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Q&A: Conducting Market Research During the Pandemic
Market Research has always played a pivotal role in extracting and analysing consumer attitudes and behaviour, enabling businesses to align products and services closely with customers’ needs.
But as companies everywhere – us included - rally to adapt and work with a very different marketplace, while tackling immediate issues around staff welfare, social distancing, temporary closure and sustaining liquidity, it’s reasonable to question what benefit market research has right now.
In the last few weeks, we’ve received queries from clients and prospective clients asking about conducting research at this time – to help, we’ve collated some Q&As below. If you have any research questions, we’d really like to hear from you too.
Q) I was planning to commission some customer research, but I've lost most of my customer base - shall I not bother?
If your budget allows – and many research agencies tailor solutions to your business goals and what you can afford – continuing with customer research will help tackle immediate and long-term challenges arising from the Covid-19 crisis. Your customers are still there and likely to return after lockdown, but their buying criteria may have shifted, with greater emphasis on being able to acquire services and products remotely, swiftly and safely.
Customer profiling research will enable you to reassess your customer base, including identifying target customers – who they are, where they are, what they want, their motivations to buy and whether these have changed during the crisis. Isolating these attributes customers will enable you to bring in more of the aspects customers want, encouraging customer ‘stickiness’ and repeat buying behaviour.
As well as research into practical measures your customers want, it’s important to understand customer sentiment and what they expect from your company communication and messaging during lockdown and after. The fallout of sending out wrong and non-supportive messages – as seen with Wetherspoons and Sports Direct – is lost customers. Brand and branding research will provide insight into the content, values and tone which resonates with customers, helping strengthen customer engagement and relationships.
Q) Our budget is severely stretched and we’re temporarily laying off staff, is there any point in conducting customer research at this time?
Liquidity is an issue for lots of companies right now but particularly start-ups and SMEs. A reputable MRS-accredited market research agency, including TTi Global, will be able tailor a quantitative and qualitative research programme to acquire the insights you need in line with your budget.
Quality customer research, even conducted on a small scale, will provide a clear steer on your customer expectations, how they’ve changed during the crisis and next actionable steps.
Q) We conduct customer research but buying patterns have changed beyond comprehension – should we stop and start again later?
Keeping customer research programmes on track is valuable as it will monitor customers’ response to your actions during the crisis. It will bring sharp focus to what existing and new strategies are working – for example, if you switched from a physical store to an online offering, or diversified into making sought-after products/services – and whether to sustain and build on these post-lockdown. Customer surveys also provide an opportunity to reach out to customers, show you’re listening and in touch with their changing requirements.
Q) I'm in a regulated industry and need to continue customer research - how can we logistically still fulfil our surveying?
For companies such as utilities and social housing providers where there is a regulatory requirement for completing consumer surveys, your research agency should be equipped to conduct remote telephone and online interviews. Our inhouse interviewing team is continuing to survey large volumes of gas and electricity consumers while practising safe social distancing, enabling us to fulfil clients’ data needs.
Q) I'm in B2B, my normal supply chains are disrupted, and demand has dried up – how can I keep momentum going?
B2B purchasing and sales is being hit particularly hard. In the absence of face-to-face meetings, maintain key B2B customer relationships with video conferencing tools Zoom, Skype and Webex. Create fresh, relevant content aimed at solving your clients’ problems for your website, LinkedIn and social channels to show you’re still active and spark meaningful dialogue.
The closure of manufacturing plants and factories worldwide has caused a huge slowdown in supply flow of goods, triggering the search for alternative viable B2B suppliers. As such the trading environment is likely to look very different in the coming months. B2B Research will help navigate market changes, and importantly, assess customer demand and how customer expectations have shifted. Alongside arming you with insight on how best to manage priority relationships, ongoing research data about customer attitudes will help build resilience against the long-term impact of the virus outbreak.
Q) I've had to temporarily close my physical stores and move my business online - I don't know what my customer base will look like after this?
With browsing off the cards, many bricks and mortar retailers have developed ecommerce sites to meet demand. For some ecommerce sectors, such as food and grocery, electricals, DIY and home improvement and health and beauty demand is outstripping supply but for others, such as clothing, demand has dropped away. It’s difficult to imagine what consumer buying behaviour will look like post-lockdown and to what extent you’ll need to facilitate online purchasing. To assess customer needs, customer profiling research and customer satisfaction research – in the form of customer surveys - will unlock your new customer base – from solid customer demographics, to which purchasing channels they prefer – enabling you to create a satisfying shopping experience that keeps customers coming back.
Q) We were considering customer focus groups to get more in-depth information about our B2C/B2B customers – is that possible?
Yes, absolutely. Like most agencies, we’ve paused face-to-face interviewing in line with MRS guidance. Instead we’re using a range of secure video conferencing and online research tools to conduct depth consumer and business interviews for clients. Getting current insights is especially important as it’s helping inform clients’ decisions and actions during the crisis. Continuous customer feedback will also enable them to navigate the marketplace post-lockdown – especially if we swing to recession – so it’s strongly recommended.
Q) We carry out employee research, but the company can't afford to keep doing it right now – what should we do?
It’s difficult and we understand that the financial impact of lockdown is a massive and ongoing issue but tapping into employee perceptions and expectations of what they want from you as an employer is so important right now.
Work patterns have altered significantly with many people working from home for the first time, as well as thousands being furloughed. Despite these challenges, keeping track of employee motivation and engagement, and implementing improvement measures, will help your company survive in the long-term.
If your regular staff survey programme isn’t possible, explore employee pulse surveys which are shorter, more frequent check-in surveys. Feedback can be fed direct to managers’ dashboards, making it easy to monitor employee feeling and measure the effect of improvement actions. If employee surveys are simply not possible, make the most of communication tools available – here are some tips for business leaders to help support remote workers.
Customer Research for Start-ups and SMEs
Q) I'm a start-up and my whole market has shifted and is likely to look very different after this, should I bother with research?
Yes, customer research will identify your target market in a clear, evidence-based way and provide the foundation for a solid marketing and sales strategy post-lockdown. As well as helping define customer segments you need to target, it will pinpoint what they expect of your product or service, and aspects such as their channel preferences. Getting deeper understanding of your target audience means you can market your offering just right, supporting successful take up.
Q) We’ve seen fresh demand for new online services/products – how do we make the most of this?
This is awesome and although we’ve all been shocked into different ways of working, for lots of businesses, diversification is working. For some SMEs, like food, grocery and coffee shops, increased customers have come from setting up (in quick time) online shops and contactless delivery services, while for others diversifying to create in-demand products and services, such as PPE equipment, has spurred growth. With the infrastructure and resources is in place, the next step is to ascertain whether demand will continue beyond the crisis. Conducting customer research will eliminate the unknowns by showing how your customer requirements are changing, the online initiatives they want, and – as your competition is likely to have changed too - how your products and services measure up in an evolving marketplace.
We believe there are many ways that market research can help businesses overcome challenges both during and beyond the current crisis. If you’ve got a research question contact us via the form below.