What We’ve Learned So Far in a Year of Virtual Customer Research

In times of social, economic, and political change, it is critical that companies take appropriate  measureto adapt and survive. A recent study fielded by McKinsey & Company found that over 77% of Americans are trying new shopping behaviors during the pandemic1. Behavioral changes like these offer an opportunity for companies to innovate. These changes also warrant the need for new customer research, as outdated research does not address customers’ new realities, preferences, and priorities.  

Our researchers share their key takeaways about virtual research in a year of ups, downs, and unexpecteds.  

Takeaway #1: Almost all research can be conducted virtually 

As consumers become increasingly comfortable with online meetings, school, shopping, and social activities, the barriers to conducting virtual research have been removed. Qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys are easily conducted remotely. Prototype tests can be conducted by mailing consumers products. Even ethnography can be conducted virtually, by having customers use their mobile devices to document their shopping and usage habits. 

Takeaway #2: Customers are more comfortable than ever with virtual methodologies 

Being stuck at home has created surprising benefits for conducting research. Video conferencing platforms now have increased bandwidth due to heavy usage during the pandemic. Technological challenges have diminished due to customers’ increased comfort level with online platformsFurther, customers are more willing than ever to appear on videoallowing researchers to pick up on behavioral and physical cues.  

Some previously hard-to-reach customers now have more flexibility in their schedules to accommodate research interviews and surveys. This decreases recruiting costs and makes customer insights easier to collect. 

Takeaway #3: Virtual research is faster and more economical than in-person research 

Along with recruiting costs decreasing, other costs associated with research have been removed. Travel costs have been removed entirely as meetings move virtual. Third-party expenses for focus group facilities and in-person visits are also a thing of the past. These cost savings make research more accessible for a broader range of budgets, while not compromising on the quality of insights gathered.  

Researchers are able to schedule and execute customer interviews more efficiently - saving both the client and customers’ time.  

Takeaway #4: Customer opinions are changing – and they want to let you know 

The pandemic has disrupted nearly every aspect of customers’ daily routines. Customers have new needs and opinions, and they are not hesitant to publish them online. Online reviews, forums, and social media are teeming with customer insights. Machine learning and AI tools can be especially helpful for gathering insights from large amounts of data.  

Conclusion 

Virtual methodologies have allowed companies to stay close to their customers during a time where in-person interaction has been nearly impossible. Though we do expect in-person methods to return post-pandemic, much of what we’ve gained from virtual methods will stay – which means easier access to changing customer insights, more quickly and more economically. 

To learn more about how you can conduct virtual customer research, watch our recent webinar. Kristyn Corrigan discusses how brands are using new and innovative methods to collect unique and actionable consumer insights. Watch now!
Watch the webinar
1 https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/survey-us-consumer-sentiment-during-the-coronavirus-crisis/ 

Ethnography In-Depth Interviewing Voice of the Customer Machine Learning Big Data AI

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