How to Conduct Customer Research in a Post Pandemic World

How to Conduct Customer Research in a Post Pandemic World

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in many ways, including how we carry out customer research. With major vaccination rollouts, reopenings, office returns, and the lifting of other pandemic-related restrictions, the post-pandemic world (or at least a level of coexistence) is in the near future. 

As we transition, there are many changes and challenges that researchers and business owners alike must address and adapt to. Many of these changes deal with changing customer behaviors, as well as with their attitude towards customer research.

While the past two years have been a time to pause and reflect on changes, the post-pandemic period requires studying and implementing new customer research strategies. After all, with changes to customer behavior and preferences, there have also been new technological innovations.

Market researchers must stay on top of emerging trends, research techniques, and, most importantly, their target market to make better business decisions.

How Have Customer Expectations and Behavior Changed Since the Pandemic?

An illustration of a person online shopping through their phone

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the world as we know it. People now live differently, buy differently, and in many ways, think differently. Consumers across the globe are looking at products and brands through a new lens.

1. Buyers Are Online More Than Ever

A graphic that reads "B2B customers now use over 10 channels to engage with sellers

The digital economy boomed during the COVID-19 crisis. With countries across the globe imposing strict lockdown measures in a bid to limit the spread of the virus, the number of consumers shopping online, especially for groceries, skyrocketed.

As people embraced social distancing, they turned to online shopping more than ever before. According to a survey done by McKinsey, B2B customers now use ten or more channels to engage with sellers. With the enhancement in digital technology, it's no surprise that today's consumers are in control of their path to purchase. 

2. B2B Buyers Prefer Online Interactions

A graphic that reads: "70%-80% of B2B decision-makers say they now prefer digital self-serve and remote human engagement over face-to-face interactions"

70%-80% of B2B decision-makers say they now prefer digital self-serve and remote human engagement over face-to-face interactions—a sentiment that has steadily intensified even after lockdowns have ended (McKinsey, 2022).

Safety is one reason, of course. But self-serve and remote interactions have made it easier for buyers to get information, place orders, and arrange service; customers have come to enjoy that speed and convenience.

3. Brand Preferences Are Changing

Stat that says 45% of people have changed their brand preferences since the pandemic

For various reasons, consumer loyalty to their usual brands has fallen. 45% of respondents in a survey said their brand preferences have shifted since COVID (Ketchum, 2020). 

When shopping in person, consumers base their brand choice on various factors, such as price, packaging, perceived quality, and personal experience.

Consumer preferences are shifting in support of brands that prioritize health, as well as advancing diversity and inclusion efforts.

What Is Customer Experience Research?

The definition of customer experience research in a pink box

Customer experience research refers to the gathering and analysis of any sort of data related to your customer's interactions with your business. 

Customer experience research aims to improve a company's competitive edge by understanding its customers' demands and pain points and then applying these insights to improve the overall customer experience.

Customer Research Versus Market Research

Customer research is the study of consumer behavior to draw broader customer insights for successful business decision-making. In contrast, market research is an all-purpose word referring to the practice of gathering and analyzing data to answer discrete business issues.

Customer research falls under the umbrella of market research and identifies the motivation and buying behavior of targeted customers. 

Using customer research information, brands can modify their products and services, making them more customer-centric and enhancing customer satisfaction.

Why Should Businesses Update Customer Research in 2022?

Customer research helps create a blueprint that you can use to understand your customer's needs and wants better. When done correctly, customer research leads to ongoing marketing strategies that will benefit a company in more ways than one. 

Discover why businesses need to update customer research in 2022.

1. Understanding Changing Customer Expectations

Image of a film camera behind a digital camera

It's recommended that brands update their customer research to understand changing customer expectations. In business, it's either you adapt or die. Kodak is an excellent example of a company that did not adapt. 

For many years, Kodak thrived in analog photography. When the digital camera was invented in 1975, people slowly reduced the use of films and printing sheets. 

However, Kodak dismissed the digital camera's capabilities and refused to do anything new. Kodak underestimated just how big the digital camera would get, and the company began to fall, filing for bankruptcy in 2012.

2. Delivering Successful Customer Engagement

B2B Customer Engagement refers to a marketing approach that focuses on creating an engaging relationship with the customer that ensures their retention. The basic principle of the B2B Customer Engagement strategy is to provide the customer with value rather than simple advertising.

B2B sales models must adapt to deliver successful customer engagement. The solution to increasing higher customer engagement for a company revolves around the basic principle of providing the right product at the right price and including appropriate features that get delivered to the customer at the right time.

