“The Customer is King” is an old business motto that puts the customer at the centre of any venture. If the customer isn’t happy, you won’t make money. That principle doesn’t only apply in customer service, but it starts with the product itself. Customer research is the only way to make sure you’re building what customers want and need.

As part of the EWOR Academy, Alexander Grots gave a lecture on customer research methods. The founder of ProGlove and co-founder and CCO of EWOR, Alexander has spent the past 20 years as an entrepreneur and investor. His journey has proven that understanding the customer is the key to success.

In this article, we’ll teach you useful immersion and interviewing methods as part of customer centricity.

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Preparing Customer Research

Conducting customer research requires preparation. As intuitive and fast-paced as business can be, there’s no point in rushing through research without a proper plan.

Use these next topics and tips as guidelines for preparing your own customer research. 

Preparation Principles

Before observing or confronting potential customers, dive into the topic. If you don’t understand the details of the problem, you won’t have productive conversations with people. 

Understand the challenge and have an overview of existing solutions. Look at the current status quo and identify what’s missing. The more time you spend in the world of this problem, the more obvious the answer will become.

Create personal experiences and enhance prior research that doesn’t involve customers. Use visuals to make sure you and your team are on the same page about the challenge.

The idea is to collect an initial batch of quantitative data that you will enhance with qualitative research with customers. A combination of the two creates the full picture of your topic.

For more tips on the best customer centricity habits, check out our article How to Boost Your Business with a Customer-Centric Strategy.

Need Finding

We conduct customer research to understand people’s needs. When someone tells you exactly what they need to solve their problem, it’s an explicit need. It gets tricky when customers are vague or don’t state their needs directly. In that case, it’s important to understand their implicit needs.

Consider this definition of needs to rethink what they are: Needs are verbs and solutions are nouns.

Needs are in the present and part of an active issue. They require urgent attention and evolve with changing environments and technologies. Solutions follow later.

Don’t jump to solutions too early. By focusing on what people need first, set a goal with your customer research.

Customer Research Methods: Immersion

The first customer research method is self-immersion. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and experience their problems first-hand.

Using immersion, learn real empathy for the problem you’re trying to solve. Since this is the most effective way to understand a topic in all its details, you’ll be able to create the best solutions with your products.

Self-Immersion Tips

Don’t waste your precious time by half-heartedly conducting self-immersion experiments. Give it your best shot for the best results.

Look out for details, regardless of how insignificant they may seem at first. Try to soak up the atmosphere in the setting you chose for this experiment.

Be curious and talk to strangers. Casual conversations with strangers in the same situation will deliver useful inspiration.

Speculate and test your assumptions during your experiment. If you cannot test your hypotheses, find creative ways to get as close to those assumptions as possible. Even a similar situation has the potential to inspire your ideas.

On a practical note, take as many pictures and notes as you can. Not only do these two practices serve as a form of documentation, but they will also come in handy for team exercises. 

Immersion Methods

With our guidelines for self-immersion in mind, try the following methods in your customer research.

Method 1: Take a picture and show it to your team.
Get a second use out of your pictures and show them to your team. If you took a photo of someone’s unconventional solution to a problem, ask your team to tell you what they think of it.

Without context and a conversation with that person, your team members will deliver more ideas based on speculation. Creative ideas like these are just as important as the real reason for that particular picture.

Method 2: Fly on the Wall
Stay at one spot for an unusual amount of time. Try to be as quiet and invisible as a fly on the wall.

Observe your surroundings without interfering. Document what you see and take pictures if it’s appropriate. Use this method to find a way to blend in and subtly learn from the real context of the situation you’re researching.

Method 3: Shadowing
The shadowing method turns you into a detective. Pick a person that fits your topic and follow them for a while. Of course, be respectful and subtle during this process.

Observe how they interact with their surroundings and make decisions. Figure out when and why they show signs of insecurity or confusion, and use that knowledge to your advantage.

This strategy will teach you about natural human behaviour, which later informs your product design.

Method 4: In the shoes of…
The fourth method requires acting skills. Go into an environment that’s relevant to your topic and play a role that triggers reactions from others.

Make this experiment as real as possible and ask someone to observe you. Pay attention to hurdles and problems, from both your perspective and the people you engage with.

Popular examples of this method are bodysuits to simulate weight differences, pregnancy, or old age. Be sure that when you use this method, you adapt it to the needs of your company by choosing the right roles and scenarios.

Method 5: Activities, Environment, Interactions, Object, User (AEIOU)
The AEIOU method helps with focusing on a specific situation that’s relevant to your product. It can help understand the different dimensions that could have an impact on user behaviour.

