understand and reconnect with your customers

It is common for organisations to misinterpret customer motivations, to be blind to some of their experiences and to underestimate how strongly they feel about those interactions.  If an organisation doesn’t understand it’s customers, it is all too easy to focus on the wrong problem.

It’s also common for employees to fall out of love with customers; to feel it is they who are the root cause of problems.  If staff don’t empathise with customers, it is almost impossible to unlock the discretionary effort required to make change happen.

Qualitative research is the most powerful way to address both of these issues.

Customer journey research is different from typical brand research.

We are trying to understand what happens when people interact with you and why it happens. This demands a more detailed and structured approach than traditional qualitative research.  We spend time understanding context and needs but we also need to get customers to walk through what happened and we must elicit how this varied from their expectations.  Afterall customer satisfaction equals performance minus expectation*.

As a result we tend to rely less on techniques like focus groups and more on in-depth 1-2-1 interviews, accompanied visits and participant diaries.

Customers’ experiences are also highly subjective.  Different types of people respond to identical interactions in diverse ways.  Best practice is to group customers by their needs and to build a pen portrait of a typical person from that group, a ‘Persona’.  We typically recruit people who match different Personas to understand how the journeys of each varies.  We can also use the research to validate and enrich those pen portraits.

Our research services

Whilst every qualitative research project is unique here are steps we typically go through.

Review existing research

Most organisations have some pre-existing research.  We will always review this to ensure we do not reinvent the wheel and to utilise as much of it as possible.

Develop draft Personas

You can read more about how we develop Personas here.  We agree which Personas are most important for us to understand and use the portraits to develop the screening questionnaire.  Through carefully structured questions we can make sure we recruit people who match these key Personas.

Develop a screener and data brief

We produce a screener to make sure we recruit the right kinds of people.  Where we are recruiting people from a Client’s database we also produce a data brief so they can extract the types of people we are looking for.  For example we will normally recruit people who have recently experienced the service in question so their recollections are still fresh.

Develop and agree a discussion guide

The discussion guide is a critical document that ensures we capture all the insight we need within the time available.  It gives Clients the opportunity to review the content of the research and to make amends. A discussion guide will typically include stimulus material; descriptions of new services, web page protypes etc so we can capture more specific feedback.

Produce customer opt-out email

Best practice is to warn customers that they may be contacted for research purposes and to give them the opportunity to opt out.  This reduces concerns about phishing and increases response. We write this copy.

Recruit participants

We have our own in-house recruiters who we use to secure participants for the research.  In the vast majority of cases we pay incentives, this rewards participants for their time and improves response.  We will advise the value of any incentive you will need to pay.

Conduct and film research

We conduct research online, by phone, face-to-face or in research studios where Clients can observe through two-way mirrors.

Our in-house researchers are all expert facilitators and have specific experience of customer journey research.  Their job is not to robotically follow the discussion guide but to also respond to what subjects say and how they react. We expect to find the unexpected and create the conditions for that to emerge.

We always recommend filming research.  Nothing communicates the strength of customers’ emotions as powerfully as film.  Where budget allows, we produce a 5-minute edit of the interviews to punch home the most important learnings.

Typically, organisations use this to galvanise change and to communicate internally what they are changing and why.

Produce a detailed report

As standard we write up our findings explaining what we discovered and pointing out its implications for customer journey transformation.  Our conclusions can also range across other issues such as brand, proposition, communications and product development.

We will always present our findings to the stakeholder group and then use it in customer journey mapping.

Write detailed, validated Personas

A key output from research is to produce detailed, validated Personas.

These profiles can be used in mapping workshops to help inform decisions about To Be journeys.  They are also commonly used to help enhance staff inductions and training and are displayed in shared office space.

Examples of findings

A wholesale Client assumed their failure to migrate business customers to digital channels was because they couldn’t understand its value. In-fact they were desperate for more efficient ways to interact but were put off by failings in the end-to-end digital journey and by pricing.

A housing association discovered that its customer interactions left unrealistic expectations unchallenged and, in some cases strengthen them, this contributed to declining customer satisfaction scores.

A manufacturer identified the greatest opportunity for its new product was not what they expected.  The research highlighted low hanging fruit that it was able to quickly exploit.

* (2000) EXPECTATION THEORY. In: Swamidass P.M. (eds) Encyclopedia of Production and Manufacturing Management. Springer, Boston, MA