Watchwords for Interpreting Customer Research: Improve and Grow

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Customer ResearchWhy do companies research their customers? Whether to measure customer satisfaction and loyalty or to evaluate the customer experience, there are two main reasons for examining your customer base. Customer research delivers information that helps companies improve and grow their bottom line. Non-customers and prospects do not have the same perspective on your current operations and delivery.

So, when you are interpreting the results of your customer marketing research, keep those two goals in mind. Generally, in customer research we want to look at the data to answer three questions:

  1. What’s changed and what has not changed since our last measurement?

Changes in customer satisfaction, loyalty, and experiences over time can be good things or may be signs of trouble ahead. Customer research establishes a baseline or benchmark measurement and then repeats the survey periodically to determine what, if anything, has changed. Trend analysis allows us to identify the changes, relative to previous measurements.

What trend analysis does not tell us is why measurements have changed. Has our performance or quality declined, or has a competitor made changes that have changed customer perceptions? Have customers’ expectations changed due to their changing needs or expectations? Additional research may be needed to understand the root cause of these changes.

  1. How important are the changes and lack of changes? 

Typically, in customer research, we include an overall metric (e.g., overall satisfaction or likelihood to recommend) as well as several metrics that measure customer perceptions of different factors of the product, service, or experience (e.g., timely delivery, value, quality). However, depending on your category and market segment, some of these factors will be more important to customers than other factors.

To determine how important each factor (a.k.a. independent variable) is in contributing or driving the overall metric (a.k.a. dependent variable) we conduct key driver or regression analysis. Regression analysis tells us how closely correlated each factor is with the dependent variable. If timely delivery is more strongly correlated with satisfaction than quality, changes in delivery time should receive greater attention by management. 

  1. What should we do or not do about the situation?

By seeing the changes in the variables, you are measuring and understanding how important they are in driving satisfaction or loyalty, you know where to focus and what issues to prioritize. Your reporting and communication of the findings should focus on those priorities. The nature of your reporting should be tailored to your audience. Executives may respond better to a scorecard or dashboard approach. Middle management levels may need an infographic that highlights and summarizes more data. Finally, line employees may receive the information best when told as a story. One thing is certain: no one outside the marketing research function should have to wade through data tables and reams of charts to understand what factors need to be addressed to improve the customer relationship. Your report should facilitate moving the organization into action planning to better understand the problem and create and deliver solutions.

There will also be changes that you decide to monitor over time. Perhaps they are not significant enough to warrant action currently. Trend data analysis is vital for identifying these “wait-and-see” or emerging situations as well. Stay alert to these areas in the next survey wave, or even with other customer research you are conducting that may give additional insight or clarification.

Customer surveys sometimes have limited sample sizes, depending on your category, so take care in interpreting your data to include the margin of error. However, even if your sample is small, you must keep your thumb on the pulse of the customer, to ensure that changing metrics are evaluated regularly and solutions provided promptly.

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Kyle Burnam

Kyle Burnam is the CEO of Infosurv and the leader of its sister company, Intengo, where he oversees all client research and R&D projects. Having been in the industry since 2005, Kyle brings a wealth of experience to the table and an innovative eye to every project.