Evelina Bereni9 November 2022

Six ways to get better quality data from your customer research

Reading research is one of the highlights of my week #nerdalert.

This morning I read some great literature packed full of neuroscience and innovation insights that I’m compelled to share. Thanks to Paul J. Zac – Professor of Economic Sciences, Psychology and Management at Clarmont Graduate University for these practical tips to get the BEST data from your customer observations and interviews.

I’ve seen all examples of the good, bad and ugly when it comes to customer research. From the “win a prize by completing this 250-page insights survey”, the generic customer experience feedback form, and the “can I have 5-minutes of your time, please” as a customer walks through the door approach. Often, little effort goes into planning the best strategy for collecting data from our customers, which leads to, let’s be honest, pretty crappy results.

If you’re interested in innovation, you’ll know that any good customer research strategy includes observing and interviewing people who 1) use your existing products or services, or 2) for whom no good solution currently exists in the market. At a basic level our aim is to uncover our customer’s “jobs to be done” so we can help solve them. So if you’re not doing either of those two things, that’s a great place to start.

Now, when we’re observing our customers, and these people know we’re watching, neuroscience tells us that we’ll get better results when they feel psychologically safe before they’re observed. When people don’t feel safe (or worse, when they feel judged!), this triggers a whole chemical reaction in the brain that prevents them from truly immersing themselves in the experience and thwarts their ability to give us useful feedback (think of that “on edge / is this over yet” feeling).

The next time you’re planning on observing your customers operate your new dishwasher prototype or walk through your new payroll process in pursuit of those golden nuggets of insight, try these tips to create psychological safety and put your customers in the right mindset:

  1. Set aside PLENTY of time so your participants don’t feel rushed
  2. Give them a chance (5-15mins) to relax first
  3. Start with a snack and/or drink
  4. If you’re spending more than 1 hour with them, give them a bio break

But that’s not everything. We also need to understand the emotional responses that our customers have during their interaction with our products or services. That’s because research tells us that when customers have a positive emotional response to an experience, it’s an experience they will want to repeat. This is GOLD when it comes to knowing if our innovation idea will hit the mark or not. But emotions are tricky because they’re largely unconscious and inaccurately self-reported. So some interview tips to help you uncover customer frustrations, and those good feels as well, are to:

  1. Use interviewers who are highly empathic.

Research shows they’re more likely to elicit an emotional response. You can spot an empathic person by the way they listen intently and have an intuitive ability to know how someone is feeling.

  1. Ask open-ended questions (questions that elicit more than yes or no answers) to encourage story telling.

This is more likely to reveal emotional language rather than asking participants to rate their feelings on a numerical scale. A really nice open question to start with might be “Tell me about the last time you bought xxxxxx” and seeing where the story takes you. Using closed questions like “Did you enjoy that?” isn’t going to get you very far, and worse – might lead you down the confirmation bias path – a big no no in customer research.

To read Professor Paul Zac’s whole article, visit MIT Sloan Management Review.

Yours in productivity & innovation,

Evelina Bereni