3. Understanding New Emerging Technologies and Changes in Behavioral Trends

A computer screen with a virtual meeting and another with a virtual presentation

Customer behavior has changed substantially as a result of the pandemic. There have also been changes and innovations in technology since the start of the pandemic, such as the rise in virtual events

The majority of firms have seen a rapid shift toward communicating with clients via digital media. Companies need to update customer research to understand these emerging technologies that can improve marketing and sales.

4. Mitigating Risks

Doing business without customer research is like sailing without a compass. If brands don't research to understand changing preferences, they can make the wrong decisions and get lost along the journey. Armed with research, you can take those risks and shift the odds in your favor.

5. Identifying Bugs or Issues With Product Updates or Services

Customer research will help you know what your customers are saying and respond directly to their needs. Customer feedback is a source of new ideas for your product as it sheds light on customer problems that may have escaped you.

What Are the Different Customer Research Methods?

Your customers are the reason your business exists. Gathering as much information as you can about them through customer research will help refine and grow your business. 

The type of business you have and the kind of information you need to gather will influence the customer research methods you choose. You can conduct customer research yourself or hire a customer experience research agency to do it. Customer research methods can be broadly classified into virtual or in-person.

Virtual Research

  • Customer Surveys - Surveys are a form of qualitative research that ask respondents a series of open or closed-ended questions. When doing surveys, keep the survey short and ensure all questions are neutral. 
  • Using heatmap tools - A heat map is a two-dimensional representation of data in which colors represent values. Using heat maps is an excellent place to start if you want to see how your customers navigate your website and better understand their online experience to make changes.
  • Watching customers use your product - You can do this virtually or in person. Watching customers use your product is an excellent way to gain insights into their experiences. It helps you understand how the customers interact with your product.

In-Person Research

Icon of a chat bubble and a location mark
  • Interviews - Interviews are one-on-one conversations with members of your target market. Nothing beats a face-to-face interview for diving deep. Be terrified of at least one question you are asking in every interview because it might give you the insights you need to make the bold decisions moving forward.
  • Onsite visit/walkthrough - One of the most powerful ways to understand your customer is by spending a day in their life. By stepping into the shoes of your customer, you can figure out and experiment with how and when to introduce your product into their lives.

Now that you know how to gather the data, let's learn how to use the data to gather customer insights that lead to decision making.

Using Customer Research Data To Make Better Decisions

So many companies make bad decisions, even with access to vast amounts of data. Tricia Wang, a technology ethnographer, did a Ted Talk where she suggested that businesses should focus on "thick data" to make the right business decisions and thrive in the unknown.

The primary purpose of doing customer research is to gain customer insights. Customer insight is the understanding and interpretation of customer data, behavior, and feedback. This information leads to conclusions that can be used to improve product development and customer support. 

Insights are the actionable motivations behind the wants and needs of customers that a business can use to expand features, develop new products, and create consumer benefits. Collecting customer insights is a way to align customers' needs with a company's business goals.

The data collected from customer research is classified as either quantitative or qualitative.

  • Quantitative data — This is data that's measured using numbers and values. It provides objective results that provide statistics and allow you to classify.  
  • Qualitative data —  Qualitative data describes the information and cannot be measured or counted. It helps your brand understand the human experience and often provides the context that is lost with quantitative data.

Merging both quantitative and qualitative data allows you to create a more complete picture of who your target audience is, and what their needs, wants, and expectations are. 

When doing customer research, look out of the box for data such as customer reviews, social media, and email marketing. Map and analyze customer profiles based on the data you gather in customer research and update these customer profiles if you already have customer personas.

Let Us Help

An illustration of a girl holding her arms up with a croissant logo in the clouds

With all the ongoing changes the pandemic and its post-pandemic era have brought about, it may appear murky, if not extremely difficult, to conduct market research. Doing customer research can be quite an undertaking. 

To save on time and effort as well as to reap real benefits, consider collaborating with an agency that focuses on marketing strategy. External firms are ideal for this work as they don't carry biases or preconceived notions that come with being an insider. People are also more inclined to divulge information when they aren't being interviewed by an insider. Steel Croissant has proven experience conducting customer research for a variety of brands. 

Do you need help with customer research? Contact us today.

At Steel Croissant, every project starts with research and ends with analysis to deliver a 360-degree scope of work. We will work with your brand and offer you solutions that are adaptable, actionable, and measurable. Whether you're taking your first steps or are already running at full speed, we're here to help.

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