Whilst quantitative research is stat-driven, qualitative research is concerned with depth of understanding of a given issue. It’s exploratory in nature, often conducted at the beginning of a full customer research programme.
The most common techniques used for qualitative (‘qual’) customer research are:-
- Focus Groups (face-to-face, online)
- Depth Interviewing (face-to-face, telephone, online)
Whilst the qual research design is structured, the responses are anything but. In a focus group environment for instance, your customers can freely express themselves, unconstrained from response options presented to them in a quant survey. It allows customers to go into far greater detail when recounting service encounters (good and bad), satisfaction levels, purchase decision making, brand awareness and perception etc. etc. etc. than you could possibly hope for in a structured quant survey.
As you can imagine, if your company has never previously sought feedback from their customers, it can be eye-opening. A huge range of opinions and factors influencing their opinion can be obtained. Service delivery, complaints, experiences in dealing with the company,
A big risk with conducting a full scale quant survey without prior qual research is that you end up asking for opinions on a range of issues that aren’t actually important to customers and plays little part in their decision to purchase from you and/or your rivals. That’s one wasted survey. Remember the top of the page, highlighting the need for shared metrics? This is where qual research comes into its own, discovering what these metrics actually are.
On the other hand, if you do have a reasonably clear idea of what the key issues are, then it’s fine beginning the process with a quant survey. But don’t think that qual research is only to be used at the beginning of the customer research process.
The quant survey may generate some very interesting data and subsequent findings. Perhaps it has uncovered a new customer segment. Perhaps a set of results has thrown something up that’s either been significantly different to what was expected or something completely new to everyone. Surely this merits further investigation, in order to understand such customers and their attitudes and experiences in more detail?
This is where follow-up qual research plays its trump card. Using the quant findings as the foundation, further probing can reveal a wealth of insight that’s vital in understanding your customers’ relationships with yourselves and your offerings.