Published: September 30, 2019
Perception studies are becoming go-to research methods that enhance competitive intelligence by including customer perspectives in a particular discussion. In most cases, leadership wants to know what competitors are doing, but customer perceptions can be just as important if not more so. As CI functions look to offer additional capabilities and perspectives, voice of customer (VOC) studies seeking customer perceptions are key.
We wanted to provide some best practices to CI, marketing, R&D and other functions looking to execute VOC perception studies. These tips will help increase the impact perception studies can have, as well as provide unique competitive insights.
Most voice of customer studies have three to four primary methods of research — online, recruitment-basead, panel-based and focus groups. There are alternatives such as mail or email, but these are largely less effective. In fact, we believe you should only conduct perception studies using methods that engage the respondents versus a more passive approach, such as online surveys.
VOC perception studies require probing. They require expert interviewers speaking with a respondent and probing why, how and what is next. This is hard to execute via methods that utilize survey questions static in nature. This, of course, adds to the investment needed, but a poorly conducted perception study can actually make a situation worse.
Our preferred method is using recruitment-based research — that is, going and finding the best sources to engage with. Panels and focus groups are effective as well, but they often suffer from too-small sample sizes or the target audience is so unique that a panel is not likely available. We offer all three solutions.
Suggested Scope of a VOC Study
If engaging respondents via human interaction is the plan, we suggest a survey 15 to 20 minutes in length. Most of our research staff can execute 30-minute discussions with little pushback, but this requires highly skilled interviewers who know how to drive a conversation without steering the results.
Most of our research covers the following topics:
- Who do they know in the industry?
- Who are they using in the industry today?
- What do they know about the client organization?
- What do they know about the competitive landscape?
- Any key strengths and weaknesses.
- Questions regarding improvement and prioritization of those points of feedback.
We blend a mix of open-ended and closed-ended questions to create balance and ensure the survey does not turn into an hour-long discussion during our voice of customer consulting services. Hour-long discussions are possible but often require incentives, and the ROI is not always there. Just because someone talks for an hour does not mean what they have to say is relevant or meaningfully different.
This is one of the largest variables in any voice of customer study. There are multiple schools of thought on what is needed. Most projects we execute involve B2B perception research and don’t always require statistical validity.
Many people want statistical validity, but when it comes to the price tag, that desire quickly goes out the window. In many cases, VOC studies don’t always need statistical validity — the focus must be on how balanced the quota is to the different respondents and ensuring there is enough opportunity to see differences. As the research comes in, the goal is to evaluate the responses and see if there is a clear story developing and how the recruiting process ensures balance in the types of respondents.
One reason to consider an external partner for research is to make sure that, when a perception study is executed, the list of sources interviewed is not only filled with respondents who have only favorable perceptions of the brand. Internal functions often try to execute these projects,but when it comes to finding respondents, they get a list of respondents hand-selected by sales functions that are naturally more positive about your company’s brand.
The emphasis on deliverables for VOC perception studies is a narrow executive summary that covers key takeaways and implications. The key areas we suggest you have in an executive summary include:
- Breakdown of demographics of the survey — including who the respondents are, how many answered, etc.
- Key findings and top takeaways. These are short and to-the-point. In most cases, they may not have graphs or charts. It’s simply “what the research means.”
- Comparisons of performance between your organization and competing brands. This is where the graphs start to show up. What are the key positive and negative outcomes?
- Suggested next steps or areas to focus on improvement initiatives. This is key — executives want ideas and suggestions. Ideally, you are working with groups impacted by the results and will develop suggested courses of action alongside them. This builds ownership and prevents projects from becoming “political.”
Most executive summaries should be shorter than five pages — ideally three, but this can be tough when you include graphs.
Most of our clients execute these projects annually for large programs or simply ad-hoc when considering changes to the strategy, tactics or product or service in question. Seeing how perceptions change can be a great outcome as well, but you need time. When executing a study that focuses on change — i.e., “How did perceptions evolve once changes were made?” — we often try to contact at least 50% of the same respondents from the previous study.