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Product & Innovation

Active Research: Like an active weather forecast

by Duff Anderson, on Oct 30, 2013

An image of these lamp posts made the front page of reddit a few months ago with over a million views.  The ‘meme’ of the viral thread being that the lamp posts had melted in extremely hot weather.  While the photograph of the lamp posts is very captivating, the viral following reminded me of the importance of context and environment beyond what we can see, and how without it we can be easily led to believe the wrong conclusions. The lamp posts have not melted; they are an installation by artists Hendrika Sonnenberg and Chris Hanson, in support of their upcoming exhibition ‘The Way Things Are’ at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia on Nov 1, 2013.

The WHY behind the WHAT

Active Research focuses on the customers’ immediate environment and situation. This provides an understanding of intentions and outcomes not possible using other forms of customer feedback. Traditional forms of customer research, like panels or email surveys, help you understand customer preferences, personas, and what has happened in the past.  However, they usually fail in providing the type of insight you need to take action because they lack immediate context.  Active research provides context, where insights are focused on the customers’ purpose of visit and ability to complete their tasks. It provides the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ of what’s happening.   Avinash Kausik, explains well this need to understand the ‘why’ in digital analytics laying the foundation of what we today call Active Research in his article,  The Three Greatest Survey Questions Ever.

Providing Immediate Context to Customer Intentions

To explore this more, let’s use forecasting the weather as an analogy. The Farmers’ Almanac is based on historical data and examines what has happened in the past. This is similar to most forms of traditional research that also examine what customers have experienced in the past.  Historical precedent is powerful, in the northern mid-latitudes, four seasons is second nature to everyone and we certainly would doubt the news that the next three months were going to be warmer than the three just pasted. We have achieved this confidence not by accident but by observing and measuring the climate continuously over time.  However, if your goal is to decide whether you need to take an umbrella to work tomorrow, understanding your environment using an active weather forecast is much more helpful than the Farmers’ Almanac.  Active Research, like an active weather forecast, provides immediate context to customer intentions and the environment they are experiencing. This allows you to adapt and align to immediate customer needs.

The same principles apply when it comes to using VoC to recognize customers’ immediate needs. It is necessary to continuously and actively engage customers for feedback in the context of real situations, to understand their intentions and outcomes. With Active Research these customer insights are directly injected into existing business systems. From customer support systems to session replay to web analytics, Active Research enhances the customer centricity of existing business applications. By taking an Active Research approach, we have a chance of moving measurement to understanding and customer intentions to something we can recognize and take action on.

Duff Anderson
Duff Anderson

Duff Anderson is a visionary in Voice of the Customer research with over 20 years’ experience.

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