Read this article to learn about Marketing Research for Customers’ needs and product performances!

Traditional marketing research is myopic in nature and scope. It tries to decipher whether there is a particular need waiting to be served, or whether a particular product is serving its stated purpose, or seeks answers to similarly focused questions about customers’ needs and product performances.

But these answers are not very useful. A successful relationship with customers requires a deep understanding of the context in which products and services are used in the course of customer’s day-to-day lives. It requires a comprehensive view of customer behaviour.

Companies are fond of measuring customer satisfaction. But is customer satisfaction simply a question of expectation versus actual performance on a given attribute of a product or service? Is it a static, context-free rating on a scale? Customers are not simply pleased or displeased with their computers, or their vacation trips. They are satisfied or dissatisfied with the quality of their lives. For customers, product satisfaction is linked inextricably with life satisfaction and companies must attend to and measure both these dimensions if they expect to win.

Problem-focused research studies are misleading. They will not reveal the discontent that customers are experiencing in their daily lives as they use and live with a plethora of products. In fact they may get in the way of developing insights about their customers’ lives. Isolated ratings of product performances tell nothing about despairing customers and the role that marketing policies play in aggravating their discontent. To get inside people’s heads, marketers need to turn to qualitative social-science methods dedicated to richly describing and interpreting people’s lives. Videotapes and photography are also useful. They can reveal what a ‘day in the life of the customer’ is all about. Long term studies work better than ad hoc surveys in painting an accurate picture of how customers react to and use products.

The role and status of a market researcher has to change. He cannot be seen as a tactician or a data cruncher. He should have the mandate to develop and communicate an empathetic understanding of target customers throughout the company. He has to ensure that the customer is represented accurately and responsibly in the company’s value creation and delivery process.

A company can also tap into data scattered within the organization to develop complete pictures of customers. Customer-service hotlines are a good source of customer insights, but few companies use them for that purpose and many have outsourced this service, losing a slice of their customer’s lives.

Discussion groups on the web are also revealing as they are not maintained by companies. There could be formal use of trend analyses done by ad agencies and other specialized agencies.

And above all, understanding the customer will require the executives like the chief executive, senior managers, middle-level managers and engineers of the company and not only the market researchers, to be out in the field. Company executives will have to live with their customers if they want to have an idea of how their product is fitting in with the lives of their customers, and whether it is a source of joy and convenience, or it is causing annoyance and displeasure in their lives. It is time the philosophy of ‘customer visits’ practiced in business-to-business marketing is embraced in consumer markets.