In his March 24th blog post, “The Secret to Meaningful Customer Relationships”, Roger Martin, the Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, wrote about using qualitative research to gain a deeper understanding of our customers. We think his comments are spot on.
Martin argues that “if our understanding of customers is based entirely on quantitiative analysis, we will have a shallow rather than a deep relationship with them”, and that while quantitative analysis with a large statistically significant sample size is considered “rigorous”, there are tradeoffs involved. One of these is using our langauage to craft multiple choice questions as opposed to the respondent’s and, in the process, risking that the meanings we attribute to terms like “reputation”, “service” and “purchase decision” are not the same as those the respondent may ascribe. According to Martin, when we let the customer use her own voice/words/vocabulary, we have at least the potential to gain a deeper understanding of our customers. We agree.
Qualitative research isn’t easy. It is open to judgement and interpretation. And sometimes it’s tempting to dismiss what we have heard because the sample size isn’t statistically significant – after all not everything we hear from customers is glowing! But there is nothing more powerful than hearing the customer talk about a product or service (or a competitor’s product) in her own words. And there is incredible value in having the conversation – in following the twists and turns it may take – to uncover the insights that are waiting for those who are willing to invest in asking the right questions and really listening to the answers.
Martin’s blog post is intriguing and worthy of a read: