Customer Research Trends for 2010

imageTrendwatching isn’t just for designers and marketing and design professionals.  Market researchers want to know what’s hot in the world of measuring customer experience as much as everyone else!

I’ve pulled together some of the new and trending ways that customers provide information and organizations collect it.

  1. Tracking Social Media Conversations.  Focus groups used to be the only way to get that special “voice and body language” of the customer without all the cost and logistics involved.  Social media applications provide a virtual “room” where the conversation is all about your company or product.  There are firms that specialize in this specialized kind of market research.
  2. Real time reviews. The growth of sites like YELP have emboldened customers to tell the world about what they love and what they don’t love about their latest customer experiences.  Organizations should take the opportunity to  have their own space or presence online where customers can connect directly with employees and give their feedback.  Respond to customer feedback and build your brand.
  3. Customers will want multiple levels and platforms for feedback.  In addition to your regular online surveys, be sure to provide a space where customers can offer their ideas.  IdeaScale is a great way to get customers involved in the product improvement and development process.  Customers who are involved in contributing their ideas are loyal customers and enthusiastic referrers.
  4. Sharing information across company departments. There are vendors and technologies that now allow you to track customer feedback across sources such as e-mails, call centers, blogs and comments online.  Check out ResponseTek, for example.  They provide an entire suite of services that will help you route important customer feedback to the appropriate department manager BEFORE they’ve left you for a competitor.
  5. Customer feedback is everyone’s job. An overarching trend is to have employees from across the organization carry social media accounts and interact with customers as they “chat” about your company, product or service.  Instead of having all the feedback run through one department, companies will find it necessary to create an infrastructure that allows the information to be collected, processed, reported and acted upon by key managers in each department.
  6. Moving away from score-keeping to experience improvement. Companies are spending less time obsessing about tracking scores and the movement of the scores on surveys and caring more about the open-ended responses that customers provide.  In other words, a score of 7 out of 10 doesn’t tell you what to do to improve an experience.  But 100 requests for 24/7 online customer support via chat is feedback you can do something about.

As you can tell by the six trends I’ve outlined here, there is an overarching shift away from surveys that happen in intervals of quarters or months to on-going conversations with customers in order to quickly and effectively improve the experience.

I had such an experience recently when I chatted with Marc Gingras, founder and CEO of Tungle.com (the new meeting scheduling tool).  After discovering Tungle (via word of mouth), I was so excited about this calendar tool that I wrote about it in my blog.  About a day after the post went up, I got a personal e-mail from Marc thanking me for the post.  After another month or so, Marc scheduled a phone conference with me to chat about the tool.  He asked me what I liked, and what I wished that it would do.  Not only that, but he encouraged me to tell my friends who also used the tool to send any ideas directly to him.  Before you say that this is impractical, understand that Tungle has multiple channels of feedback collection and they have incorporated personal conversations as part of this feedback.

How to Take Advantage of These Trends

  1. Create a “customer experience” champion in your organization. Companies are starting to create departments and people who basically serve as the depository of real-time customer feedback.  They receive all the feedback and notify the appropriate managers immediately.  They are given the freedom to take care of customer problems and improve the experience.
  2. Start monitoring social media chatter. Encourage employees to open corporate social media accounts.  Create account names that mention your company name.  For example @NPRscottsimon is the Twitter ID for Weekend Edition host Scott Simon on National Public Radio.
  3. Use IdeaScale to gather product improvement information.  Focus groups can be expensive and IdeaScale is a wonderful and cost-effective tool to engage customers in voicing their needs and wants.
  4. Open up your blog articles for comments. Use the feedback you’ve already received from customers to create blog articles that educate and inform your customers about the improvement programs you have going on.  Invite them to provide their input and respond to that input.

What trends have you noticed and what do you recommend as a way to take advantage of these trends?

About the Author: Ivana Taylor is CEO of Third Force, a strategic firm that helps small businesses get and keep their ideal customer. She’s the co-author of the book “Excel for Marketing Managers” and proprietor of DIYMarketers, a site for in-house marketers. Her blog is Strategy Stew.   You can reach her directly at Ivana@thirdforce.net.