Using Qualitative Research to become Experience Leaders

Customer Experience

Using Qualitative Research to become Experience Leaders

Ray Poynter
Ray Poynter
August 17, 2023
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One of the recent trends in CX is the move from Experience Managers to Experience Leaders. A key tool to enable organizations to achieve this shift is the introduction of qualitative research into the CX mix.

Focusing too much on the ‘What?’

Most CX programs deal with investigating the ‘what’ and focus mainly on assigning numeric values to the organization response to the marketplace. Quantitative CX programs ask customers to assign ratings and rankings to different, tangible aspects of the experience. These numbers allow the organization to manage the experiences better. Things that are problems are tackled. Things that are going well are (at best) rolled out more widely, at worst the things that are going well are simply left as they are. The open-ended responses from surveys provide some additional information, but it is mostly information about the what, not the why. Focusing on the ‘What?’ only allows an organization to manage experiences rather than lead experiences. Managing experiences is based on giving people less of what they don’t like and more of what they do like. Leading experiences is about opening new doors.

Using qual to unlock the ‘Why?’

Qualitative research goes beyond the what to investigate the why. For example, qual research can show that customers in a particular field are motivated by the need to show off, or because they seek reassurance, or because they are looking for short-term value for money, or that they are looking for long-term value for money.

When we understand the motivations of customers, we can use our superior knowledge of the product or service to think of better solutions. If we see that customers are looking for reliability, then we might offer longer guarantees or lifetime replacements. If we see that people are seeking public recognition, we might want to provide evidence of purchase or consumption (e.g. labels on the outside or social media mentions).

Examples of adding qual to CX

There are a wide variety of qualitative techniques that can be added to CX programs, here are a few of them.

  • Video diaries. By leveraging smartphones, we can recruit and follow customers through the purchase cycle or through a typical usage period. The participants can take photos and record comments in Instagram fashion. The researcher can probe the participants to explore the why and the unstated.
  • Walkthroughs. One example of a walkthrough is a digital session where the participant uses a browser to visit a website to achieve some outcome. At the same time, the participant talks to the researcher about why they are doing what they are doing. Another type of walkthrough is the accompanied shop, where the researcher accompanies the participant while they shop for their groceries or test drive a new car.
  • Asynchronous Discussions. Online discussions, held across days or even weeks, allow the researcher to examine motivations and views as they mature over time. One good example of this sort of research is to use an online discussion in conjunction with the development of a new website or marketing campaign. Another good example is recruiting a group of new subscribers to a service. During the next few weeks, the group members discuss how their experience of the service unfolds and what it is delivering to them.
  • Cultural Studies. Peter Drucker says ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ and the cutting edge for research focuses on culture. Key tools for understanding culture are tools such as semiotics, ethnography and discourse analysis.

Leveraging Agile Qual

Traditionally, one of the arguments against qual has been that it takes too long. However, in recent years we have seen the development of a number of agile approaches to qual research, for example, online focus groups, online discussions, smartphone ethnography, and remote usability sessions. With modern qual options available, where there is a will, there is a way.

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