Consumer Closeness – how to involve the client in research

20 Apr 2016 | Research & Business Knowledge

Helping clients understand how people live their lives and the role that different products and services have 

Increasingly we are seeing clients who are keen to immerse themselves in the consumer's world – understanding first hand how consumers live and behave in their 'natural environment' and observing how the product is used in reality is extremely powerful.  It helps uncover the meaning that the product may hold in their lives and can indentify new trends and behaviours.  Effectively we are visitng consumers in their homes of offices and observing their behaviours in a non directed way (unlike traditional research which asks more pointed questions).  Part of the ethnographic school of research techniques, consumer immersion is often supplemented by other things such as storytelling, social network analysis etc.  

Often this type of work is done by a third party as it is easier to step back and make the mental transition between your status as an insider and outsider – but many clients now want greater personal involvement in the sessions either as simple observers or as active participants.  However the process needs to be carefully managed to ensure that the participants are comfortable with the process and behave as naturally as possible, and that the client observer gains as much out of the exercise as possible.  Here are some tips about how to manage the process

  • Take time and care briefing the client team on how to behave with consumers, leaving nothing to chance.  Including how to dress, how to field questions regarding their role, the research process, how to ask non-leading questions, the importance of shutting up, resisting the urge to 'correct/ explain/ defend, coaching them on active listening etc.
  • Take all logistical responsibility away from the clients. They simply have to turn up – not bother with scheduling, explaining the research, handing over incentives, etc.
  • Pre-task/ brief consumers so they have a sense of the purpose of the exercise and are not trying to 'double-guess' what the research is about or 'put on a show' – they know what to expect, the areas that will be covered and there are no 'surprises'
  • Give the clients a task framework so they are not merely (randomly) observing, but looking for and noting specific things  
  • In some instances (i.e. where specific information is required and/ or where the client is taking a lead role in the process) it may be worth while providing the client with example questions/ probes that they can ask and/ or a rough agenda – this approach means that the client can manage the time effectively and ensures that they 'cover the ground' 
  • Developing this, consider tasking the consumer and client to produce a joint review at the end of their time together, to a specific brief.  This to be revealed only at the end to avoid shaping their earlier interactions.  Consider providing templates so clients all return with thoughts structured in same way
  • Try to mirror the customer journey in the research process – i.e., initially shopping, then storage in home, then opening packaging, preparation/ eating, then disposal, etc.
  • If the family are all to be involved, split the incentives so each individual receives a personal 'reward' (e.g. kids get a fiver etc)
  • Invest time and budget in recruitment and screening. Consider pre-interviewing candidate respondents and selecting the most promising, or running a short online exercise over a couple of days. This is not to sanitise/ control the discussion; more to ensure that clients are paired with engaged, interested consumers who will find the whole process interesting and enjoyable. It also means specific clients can be paired with the most appropriate family (e.g., quiet vs gregarious, or specific points of interest – for instance are they driven by novelty?  This 'matching' approach makes it more interesting for the R&D client and a helps the process feel more natural
  • Consider producing materials (short film, laminated images/ collages, booklet etc) to provide a permanent record and allow the exercise to live longer within the client organisation