Over the years of consumer research, I have learned that the customers cannot always give you the right answer when you:

  1. ASK THEM THE WRONG QUESTION: If you ask the customer the wrong question, the customer will answer the question truthfully; but the answer you get may mislead you. Here is an example:

Most retail brands ask during a customer satisfaction survey, “How likely are you to recommend the brand to your friends or family?”  This question is very important to determine the “Net promoter score” which defines the health of the brand.  But if you pause for a second, shouldn’t we first ask the customer what kind of things/brands he has recommended to friends and family? Maybe he never recommends anything; maybe, he only recommends things that are new. This is critical to understand as Millennials are not into endorsing brands, but sharing with friends only if it benefits the friend.  Hence if 60% of customers are stating that they are NOT going to recommend the brand, it may mean that:

  • By nature, he does not recommend
  • His friends already use the brand
  • He enjoys the brand, but it is tough to scream about the brand.
  1. ASK THEM WHAT SHOULD BE THE SOLUTION: Guests can only react to what you offer.  They cannot act as the CMO of the company and come up with the next big idea.  As Steve Jobs said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them”. An example of this is when a brand asks a question – what will make you visit my store again? Usually most respondents will answer, “lower price”, “discounts or coupons”, or “locations closer to me.” But are they actually the right reasons? Is the customer not spending similar amounts of money at a different store, nearly the same distance away?  If he is, then what is the reason for him not visiting the store?

Hence it is not about just getting customer feedback but it is about getting insights about the customer and how the customer reacts to the product or service you offer. Here was the business challenge Boston Market was facing in mid 1990’s. The brand offered the best sides and was considering offering the sides in pre-portioned containers instead of serving each customer from the baking dish.  As my team wanted to determine how this decision would impact the customer, this was our way of thinking:

  1. We can ask the customer the question in a survey but we were not sure the survey will capture the “true emotional reaction” of the respondents.
  2. We can go a step beyond and show the customer pictures of both scenarios and record their rating and preference.  This will show the customer more clearly what we are offering, but still, the customer will be giving feedback “away from the actual moment” in the restaurant.

We wanted to capture what the guest actually felt in the restaurant as the moment of truth. And to do that we designed a totally “nontraditional research”. The result was simply “wow”. Not only did we get the answer to our question, but we understood the overall context of the answer; and that learning was priceless.

I hope you enjoy the video that talks about the non-traditional research and its impact.

Thank you,