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User Sense

Customer Research: What, Why & How

In this article we zoom in deeper on customer research. We explain what it entails, why companies put effort into it and how you can get started.

What is customer research?

Customer research is a method of gaining insight into customer needs, preferences, satisfaction, and behaviour. This can be conducted as part of market research or UX research. By conducting customer research, it becomes clear not only what customers need, but also how existing products and services can be improved. Customer research can be carried out in all industries, and for companies that sell services as well as products. 

Why companies conduct customer research

Because more and more companies have seen the added value of customer research, conducting customer research has seen a considerable increase in recent years. Not surprising, if you look at the benefits that customer research brings. Below we have listed the five biggest advantages for you: 

  • Understanding needs and expectations. Customer research provides businesses with in-depth insights into their customers' needs, preferences, and expectations. Based on these insights, a company can design its products and services in such a way that they fit in seamlessly with this. 

  • Improvement of products and services. Customer research for an existing product or service always uncovers points of improvement. Thanks to customer research, it becomes clear how the product can be improved, and which things have the most priority, which allows for targeted optimizations to be implemented. As a result, you can improve customer satisfaction and increase the chance of repeat purchases. 

  • Customer satisfaction and loyalty. Customer satisfaction is essential for customer retention and building brand loyalty. By conducting customer research, it becomes clear how satisfied customers are, and which aspects contribute the most - or least - to this. 

  • Discover growth opportunities. Through customer research, businesses can identify new opportunities and trends. This can range from discovering unmet needs in the market to identifying changes in customer behaviour. In turn, this allows companies to respond to changing market conditions at an early stage. 

  • Positioning and competitive advantage. Customer research helps companies to position themselves effectively in the market against competitors. In this way, companies can conduct research among their own customers as well as those of their competitors. The insights from the research can then be used to gain a competitive advantage. 

Customer research methods 

There are a variety of methods that businesses can employ for customer research, depending on their specific objectives, the nature of the business, and the resources available. Here are some common customer research methods: 

  • Surveys. The most accessible way to conduct customer research is by using online surveys. This makes it easy to collect feedback from a large group, focusing on gathering qualitative feedback in addition to collecting metrics. 

  • Interviews. Interviews are used to gain in-depth insights. This involves the moderator or interviewer asking questions to the customer so that a lot of input can be collected. The interviews can take place face-to-face, by telephone, or online. This method is especially effective in obtaining qualitative information and understanding complex customer needs. 

  • Focus groups. Focus groups bring together a small group of people – often between 5 to 8 participants – to discuss specific topics in a structured setting. The discussion is guided by a moderator who discusses topics based on a topic list. 

  • Mystery shopping. In this form of research, mystery shoppers or guests are asked to go to a branch of a company and pretend to be a real customer. At the end of the visit, they are asked to report on specific areas, so that the customer experience can be improved. 

  • User testing. For companies with digital products, conducting user tests is often a very effective way to find out how users experience the digital platform. 

  • Customer journey mapping. When conducting customer journey research, the main goal is to create a customer journey map. A customer journey map is a visual representation of the entire customer journey, including all the positive and negative moments. Visualizing the customer journey helps companies to identify areas for improvement in their own process.

Customer research variants

Using the above techniques, different types of customer research can be performed. The most common customer surveys are: 

  • Customer satisfaction survey. A specific form of customer research is customer satisfaction surveys (CSS), in which customer satisfaction is studied using various metrics and questionnaires. You can read more about measuring customer satisfaction in our article about customer satisfaction surveys. 

  • UX Research. This involves conducting research for digital products among existing customers. 

  • Persona research. Research is carried out with the aim of identifying different customer segments, so that marketing communications can be adapted accordingly. 

  • Consumer Needs Research. To identify and determine needs among existing customer groups. 

  • Mystery shopping research. To determine what the experience of current customers is like, and how the customer experience can be further improved. 

  • Customer journey research. To gain insight into all the touchpoints people have with the brand.

Conduct your own customer research 

Do you want to get started with conducting customer research yourself? Then take a look at the step-by-step plan below to make sure you don't miss anything. 

  1. Research objectives. Define clear and measurable objectives for the study. What do you want to achieve and what insights are you looking for? 

  2. Choose the right method. Select the most appropriate research methods based on your objectives. Think of conducting surveys, conducting interviews and focus groups, or using mystery shopping. Consider combining multiple methods for better results. 

  3. Draw up the research tools. Get started creating survey questions, creating an interview guide, or creating a focus group topic list. Do you want to use mystery shopping? Then make sure the mystery guests are provided with a clear briefing and assessment criteria. 

  4. Audience criteria. Decide which customer segments you want to engage with. Don't have a good overview of what your target audience looks like yet? Consider conducting persona research first. 

  5. Collect data. Conduct the study according to the established plan. Give yourself enough time to carry out the fieldwork (about 2 - 3 weeks). Avoid making interim adjustments to the questions as much as possible in order to be able to carry out the analysis properly in the next step. 

  6. Result analysis. Analyse the collected data to identify patterns, trends, and significant insights. Depending on the research methods chosen, you can use both quantitative and qualitative analysis techniques. 

  7. Conclusion and recommendations. Draw conclusions based on the analysis and formulate concrete recommendations. What can the company and its products/services improve based on the results? 

  8. Implement, communicate, and monitor. Get started with implementing the optimizations and communicate the adjustments to the rest of the organization, as well as to the participants of the study. Consider repeating the survey at a later time for measuring progress.

Customer survey examples

Customer research often requires customization. However, there are several questions that are always relevant. Below we give a few examples, and you can download templates for conducting customer research for free. 

Example questions in customer research 

To get an idea of what kind of questions you can ask during customer research, we have worked out a few examples for you below. 

  • On a scale of 1 to 7, how did you experience our services today? (1 = very bad, 7 = very good) 

  • What are the three biggest areas of improvement? 

  • What are three things that you have experienced as positive? 

  • To what extent are you inclined to use our services again in the future? (1 = not at all inclined, 7 = very inclined) 

  • Can you explain why you gave this score? 

Other templates and examples of customer research 

Expert tips and pitfalls 

The most important tips and most common pitfalls in customer research are explained for you below. 

Expert tips for customer research 

  • Clear objectives. Make sure you've set clear and measurable goals before you kick off the study. Whether it's improving product features, understanding customer satisfaction, or identifying market trends, clear goals help guide the study and interpret the results. 

  • Combine research methods. Combine different research methods to get the full picture. Use surveys to achieve statistically valid results and use interviews and focus groups to gain in-depth and qualitative insights. By using different methods, you get a more complete understanding of the customer and their needs. 

  • Involve customers in the process. Actively involve customers in the research process. Show that you value their opinions and feedback. Do this not only before and during the study, but also afterwards. Keep those involved informed of the progress, so that they really feel that they have contributed. 


Pitfalls of customer research 

  • Biased or guiding questions. Formulate questions in surveys or interviews in a neutral way to avoid bias. Take the time to formulate questions carefully, avoid leading questions, and have the questionnaire checked by someone who is not involved in the project. 

  • Low numbers. If the sample of participants is not representative of your target audience, the results may be biased. Therefore, make sure that you can reach and invite different customer segments to participate, working with cohorts to ensure that there are enough participants from each customer segment. 

  • Provide concrete follow-up steps. Unfortunately, it still happens too often that research ends up in a drawer. Therefore, make sure that you formulate concrete follow-up steps after the study has ended. If companies don't make changes based on the insights gained, it can lead to customer frustration and a lack of credibility in future studies.