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Getting to know your customers

How do you find out what your customers are all about? In this article, get tips on researching your customer tribe.
artisanal leather handbags made in Morocco from brand Abury
© Abury

There are lots of data sources for customer insight, some theoretical and desk based and others practical and experiential. Both are equally important so set time aside for them.

Desk research

Desk/internet based research options are pretty infinite, however these are a few places to start:

  • Read Annual Reports and Sustainability Reports from large companies in your sector, these can be a great source of market facts and a strong indicator of what’s happening in the market/industry
  • Business libraries – many libraries today will lend digital copies of publicly available reports
  • Follow leaders and trendsetters online
  • Competitor analysis – work on the broad assumption that successful bigger companies know their audience and are making commercial decisions based on what sells. Watch them closely and use their behaviours to inform your decision making.

Primary research

Primary research can be time consuming; however it has the huge benefit of being directly relevant to your business. It can be formal (interviews and questionnaires) or informal (chats in your store with customers as they shop). Both are entirely valid, however it’s important to remember that the opinion of one person isn’t necessarily representative – this is where some professional judgement is needed, and a wider view from more customers.

These are some useful tools:

  • Face-to-face conversation – hugely valuable for qualitative feedback but important to remain objective and keep perspective. Do this ad-hoc in-store, or invite a small focus group to provide more detailed and focused discussion
  • Website questionnaires – if your platform allows, this is a great way to get qualitative and quantitative feedback from current customers
  • Survey Monkey – a useful tool to research opinions across your entire customer database.
  • Events – if you go to any events where you think your customers might be, take the opportunity to conduct a simple survey, ask questions, get feedback
  • Social media – whilst not particularly robust, channels such as Twitter can provide great ‘quick and dirty’ feedback on simple questions. However be careful that the audience you are asking is the right one. There is limited value in asking a male plumber if he prefers to wear pink or red lipstick. Also be aware that respondents may well be influenced by other respondents.

*** Caution! Design and analysis of customer research questions is a skill – if you are doing this yourself take great care that questions do not lead answers in any way, and that all answers are accurately recorded. Ensure that the data you gather will be able to inform the questions you want to answer and take care that the analysis is objective.

If you are interested in learning more about research methods, you could look at this course about developing a research project through FutureLearn.

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