Most businesses have an existing product or market that they are targeting, and their goal is to learn how to serve that marketplace more effectively. Any reasonable researcher should know that if you have a virtualization management solution, it isn’t that useful to talk about HR problems. But while you need to stay on topic, you also don’t want to miss the chance to uncover information you are unaware of and may be a huge opportunity or a weakness you must address. This is one of the real advantages of qualitative market research where you can spend time deeply understanding the nuances of customer input.
Treat “unprompted” feedback with special importance.
Sometimes the information you don’t know that you need to ask about, is the most important information to hear. Of course research must have a goal – but work with your researcher so they know your business and can use their judgment to understand what threads are worth digging into and what will take them into a rat hole that does not forward your business.
The most important tool for unprompted feedback is this question: “Is there anything else?” This is the final question Dimensional Research uses for any market research interaction. After you’ve asked all your carefully crafted and specific questions, closing with an open-ended question can yield incredibly useful information.
Of course, this is a very important balancing act and research projects need to focus on their goals – not interesting side topics. The core questions must be asked. But Dimensional Research makes a point of going through all input from every project with a special eye for the unprompted information. Most of it is one-offs, with each participant having a special thing that only they are interested in. But often you can spot trends in unprompted information that are really important.
We’ve done projects where it turns out there was a critical development tool that needed to be integrated with the client’s product – not something they had realized was vital until the majority of participants talked about it, unprompted, in a series of customer and prospect focus groups.
In another project we didn’t realize that customer loyalty was almost non-existent, until we went through the unprompted feedback from interviews with the highly satisfied, happiest customers, and discovered they regularly evaluated the competition – not a question that we asked about specifically.
So do stay on topic. But keep your ears open for the “+1” opportunities or customer issues you hadn’t recognized – especially if you hear them from multiple sources. Possibly minor product changes or messaging tweaks can help you address a different pain, target a new and lucrative market, or address important weaknesses.