Using Market Research to Improve Customer Experience

iStock_000041416204_LargeOn the radio, it may be “all about the bass,” but in businesses and organizations everywhere today it is “all about the customer experience.” After you get beyond the expectation of offering a quality product or service at a fair value, consumers are judging you mostly on how they feel as they progress through their customer journey – from researching companies online to using your product successfully to resolving an issue. In a recent study of more than 1,000 U.S. customers who switched service providers in 11 industries, three-fourths reported they did so because they perceived the overall quality of the customer experience to be poor.


Positive customer experiences go a long way toward cementing customer loyalty and their likelihood to recommend you to friends and family. In a December survey of the Iowa Opinion Panel, we asked, “When you make a recommendation to someone, which of the following typically motivates your recommendation?” The top three responses were value, product/service performance and the customer experience during the purchase process.


December, 2014.  813 members of the Iowa Opinion Panel.

Many companies track customer satisfaction shortly after purchase or when a customer encounters a problem or requires customer service. That is smart, but you should also try to measure all the other times customers engage with you. For instance, what is their customer experience at these points?

  • Researching your product or service on your website or social media sites before they buy
  • Looking for contact information or locations on your website
  • Calling your company for information or assistance before they buy
  • Emailing your company (or filling out web forms) for information or assistance
  • Requesting samples, trial memberships, or other pre-purchase offers
  • Browsing product inside retail locations
  • Receiving assistance inside retail locations
  • Making special requests (e.g., asking a salesperson to contact them when a specific item comes in)
  • Signing up for and using text or email promotion programs
  • Asking for pricing information
  • Requesting credit card, installments or other type of financing
  • Making related appointments at other businesses or organizations (e.g., car repair shop facilitates communications with rental car company)

Your prospective and actual customers are interacting with you in multiple ways. What is their experience? What impressions do they take away? What will they say about you out in the community? Here are some suggestions on ways to measure and evaluate your customers’ experiences:

  • Conduct periodic secret shopper studies – you can manage with your own staff or hire it out (if you manage internally, for a more unbiased study, hire and train the secret shoppers rather than using staff to make the visits)
  • On a regular basis, reach out to prospects and customers with short email surveys to ask about their experiences after a specific interaction (e.g., website visit, retail store visit, purchase, obtaining product sample or demonstration, calling product support)
  • Establish a customer experience council that includes both long-term and newer customers and agrees to provide feedback and suggestions for improvement – you can run them in-person or online
  • Use your social media channels to ask about customer experiences and analyze posts for themes and sentiment
  • Create a cross-functional customer experience team within your organization that focuses on understanding customer expectations, identifying areas to improve and generating ideas to push your customers’ experiences to the highest level
  • Shop your competitors so you stay current on the type of customer experiences you are competing with and the level of expectations for your industry
  • Take inspiration from positive customer experiences you encounter in other industries
  • Make sure you are using any traditional market research activities (e.g., focus groups, interviews or surveys) to identify expectations for the customer experience and how that experience correlates with satisfaction and loyalty

Don’t focus on just one or two customer contact points – it is the whole experience that counts.  And it counts for more every day.

For more information about your market research options, contact Vernon Research Group at (319) 364-7278 or subscribe to our blog below.


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