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Customer Visits Research: Connecting with Customers

Customer visits can be thought of as a combination of field research and interviews. Customer visits, along with several other tools, are of primary importance in the environmental scanning stage. Listening to customers describe problems can help to identify new product opportunities. Walking around the customer site facilitates rich descriptions of product applications. Regular contact with customers helps you to monitor emerging market trends and changes in the business environment.

Customer visits are also crucially important, along with focus groups, in the generation of options. This is because the loosely structured nature of these interviews allows for surprises. Similarly, extensive exposure to customers and their way of viewing the world often provides a fresh perspective.

Customer visits should almost never be used to test, evaluate, or select options. The small sample size, the convenience nature of the sample (i.e., not random), and an unknown degree of interviewer bias makes it impossible to trust the results of customer visits in this connection. The lone exception is when you are planning to visit all your customers. This might be possible because these customers are all other divisions internal to your firm, or because the market for your product is very limited with only a few large buyers. If you can visit all your customers, then you have a census and not a sample, and the limitations cited above are less pressing. Even here, the portion of your visit devoted to testing and selecting among options will probably have a quite different feel relative to the rest of the visit and relative to more conventional applications of the visit tool. As stated earlier, to explore and to confirm are two very different activities. Customer visits may sometimes play a minor supporting role in the evaluation of decision outcomes. Although in principle customer visits are just as ill-suited to measuring and tracking as to testing and selecting, visits can potentially supplement more formal and confirmatory approaches such as survey research. Thus, although it is important to confirm whether your customer satisfaction numbers have gone up or down, it is not always clear why the pattern of results takes the form it does. In this situation, a series of visits to customers whose satisfaction has increased and to customers whose satisfaction has not changed or has gotten worse is often illuminating. Such an application of customer visits serves as a reminder that the final stage of one decision cycle tends to merge with the first stage of the next decision cycle.

Reference: “The Market Research Toolbox” Edward F. McQuarrie

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