For Genuine Customer Insights, Go Beyond the Research

Last Updated Jan 19, 2010 11:07 AM EST

I have found that there is an inverse relationship between the length of a customer research report and the quality of its insights. As the report's number of pages increases, the chances of finding any nugget that could lead to real action benefits decreases proportionately.

The trouble is that most customer research documents that I see are over 100 pages long.

It's as if the researchers, suffering under the combined weight of lofty client expectations but an unfocused brief, decide to share anything and everything that has come up in the course of their work.

In any case, putting customers at the heart of your business requires moving beyond a two-dimensional understanding of research reports to a deeper, 3D level of knowledge and demands that managers from across the business get far closer to their buyers.

Here are five practical approaches you can use:

  1. Observe customers in their normal, every day surroundings. Before his retirement last year, Procter & Gamble's ex-CEO, AG Lafley, spent a day or two each quarter in the homes of P&G's consumers, identifying new opportunities, and underpinning his mantra to the business that "the customer is boss."
  2. Observe how customers shop for, buy and consume your product. A retail client of mine wanted to increase the number of shoppers buying the higher value products in their range, and believed a key issue was its packaging. So, the team made several prototype packs and, over course of a couple of days, tried them in a store. They then simply observed how customers interacted with the different versions, and picked a winner that has subsequently driven double-digit sales growth in that category.
  3. Spend time in your customers' shoes. Even if you are focused on internal clients, direct experience of your offering can bring home to you what it's like to be your customer. Only when you've been standing in a retail store's queue with a screaming baby, or perhaps have tried to use your call centre to ask for support, do you get a realistic view of your customers' experience.
  4. Use prototypes to gain rapid customer feedback. Even Steve Jobs, who eschews most customer research, set up a prototype store when developing Apple's retail concept. The insights gained from this helped the team develop innovative in-store services such as The Genius Bar.
  5. Involve customers in the development of new ideas. Co-developing new products and service is common practice in B2B markets, and consultants have long known that co-creating solutions with clients increases the chances of client buy-in.
(Pic: Colin Bowern cc2.0)
  • Stuart Cross

    Stuart Cross is a founder of Morgan Cross Consulting, which helps companies find new ways to drive substantial, profitable growth. His clients include Alliance Boots, Avon and PricewaterhouseCoopers.