Making Research Personal

Don’t brush off research as too expensive. Make it personal and take your customers out for coffee or create an advisory board to hear what they have to say.

Don’t brush off research as too expensive. Make it personal and take your customers out for coffee or create an advisory board to hear what they have to say.

The chance of making a bad decision increases significantly when decisions are based on speculation.

Some companies and organizations continue to guess what customers, consumers and constituents want without asking their opinions. Managers complain research is too expensive, time consuming or too difficult to conduct. Whatever the excuse, decision-making without information is still pasta marketing: throwing your ideas against the wall and hoping something sticks.

Get personal with your research. Take on the task of talking directly with customers and constituents. Ask them to be part of your decision-making team.

Here are three easy, effective research techniques that any group or organization can use.

1. Get information by walking around: Go out and talk to customers. Introduce yourself. Explain what you are doing. Ask for their help. You will be surprised how interested and helpful people can be when asked.

2. Hold an informal focus group: Invite people to meet with you in a conference room or coffee shop. The keys to success are to keep the groups small (six to eight people is ideal), invite people that have similar characteristics and ask open-ended questions, letting participants talk while you listen. Keep the atmosphere casual and fun. Oh, and don’t forget the food and drinks. Those are essential.

3. Create a customer advisory board: Invite up to 15 people to meet with you quarterly. Share new ideas or problems and ask the group to respond. Don’t include current volunteers or your usual trusted advisors. You want new faces and new ideas. Let the group know what you are doing with the information between sessions to validate participation and keep them interested.

Any of these techniques will provide managers with new insights about what the organization does well, where improvement is needed and how to communicate effectively. Other benefits of getting personal with research include engaging customers, developing new relationships and creating advocates who will generate positive buzz among friends and family.

Tom Eiland is a CFM partner and the leader of the firm’s research practice. His work merges online research with client communications and engagement efforts, and he has a wide range of clients in the education, health care and transportation sectors. In his free time, Tom enjoys cycling, golf, reading and cooking. You can reach him at tome@cfmpdx.com