By Barbara Clark
Perhaps the market research industry’s marquee event of the year, The Market Research Event (TMRE), in 2022 did not disappoint in its promise to “advance the insights practice and drive bottom-line impact with insights.”
The event featured six compelling content “streams.” The stream that I gravitated toward, given Martec’s considerable experience in the field, was dubbed “The X Factor: Where CX Meets UX” (or customer experience meets user experience).
The CX-UX stream provided a wealth of insights and perspectives. But if I could encapsulate the overarching tenor of the event, it would be this: marketers and business leaders are evolving the way they apply market research to solve business problems by increasingly “flipping the pyramid.” That is, many are putting the customer at the very forefront of the equation when it comes to making critical strategic decisions, rather than placing consumers only at the receiving end of those decisions once they’ve already been made.
Inverting the Customer Experience Paradigm
A recurring theme in the presentations I attended at TMRE was this: for years companies have insisted they “put the customer first” and that “the customer is always right.” Yet, too often, in the subject matter experts’ view, this historically has been more lip service than true business strategy. This is starting to change and momentum is authentically building toward customer-centric research, user experiences, and overall service to the end customer.
It’s been claimed for a decade that “customer service is the new marketing.” What began as a bold prediction during the advent of social media now has been adopted as an article of faith. Using that as a backdrop, here are three insights to watch during this time of evolution for market researchers.
The Importance of Conducting Internal Stakeholder Interviews
Since joining The Martec Group, I’ve seen firsthand just how important it is to conduct internal stakeholder interviews prior to survey or research design. One presenter at TMRE emphasized how critical it is to resist the urge to jump straight to information gathering without first aligning everyone around shared goals and objectives. Often, discoveries are made during this pre-research phase that give rise to new ideas, unconsidered possibilities, or interesting approaches to pursue. In addition, conducting internal stakeholder interviews will get everyone talking about the end result so there can be agreement as to what success will look like.
Takeaway: Before embarking on data collection, bring people out of their silos to collaboratively discuss the research project and the desired outcomes. We sometimes call this the Design and Discovery Phase.
Customer-Centric Research Has No Shortcuts
It was emphasized by numerous presenters that to execute customer-centric initiatives effectively, the research team needs to take a steady, measured approach, rather than look for a quick fix to broadly but superficially mass-distribute surveys. To truly understand the customer, both emotionally and intellectually, it’s imperative to combine quantitative research with qualitative research, usually via human-to-human conversations.
There is so much nuance to the emotional drivers behind purchasing decisions, customer loyalty, and people’s authentic reactions to customer experiences that it’s nearly impossible to capture it all digitally, even when open-ended questions are included in questionnaires. Too often, one keynote speaker stated, companies draw conclusions and form assumptions by reviewing quantitative data only, where true understanding is buried somewhere further below the surface – insights that can only be uncovered by humans conversing with humans.
Takeaway: A customer-centric research initiative is a process, not a singular event. If you truly want to understand the customer’s perspective regarding the experience you are providing, don’t rush to judgment without digging below the surface and ascertaining qualitative insights.
Customers Want Choice and a Voice
Perhaps over the last decade we’ve been conditioned to expect and demand instant gratification, driven by social media, digital marketing, apps at our fingertips, and ubiquitous access to self-served solutions. Whatever the causes may be, customers increasingly are demanding experiences that give them a voice in what the customer journey looks like, as well as choices based on their individual preferences.
One presentation delivered an interesting case study about the notion of choice: General Mills’ new talent retention initiative during and post-pandemic. (Think of General Mills’ employees and candidates as the “customers” in this case.) Operating in the food business, the company’s employees were considered “essential” throughout the pandemic, enabling them to return to work before “non-essential” employees. Naturally, many were reluctant to return to the workplace, so General Mills had a “customer retention” problem to solve. Leadership’s expectation was that offering employees additional paid time off (PTO) would serve as an effective retention policy. Yet, when rolled out, the company experienced only a seven percent adoption rate of the offered benefit.
It wasn’t until they “flipped the pyramid” that they realized a far more meaningful adoption rate. Rather than offering a singular employee benefit to say yes or no to, the company decided it would offer employees and candidates a choice of three employment perks: additional PTO, monetary incentive in the form of bonuses or higher wages, or a donation to a charity of choice in the employee’s name.
The result? A dramatically improved 89% adoption rate! Interestingly, the most commonly selected benefit was the additional PTO offered originally, validating leadership’s initial idea, but further underscoring that choice is an extremely effective way to influence customer adoption and retention.
Takeaway: Give customers a choice, and give them a voice. Use research to understand their motivators and demotivators. Then use those insights as a blueprint to build your CX programs.
Coming Soon: More Takeaways from TMRE
I would be remiss if I were to conclude this article without mentioning the outstanding keynote presentation given by Stan Sthanunathan, who served as Executive Vice President of Consumer & Market Insights with Unilever. His presentation was downright replete with actionable insights and observations. So much so, that I will devote an entire future article to my multiple pages of notes taken during his presentation. If you’d like to receive them sooner, please don’t hesitate to connect with me by using the Contact Us form below.
Barbara Clark serves as Market Research Analyst for Martec, with specific emphasis on customer experience research and initiatives.