January 4, 2018

Research is fairly simple and direct—it can be broken down into three main questions; What do you want to know?  Who has that information? How should you get it?  While brainstorming these questions, your research objective, sample and methodological approach will naturally be determined.  Still, there are so many options to achieve the means, it can be very daunting, especially in this day and age of insta-surveys.  In this article, we will define five necessary steps to ensure your research study will not be an exercise in futility, but rather provide meaningful and actionable information.

Step 1:  Define your research objective fully and completely.  Are you wanting to understand your market or gather competitive information?  Are you trying to generate new product ideas or gauge the market need?  Do you need to understand your value delivery and competitive differentiation?  Answers to these questions will determine the methodological approach.  Relationship building, Customer Experience surveys are best done utilizing telephonic surveys, especially for strategic B2B customers.  If you have budget constraints or have a very large customer base, online surveys may be the best option.  Sometimes, even a mixed methodological approach may be beneficial and provide the best of both worlds.  Competitive information can be gathered telephonically through market studies or lost customer studies.  New product generation or gauging marketing needs is best achieved with focus groups, either face-to-face or virtual.  Choosing the right methodological approach will ensure the actionability of the results.


Step 2:  Identify the target sample.  Identifying the correct respondents is the necessary step to ensure reliability of the results.  In most B2B Customer Experience studies, the rule of thumb is to survey the 20% of your customers that drive 80% of your revenue.  Each selected account should be evaluated to identify all individuals who have interactions with you in order to provide a full and complete picture of that account.  For non-customer surveys, contacting prospective customers or pulling customer lists from online databases may be necessary and appropriate.  Typically, the rule of thumb in B2B research is a sampling of at least 30 respondents will have some statistical reliability regardless of the population size.  Therefore, it is important to design your research study with a reliable sample in order to extrapolate those results to the entire population.


Step 3:  Construct the survey questionnaire or moderators guide.  The types of questions asked and how they are asked have a profound impact on the actionability and validity of the data.  Questions that are poorly written, confusing or leading will introduce bias into the data and thus the validity of the results will be questionable.  Your survey questionnaire should ask short and direct questions.  CSM has found that a paired-methodological approach is ideal; asking a closed-ended question followed by an open-ended question.  This enables sophisticated quantitative analysis such as predictive modeling, correlation analysis and provides an anchor to where you are at that moment in time.  The qualitative data provides the direction on how to improve that rated area from the respondents’ perspective.


Step 4:  Full and complete data analysis.  To properly map your results and thus define how to act on the results, it is critical to do full and complete quantitative and qualitative data analysis.  An average rating can only tell you so much and can be perceptive and deceptive at the same time.  Variability of responses can cause an average to be skewed and thus can provide either a false positive or negative depending on the result.  Looking at the quant-data by customer segments is also necessary to understand how the results can vary.  Correlation analysis will reveal what are the true drivers of higher satisfaction or likelihood to purchase.  Word clouds and word searches do not truly unveil all the nuances in the qual-data.  CSM recommends reading through all the verbatims to pull out key concepts, group like concepts and name the group based on the common language used.  Ranking them hierarchy will show what areas are significant, typically anything with 20% or higher level of agreement.


Step 5:  Close the loop.  Regardless of the study you conducted, it is imperative to close the loop with respondents.  Thanking respondents for their participation is a great way to ensure their willingness to participate in future studies.  In the cases of Customer Experience studies, closing the loop with customers is vital to sustain the relationship and ensure that customers know they were heard and you are taking corrective action.  Having a process in place that outlines how account managers close the loop increases employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction culminating to the stability and growth of the business.


Following these 5 steps can ensure your research study is set-up, executed and followed through in such a way to maximize actionability and reliability of the results.  Even still, the details can be tricky.  CSM would be most pleased to share their expertise in designing your study, evaluating your current research studies or executing it fully to ensure you have the most successful research experience.


Stay tuned for more research insights.


If you would like to learn more about customer research, please contact us at info@csmresearch.com

Author Bethany Gripp, M.S. in Research, Six Sigma Green Belt and Net Promoter Certified Associate Vice President of Research at CSM Research, Inc.