Growth Insights

Five steps for generating reliable customer insights

Understanding the wants, needs, and journeys of target customers has become a tenant of growth across the business, nonprofit, and government sectors. As various entities scramble to be at the forefront of Innovation, ahead of their competitors, the process for generating customer insights can get muddled. Growth strategies and brand identities built on insights infused with personal biases and improper use of methods will ultimately lead to failure. The following five steps offer tips to bolster customer engagement processes so that they lead to reliable insights and data.

Lead with open-ended questions.

One of the major mistakes organizations make when researching insights begins with designing interview or focus group guides. Team members, sometimes from various departments and backgrounds, come together to identify key questions they need answered and mistake these questions for interview questions. The problem here lies in the intention of these questions. They are often company-focused, replete with industry jargon that is almost always noncomplementary to customer points of view: they aim to solve the needs and goals of the organization rather than the needs and goals of the targeted end user. Conversely, robust guides are built on topical, open-ended questions that don’t assume to know what customers need or want. While prompts can be designed to get at some of the team’s key questions, allowing the participant to explore their own thoughts first will always lead to richer insights and uncover new knowledge.

Own your biases.

As with any self-growth practice, recognizing your weaknesses is an important part to resolving bad habits. Personal bias can be a significant impediment to insight generation. Know where you stand and where you think the research will take you so that you can recognize what you want the data to say versus what the data is actually telling you. While you can test the research against your starting assumptions, never become so attached to a thought or idea that you prevent the real or new insights from rising to the top.

Listen actively.

Another mistake interviewers make is getting so focused on the end-result or goal that they stop really hearing what their informant is saying. This tunnel vision is a road block to uncovering deeper insights. When you’re interviewing a person, listen to them intently and focus more on the “why” behind what they’re saying than the next question you have on your guide. Allow your respondent time to think and reflect. If they pause when they’re responding or before they’ve even started, don’t jump in with another question. Allow for silence so that they can gather their thoughts.

Record. Record. Record.

Even those of us with the best memory can’t remember every detail of every conversation we’ve had. Make sure that you are consistently recording what you hear from participants. Take detailed notes while you’re conducting the interview. This will help you to recall the interview later and leave extra time for your respondent to answer. In addition, every interaction should be audio or video recorded with the consent of the participant. These recordings not only help you to identify the context and emotion tied to what participants said but can become useful tools when you are relaying insights to other team members or clients. Hearing directly from the customer or end user is always more impactful.

Take time to reflect, as a team.

Insights cannot be generated in a day. Schedule time at the end of your sessions to formalize your notes and record any initial insights. Schedule time every few interviews to take inventory of what you’ve heard. Be open to changing your interview questions or challenging your assumptions with new information that arises. Schedule time with the rest of the project team to share insights and field any additional questions they may need answered.