If you start from the belief that customers create the value in brands, then customers need to be the hero in the research process. Precisely how we involve them is key to the quality of insight gained.
In real life
There’s much to be said for some of the newer, more digital qualitative research techniques out there. However, used extensively, there’s also a danger that we limit the process to online Q&A practices, removed from customers’ lived experience. In an era where customers are already increasingly distanced from the front line of brand engagement, this presents problems. It reduces customers to research fodder. Separated by screens, we can’t respond to customers in real time or use all the cues like reading body language and building on face-to-face rapport that can be so revealing. Insightful qualitative research demands strong social skills and emotional intelligence, alongside the all-important craft skills.
The right approach
Quadrangle’s ‘open dialogue’ approach is about turning much of what’s wrong with qualitative research on its head, and enabling the researcher to move from neutral agent to ‘active participant’. It has its roots in Active Listening, a technique which helps us pay attention to the two most important bits of stimulus occurring in that moment: what’s coming at us and what it makes us think.
Open dialogue provides an empathetic frame for researchers to connect with the real issues of interest revealed by customers. It achieves a more respectful engagement with them, and delivers a more truthful and deeper contribution. Often involving clients directly, it provides greater visibility to customers’ views. And it pushes research to be more human, creative and diverse in how customers are engaged. It also flies in the face of the ‘neutral agent’ perspective sometimes held that researchers should just report back what they have heard.
With the right approach, customers will share a wealth of information, and often provide something insightful well beyond the origins (or confines) of the brief. By being more upfront about what we’re trying to do and why, we’re able to create the kind of breakthrough thinking brands need in today’s fight for customer engagement and attention. Through open dialogue, we’re both more focused on achieving a better solution and more able to hear and respond to stuff of value.
Time well spent
Two significant projects come to mind where clients (Royal Mail and Lloyds Banking Group) invested in Quadrangle’s ability to spend time with customers and simply engage with them on their terms. Both involved an investment in time just talking and hanging out with customers. We observed how and where our clients could fit into their customers’ and prospects’ worlds rather than looking at it the other way around. The briefs weren’t about ‘tell us about this or that’; they were much more in the territory of ‘tell us something we don’t even know we don’t know’.
You need strong active listening for that.