Customer Research

It’s useful to look out for reasons why users might be confused, or overexerted, and where pain points occur. Use this customer research method to shape your product development.

Customer Research Methods: Interviewing

Conducting customer interviews is the most common research method. As simple as they seem, these interviews require preparation and techniques to generate the best results.

Use the following tips before consulting our recommended interviewing methods.

Recruiting Tips

There are a few factors to keep in mind when recruiting people for interviews. This process depends on your product and topic as well.

Recruit from family and friends and their extended social networks. Be careful about biased interviewees because loved ones could struggle with sugar-coating.

Make sure to recruit people from all ages, genders, and ethnic profiles. Choose people who are in different life stages as well. These different backgrounds are key to generating diverse feedback from your audience.

Consider interviewing individuals or using interviews in group settings. Be precise in choosing the person based on their background or their role in society. Additionally, consult experts’ feedback for perspectives you hadn’t thought of.

Questionnaires

After choosing your recruits, prepare the interview questions. Think of questionnaires as conversation guides, rather than a set of questions that you collect answers for.

The true value is the conversation itself, even if you steer away from your prepared questions. Questionnaires help you prepare yourself and brainstorm for what you want to achieve with the interview.

Choose open questions to avoid getting simple yes or no answers. The more the interviewee talks, the better. Group these questions per topic and let them guide you through the process.

Start with general questions and become more specific over time in order to ease your interviewee into the conversation.

Interviewing: Dos and Don’ts

  • Listen! Do not disrupt the flow. Don’t correct.
  • Enjoy the silence.
  • Use non-verbal gestures.
  • Don’t suggest answers in your questions.
  • Don’t talk about your idea, but about the participant’s relation to it.
  • Treat participants as experts.
  • Start light and easy. Break the ice early on.
  • Ask to see objects and physical examples or situations.
  • Collect phrases and quotes.
  • Note down your immediate thoughts.

Interviewing Methods

There are seven main interviewing methods. Depending on your topic and interviewee, choose the best-fitting method and adapt it to your needs.

Method 1: Open Questions
Closed questions give options and, thus, direct the answers. But a yes or a no won’t inspire complex insights.

Open questions ask for options. Answers will be based on the view of the interviewee, telling you more about them and putting them in charge.

Method 2: Five Whys
This popular interrogation method uses the question “Why?” to understand the root of a problem or situation. Dig deeper when you’re not getting the answers you want by repeating the question five times.

Let this example illustrate the effectiveness of the five whys method:

Q: ”Why do you exercise?“

A: “Because it’s healthy!“

Q: “Why is it healthy?“

A: “It raises my heart rate.“

Q: “Why is that important?“

A: “I burn more calories.“

Q: “Why do you want to do that?“

A: “I want to lose weight.“

Q: “Why are you trying to lose weight?“

A: “I want to look attractive.”

Method 3: Silence
Don’t be afraid of silence. Use it to your advantage, even if it feels uncomfortable for all involved. The goal isn’t to make the interviewee feel bad, but silence can be used as a tool to generate more feedback.

If you are stronger than the interviewees, they will break the silence first and tell you more of what you want to know. It’s a psychological method that only works if you are mentally prepared for it.

Method 4: Guided Tours
Ask someone to give you a tour of their environment. This can be their home, workplace, or a public setting. Ask them about why they mention the things they show you and why they don’t mention other things.

Method 5: Narration
As they perform a process or execute a specific task, ask participants to describe aloud what they are thinking. Make them narrate the actions they’re doing.

Observation is useful, but a customer’s explanations will create a fuller picture.

Method 6: Unfocus Group
In a workshop, bring together a diverse group of people. If possible, pick extreme users for this exercise. Extreme users exist on either side of the spectrum, meaning they will have strong opinions on why they use or avoid a product.

Hand out topics and materials for this group to discuss and build what they believe might be relevant to the design challenge. Don’t lead the conversation, but guide it.

Learn from this group’s dynamic and opinions to inform your product choices.

Method 7: Camera Journal
Ask participants to keep a written, voice, or visual account of their impressions related to your topic. Make sure they document their actions and circumstances as well.

Ask them to fill this “diary” for a specific length of time. For the best results, design prompts or incentives that will remind them to fill their diary.

After the diary is completed, ask those participants to go through each entry with you. Note their thoughts and reasoning because these personal insights will help you with your customer research.

Bottom Line

Use these customer research methods to boost your business-to-customer venture. With the right preparation, immersion and interviewing techniques will help you inform the technologies behind your product.

About the author
EWOR Team

EWOR is a school conceived by Europe’s top professors, entrepreneurs, and industry leaders. We educate and mentor young innovators to launch successful businesses.

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