The value of customer research and how to do it

Customer research in its simplest form is working out what your customer likes, needs or wants. It helps you understand your customers’ decision making process and what is influencing it. When done well, you can get feedback on everything from new ideas, products and your brand. You can then make better informed decisions to launch something new or improve your competitive edge. 

Involving your customers not only helps to develop better sellers, it brings them on your business journey. They feel part of your brand, get more involved and are more likely to buy and tell their friends. To give you a helping hand, here are some top tips for performing customer research.

Define your ideal customer

No matter what size your business is, you will have an audience or peers around you to conduct customer research. 

First you need to work out who your ideal customer is. You can develop products they’ll love while talking directly to them in your marketing messages.

Ask yourself the following questions to identify your ideal customer. It’s important not to be too broad. Saying everyone is your ideal customer means you’ll end up talking to no one. So take some time on these questions to get a good idea of who your ideal customer is. 

  • Who do they live with and where?
  • What do they do for a job?
  • What is their age?
  • What are their hobbies?
  • Where else do they spend their money?
  • What are their dreams in life?
  • What stops them from achieving their dreams?
  • What worries them?
  • What is their social media platform of choice?
  • What do they do in their spare time?
  • What are their favourite things to read, watch and listen to?
  • Who do they go to for advice? 

Select your research approach

Once you have your ideal customer you can pick the customer research approach you’d like to take. With all of these approaches you need to set clear goals for the questions you’ll be asking. For example, do you want feedback on a product or a marketing message, or something else? Just make sure you have a specific issue you want insights on. 

The different customer research formats you can use include:  

Focus groups

Large companies often run focus groups but that’s not to say that small businesses can’t set one up too. First off you’ll want to find a venue and recruit participants that fit your ideal customer. Invite current customers and use your network to find people who would be suitable. Invite 15 people in case a few drop out. 

Create the questions you’ll be asking (more on this below) and then moderate the group. Do this by introducing everyone and setting any rules or how people can add their answers. You’ll want to record the group and take notes so you can analyse your findings afterwards. Group common answers together to create actionable points from the group. 

Online surveys

Create an online survey using a platform such as SurveyMonkey or Google Forms. Send this out via your email list, social media, Facebook groups and ask friends, family, customers and peers to share it.

Polls & questions on social media

Whether you have 100 or 5,000 followers on social media you still have an audience to ask for feedback. 

Polls on Facebook and Instagram stories are an easy way to get instant feedback from your customers. It also makes it easy for them to reply. As a bonus, the more interaction and replies on your posts/stories, the more your post will be boosted by Facebook’s algorithm and so will be seen by more people – win! 

Feedback from online customer & business groups

Find business Facebook groups you can ask for feedback in. Or if you’re looking for a specific customer group relating to your business then ask people in these groups to point you in the right direction. 

A few business Facebook groups to get you started include:

Choose whichever method you feel comfortable with to start your customer research. You can always start small by polling your audience on Instagram stories then move on to sending an online survey or creating your own focus group. 

Questions to ask in your customer research 

It’s important to create a list of open ended questions for your feedback as you don’t want to ask leading questions. If you ask simple yes and no answers this may sway people’s opinions or not give you the specific and detailed answers you need. 

Be prepared for honest feedback and don’t take it personally. Remember you’re asking to make your product and business better, so it’s worth hearing! 

Below is a list of questions you can ask or use as a starting point. Just remember to tailor them to your business. 

  • What fabric/material/finish do you prefer?
  • What makes you buy a new (insert product here)? 
  • Which colour would you choose?
  • What other product would you compare this to?
  • Would you add any features?
  • What’s your favourite feature on this product?
  • What do you dislike about this product?
  • Who else is doing something similar to this? 

Don’t be afraid to dig into answers. If they wouldn’t use something, why not? If there’s a feature they’d like, why do they want it? There could be a crucial insight sitting behind one of these answers!

Bonus points if you have a prototype they can feel, handle and use. Invite them to test it/taste it/use it/wear it for feedback on how to feels, performs and suits their needs. 

Offer an incentive

Finally, consider offering an incentive if you want people to take part. The opportunity to win a free product or a gift card goes a long way to entice people to participate. 

Good luck with your customer research and making your business the best it can be! 

This article was written by Joanne Griffin, Designer & Retail Mentor at Arnold & Bird. You can find her at www.arnoldandbird.com or on Instagram @arnoldandbird.