Research techniques for the customer experience

As the PepsiCo case teaches, any brand interested in engaging customers should pay attention to customer responses. This is a complex task that requires economic resources and investment of time to generate useful customer insight. The latter is probably the ingredient furthest from the current endowment of companies. Market research typically aims at generating the essential customer knowledge for

Market research by brand goal

FIGURE 5.3 Market research by brand goal

the brand’s future success. However, market research is quite a wide field, with several techniques, each of which has its own features and specificities: knowing them is a priority for every brand manager working on customer experience and customer engagement. Such knowledge cannot be taken for granted nowadays because the modern techniques useful to gain access to the highly subjective customer experience (Addis & Holbrook, 2001) are vast and heterogeneous, ranging from those of the anthropological area to the psychological, psychoanalytic, sociological, statistical, even neurological. No market technique is the best one by nature, as each technique fits with specific conditions; further, engaging brands select the best technique for their goals under specific conditions of the customer experiences. Identifying the right sources to capture necessary customer insights to implement a customer-centric approach is a challenging task (Ordenes.Theodoulidis, Burton, Gruber, & Zaki, 2014).

This section focuses on the market research techniques to support brand managers in understanding the customer journey and designing their customer experience.

The first initial useful distinction between research techniques refers to the goals that brands want to achieve in terms of customer experience (Figure 5.3):

  • 1. Market research to understand customer experiences and the drivers of customer engagement.This kind of research is also called explorative; it is precious for brands that need to investigate their own or other customer experiences and the drivers of customer engagement. As in the case of any phenomenon that is poorly known, the initial stage involves exploring customer experiences (Malhotra, 2009). This is a common situation, especially due to the fact that, traditionally, brands have been focused on more functional dimensions of their offers. In this case, qualitative research is the key to identifying the variables of the customer experiences that will be designed later. Specifically, thanks to the knowledge generated through explorative research, brands can learn the key obstacles and assets of customer journey maps. Typically, brands know only poorly the specific features of experiences and engagement from the customers’ point of view, so there is a relevant need to trace the boundaries and understand the intervening variables.
  • 2. Market research to describe and design customer experiences and customer journey maps. This category of research contains descriptive and causal techniques that are useful in assessing the volumes and the features of the customer experience, along with testing the relationships among the variables that constitute it. As a consequence, and as in any other descriptive and causal research project, these techniques are quantitative, thus relying on strong statistical relationships. Both descriptive and causal research are widely used to study consumer behaviour and marketing phenomena. Their application over time has helped to develop a rich case history, as well as valid and detailed protocols, which makes their use relatively easy and reliable. They contribute greatly in creating proper customer experiences because listening to customers allows companies to acquire much information about customers and their experiences that can be used for positioning brand strategies.

The market research categories described above can be further detailed with regard to customer reactions. Each category includes techniques capable of covering all consumer reactions relating to customer engagement, from cognitive to emotional, behavioural, sensory, and social. The range of the available market research techniques for customer experiences and customer engagement is considered, by definition, a flexible instrument. Although the majority of research techniques can be adapted to investigate a multiplicity of customer responses, each of them is particularly suitable to address one of the five categories of the customer responses (Churchill & Iacobucci, 2010).These associations are shown in Figure 5.4.

Market research techniques by customer responses

FIGURE 5.4 Market research techniques by customer responses

Understanding cognitive responses

To explore the cognitive dimension, positivist market research techniques represent the best choice. Indeed, in-depth interviews and focus groups provide brands with insights about the most rational dimension of consumer behaviour.

In-depth interviews are run to go deeply into the consumer’s personal and subjective point of view (Boyce & Neale, 2006; Gilgun, 1992). They are widely used to explore several key concepts both because of their ability to go deeply into the subject and because of their high standardized protocol that gives them ease of use in different contexts (Kubacki, Rundle-Thiele, Schuster,Wessels, & Gruneklee, 2015). Indeed, the typical protocol of the technique does not need any specific revision for the investigation of customer experience. It can easily be adopted for any kind of experience, with no limitation in terms of company industry, customer profile, or other categories.

The in-depth interviews and the focus groups are distinguished by the nature of the cognitive processes investigated. While the former is suitable for investigating individual cognitive processes because it enhances the specific perspective of the interviewee, the second is typically to be preferred when a strong social component is to be emphasized; i.e., when the purchasing or consumption processes are collective (Calder, 1977; Hair, Celsi, Ortinau, & Bush, 2008). Although the focus group technique is therefore suitable for exploring the social dimension of customer response, it is preferable to include it in the field of cognitive dimension techniques because its first treatise concerns, precisely, the ability to investigate the consumer’s mind and its rational processes. In-depth interviews and focus groups typically adopt laddering as a coding tool to trace rational consumer thinking.

Since the functional benefits have always been the core of consumption, these two techniques have been the constant object of study and investigation, so that they have by far the longest tradition.The cognitive responses have the important characteristic of being rationalizable and, therefore, understandable through a work of continuous abstraction, thus eliminating each element of contextual richness in successive phases (Holt, 1998). If, on the one hand, their protocols are well known, so that they are easily and frequently run, on the other hand, their contribution to creating innovative customer experiences is rather limited (Holbrook, 1995; Hudson & Ozanne, 1988. Nowadays, they can be regarded as basic research techniques. Afterwards, cognitive variables emerging from these techniques typically foster the descriptive and causal research through survey and experiments.

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