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A customer-centric approach to research and analytics

In the same way that marketers strive to “be more customer-centric,” researchers and insights professionals must be held to the same standard.

The ability to define, describe, and even predict customer behavior is of vital importance to business growth. Researchers are tasked with being the “voice of the customer,” acting as both representatives and advocates of the customer’s perspective. But the customer perspective is more than a light at the end of the research-tunnel: it must be built into the process to yield the most illuminating results.

Customer-centricity in research requires equal doses of purpose, empathy, and respect. That’s where keeping the brand at the forefront can help: it becomes the embodiment of these characteristics and the thing that people connect to. While emotional concepts may seem somewhat tangential to the functional processes of data collection and analysis, they are, in fact, guiding principals that have real and measurable impact.

Proceed with purpose

First of all, make sure there is a strong purpose to guide your exploration. Let the insights process reflect the right combination of objectives, methodological rigor, and actionable outcomes. Points to remember:

  • Clear objectives = clear communication and outcomes.
  • The methodology should be clear and focused on targeting the right audiences with the right questions. No fishing expeditions.
  • If the objectives and methodology are clear, the hypotheses—whether proven or disproven— should reveal clear actions that drive success and growth.

Make empathy an input

An exceptional customer experience isn’t just an outcome of brand insights, it can be an input to enhance the research process.

Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” To yield the most honest results, researchers need to understand and share the feelings that respondents experience at every interaction. What is their experience as customers of the brand? How do they experience the research process?

Here are some techniques for embedding empathy into insights-gathering:

  1. Really engage
    In qualitative studies, researchers have the unique opportunity to interact directly with individuals and engage in real, substantive conversations. The technique of active listening—where the listener must fully concentrate, understand, and remember what is said—fully immerses the researcher in the process, and yields a deeper understanding from the start.
  2. Ask good questions
    Quantitative research is often criticized for its insensitivity to respondents. Lengthy or poorly constructed surveys can result in both terrible experiences for respondents and low quality results. A good answer requires a question as good—or better.
  3. …And ask them right
    is a way of creating a more enjoyable customer experience for respondents. It is a relatively easy research tactic that brings in creative thinking (key to empathy), improving the survey process for all parties. Sticking to the point is also critical—and shows you value your respondents’ time. Lengthy questionnaires may address all the different informational needs of clients, but can just as easily skew results by delivering terrible respondent experiences. Separating the “nice to know” from the “need to know” is a tedious, but necessary, process.

Reap respect—on both sides

Respect is a natural outcome of empathy.  One must first understand others in order to value their opinions and perspectives. As the “voice of the customer,” we implicitly value customers’ opinions, but this must be reflected in our behaviors throughout the process: Respect what they say, respect their time, and respect their expectations.

The researcher’s mantra should be “value given for value received.” Participants are offering value in the form of their time, opinions, thoughts, feelings, and perceptions—these are gold to marketers. Recognizing that what you obtain from customers is valuable should enhance your approach. In order to get the best results, work to create a better experience.

The business benefits of a human approach

Tactically, the insights process becomes more efficient with higher cooperation and participation rates and higher quality results lowering overall research costs. Strategically stronger and more meaningful insights mean greater business impact for clients.

This approach has even broader implications in terms of brand perception. An organization that listens, respects the speaker, and acts on what they’ve heard earns mutual respect from customers and becomes a stronger brand. Approaching customer-centricity as not just the output, but an input to the research and analytics process has a reverberating effect: it strengthens the brand, improves customer experiences, and earns respect and loyalty, ultimately driving business growth over time.


Senior Principal, Analytics
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