Customer Surveys - Why, and How Often?

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Too often businesses undertake a piece of customer research, only to wait several years before conducting another. In particular, it is common for businesses to be prompted to conduct customer surveys as a reaction to slower sales or negative online customer reviews. The important thing to note is that regular customer research might be able to prevent these drops in sales or reviews in the first place, by understanding changes in customers' perceptions and behaviours before they have an impact on the business. Regular customer research has a range of benefits, including the ability to compare results over time to identify positive and negative changes to the business, and the opportunity for a greater understanding of changes to both markets and customer behaviours.

Why is customer research important?

Customer research is vital to ensuring that your business is fulfilling its potential, standing out against the competition, and meeting your customers' needs. Monitoring your customers' perceptions of your brand can help you identify the best ways to adapt to achieve a more loyal customer base, and a stronger brand image. Not only can customer surveys identify areas for improvement, but they can also help to highlight what is unique about your company; satisfied customers are less likely to provide feedback voluntarily than disgruntled customers, so conducting research to find out their thoughts and opinions can help you to identify what your company is doing right and what makes you stand out from the competitors.

On top of this, acquiring new customers can be considerably more expensive than retaining current customers, meaning that investment in customer research now could save you money in the long run. If your customers feel that their voices are being heard and their needs met, they may be more likely to continue to use your services, saving you the investment required to obtain new customers.

It is no secret that keeping loyal customers is becoming increasingly difficult with the rapid pace at which technology is evolving. Customers are becoming savvy, conducting their own research online before purchasing a product, or choosing a specific company's services. Learning to adapt to fulfil your customers' needs even as they change can help your business to stay afloat and stand out, and conducting customer surveys can help you to understand these changes in customer needs and behaviour, and identify areas for improvement.

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Common mistakes when conducting customer research

1. Not conducting customer research at all

As highlighted above, there are a number of reasons why customer research is important to ensuring the success of your business. Understanding the potential market for your service or product, including the demographics of your customers and their views of your company's competitors and the marketplace as a whole, can go a long way towards ensuring that your business is not left fighting for recognition in a competitive market.

2. Looking for the wrong information

It is crucial to understand the context of your research, and what you are intending to get out of it. Your research should aim to capture the full picture; what do your customers care about in a brand? How does your product/service fit into their life? The questions you ask, and the response options you provide, can make or break your surveys. Ensuring that your research grants a good understanding of who your customers are and what they are looking for from your product/service can help you get on top of the market and identify potential USPs, giving you the best opportunity to succeed.

3. Interpreting the data too optimistically

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when conducting customer research is interpreting the data incorrectly, by twisting it to fit your own perception of your business. While it can be hard to hear, negative feedback can most effectively guide you towards understanding how you can change your brand image or services to fulfill the needs of your customers. One way to help ensure your data is being interpreted correctly is to repeat the research a few months later, after you have made some changes to the business based on your previous findings. If your customers continue to provide negative feedback about the area you attempted to improve, then you can stop and re-evaluate before the changes have had a heavy impact on your time and finances. 

4. Not acting on results appropriately

While understanding your customers' thoughts and opinions is the first step to successful research, this knowledge is useless if it does not inform action. Knowing that your customers would like more face-to-face interaction with your staff is useful, but only if that is put into practice by offering more opportunities for face-to-face interaction. Responding to your customers' feedback by improving the services you offer is the best way to increase customer satisfaction, and keep loyal customers coming back.

5. Avoiding follow-up research

Markets and customer behaviours are constantly changing. A business that was highly successful with a loyal customer base ten years ago may struggle now, if they have not worked to adapt to a changing market and customer landscape. To give yourself the best opportunity for success possible, it is vital to seek insight on a regular basis. Understanding the market as it changes can help you to adapt, and continue to fulfil your customers' needs.

Benefits of Regular Customer Research

Customer research can be far more valuable if conducted regularly. Learning how your customers view their experiences with your services is useful, but you cannot guarantee that these opinions would stay the same after four or five years, particularly if you have made any changes to your services or to your staff in that time. Repeating the same survey at regular intervals can help you to identify if any particular changes you have made have changed your customers' views of your company, and make appropriate adjustments based on your findings.

Repeating research over a long period of time also makes small discrepancies more noticeable and more statistically significant, allowing you to more quickly identify changes. Through regular research you can identify and avoid problems before they become true problems; if perceptions appear to be changing, then you can work to make adjustments to halt those changes early on, rather than waiting for them to affect your success.

Conducting research on a regular basis can also help to strengthen your findings. If, for example, you obtain similar findings three years in a row, this will be much more convincing than the results from a single piece of research. You could even opt to conduct the research at different times of the year and via different methods, to further strengthen your findings.

How often should customer research be conducted?

How regularly you ought to conduct customer research is highly dependent on your business and its products or services, as well as the type of research or surveys you intend to utilise. For example, online-based shops and businesses can implement a simple customer feedback system into their website in order to obtain customer feedback data on a day-to-day basis, such as a pop-up question asking customers to rate their shopping experience on a scale of 1 to 5.

For other businesses you may want to consider what services you offer and what a reasonable timescale would be for you; if your projects usually last 6 months, then you don't want to survey your customers every 3 months, and should instead aim for one or two pieces of research a year. In general, you should aim to conduct customer research every 6 or 12 months, but you may find that more frequent research is beneficial for your particular business.

How frequently you should conduct research also varies depending on the type of research you would like to conduct. If you are looking to conduct customer experience research, you may opt to run it on a bi-annual basis to keep track of any changes to your customers' reported experiences with your company. On the other hand, if you intend to utilise a lengthy customer satisfaction survey, it might be better to conduct it just once a year to avoid survey fatigue, and to allow any changes made after your previous survey to take effect. Due to the number of factors affecting your research, you should design each survey on a case-by-case basis with a plan for repeated surveys to be conducted in the future.

Woman pressing a green positive feedback button on a screen.

It is never too late to start

You may be concerned that it is too late to begin conducting regular market research for your business, or that you have missed the opportunity to gain useful insight. However, it is never too late to start monitoring your customers' views; it is better to start now and see potential improvement as a result, than to never try at all.

Are you interested in starting your customer research journey? Contact us today to find out how Mackman Research can help you gain insight into your customers and their experiences.

By Jess Crago

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