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Using technology to hear the real voice of the customer

This article has been taken from The Gen newsletter - Autumn 2008. Click here to download the pdf.

Irrespective of economic climate, companies have to continually improve existing products and develop new offerings if they are to survive and prosper. Those that fail to successfully deliver innovation, incremental or breakthrough, will ultimately fail.

However, with more than 80% of new launches failing in the market, minimising the risk inherent in the delivery of innovative opportunities is crucial. Voice of the Customer research, both qualitative and quantitative, helps mitigate against risk by providing powerful insights into market and user needs.

Unfortunately, conventional consumer research techniques struggle to provide the depth and quality of data required to support a radical change of direction. Sagentia recognises this and we are increasingly using technology, especially in the qualitative research phase, to generate more accurate, insightful and productive findings.

Qualitative research aims to understand the complex, interwoven variables that surround real life use. It requires close observation of typical users in action over time, and as such presents considerable challenges to the researcher.

Participants don't act as they would in the real world - so teasing out real from self-conscious behaviour is difficult. For example, user diaries are a well know technique, but can give misleading results, particularly where consumers are providing information about personal habits or behaviours.

One of our approaches is to use technology to normalise product testing as much as possible. A variety of techniques can be deployed to create versions of products and services identical or very similar to those already available, but which incorporate technology that can log high quality data and usage patterns, and the key characteristics of that use.

Where necessary the technology can be attached to the user rather than the product. For example, in the surgical field researchers may be allowed to observe an operation, but there is often little opportunity to ask questions. By attaching a heart rate monitor to the surgeon, researchers can identify those times when stress levels rise and match these stressful periods against specific events, thus revealing opportunities for innovation.

Technology has also been used in drug research, where tablets, for example, can be provided in tagged containers which can log when participants take their medicine, and how much is taken, revealing whether usage instructions are followed. Here, technology may reveal that it is the patient compliance rather than product efficacy that is compromising success.

Companies often find that products don't live up to first expectations. If the reason for failure is due to user misunderstanding or mishandling, then technology can pinpoint this with surprising clarity, and reveal ways to turnaround what may have been thought of as a product failure.

At Sagentia, we use technology to build a much richer, more analytical picture of qualitative behaviour. Skill is required to analyse the results generated in parallel with the more conventional understanding that comes from observations and interviewing. This combined understanding enables us to dig deeper and more accurately into the realit of the user's world. The results can bring significant commercial value, and the new opportunities identified can be developed at much lower risk.