Defending customer research

Re-living that awkward moment when someone asks, "And what do you do?".

The recent great weather in the UK has afforded us the unusual luxury of getting together with friends and family in an outdoor setting, without having to check weather apps, pack jackets or congregate in a smaller space when the rain does arrive!

What’s also great on these occasions is the opportunity to get to know and speak to people that you don’t already know (friends of friends, if you like), and at some point the conversation will turn to what your job is.

Those of you that are also in the customer research industry, will like me, approach this question with equal amounts of dread and opportunity! Dread because, where do you start? How do you succinctly put into a few words what you do? Opportunity? Well, we’ll come to that later.

Other person: “So what do you do Ajay?”

Me: “I work in customer research

The likelihood is that the person you’re speaking to has a very cursory knowledge of customer research, and (1) will think that it is still carried out by Dorothy or Eileen on a street with a pen and clipboard, or (2) will recall the time they tried to politely get rid of “Dave” when he rang to do some customer research over the phone.

There may even be a (3) - being asked to fill out an online survey. And I’m surprised at the way in which customer research is at times, criticised by the people I’m speaking to.

“It’s a waste of time”

“So annoying – I’m always busy when they ring up”

“What’s the point of it? Nothing ever gets done from I tell them anyway”

It’s at this point, I take a deep breath and have to consider just nodding at their comments and allowing the conversation to grind to a halt, or valiantly defend the industry that I work in. Well, I believe that what we do has a huge part to play in much around our lives.

So my defence begins by explaining that the food that we’re eating, our drinks, the furniture we’re sitting on etc etc, would not reach us without some form of customer research having taken place beforehand.

And this goes further – the clothes we wear, the insurance we buy, the programmes we watch on TV…you get the picture.

What surprises me at times, is that many of the people I end up having such a conversation with, are working in industries where research is an absolutely fundamental part of their customer offering – they’re simply unaware of it, or do not consider it an important part of their company’s decision-making (it will be – they just don’t know it!).

If the person I’m speaking to is still digging their heels in at this point, they may respond with “Is it REALLY that important?”, to which the easy reply is:

“Companies want to know exactly what their customers, or potential customers will want”.

Further down the line, companies will make mistakes or perhaps make decisions without due diligence. As such, they will want to understand how and why, and examine how they can correct this. 

I’ve had conversations with clients and associates where they felt the agencies they were speaking to weren’t asking them the right questions on why the research was being undertaken or giving them options to consider how it could be better-designed to drive change.

As an agency-side researcher, these things are (as they should be) at the very heart of what we should be doing for a client.

Other person: “Now that you’ve explained it, I can see how important customer research is”

Me: “So, what do you do as a job?”

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