A complete guide to customer research — with templates
What makes your product great? What problems does it solve? People will look to you — the product manager — as the expert on these questions. But you know that the answers are not based solely on your own opinions and experience. The most important input often comes from somewhere else: customers.
Understanding customers is integral to developing a lovable product. As a product manager, you will want to explore everything from your users' demographics to their inner motivations and struggles. This process of sussing out their needs and challenges is called customer research.
Conducting customer research is complex and dynamic work, where your curiosity is a tremendous asset. To plan, gather, and analyze feedback, product managers use a wide variety of methods — qualitative, quantitative, and a mix of both. You can take a highly sophisticated approach to this, but many times effective customer research entails talking to customers and using simple tools or templates to analyze their feedback.
In this guide, you will learn the fundamentals of conducting primary research so you can better understand the folks you are trying to help. You can try seven customer research templates to help you experiment with different methods and save time in the research process.
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Why should you do customer research?
Customer research is an essential component of product strategy — alongside competitor analysis, market research, and overall business needs. The insights you glean from meeting and surveying customers help to shape your strategic initiatives, ensuring that your team is poised to deliver what people really want from your product.
A key reason to perform customer research is to gain new perspectives on your product. Your customers may tell you things you never realized — hidden problems, unique ways of completing tasks, and even alternate use cases. What you believe matters most about your product may not even be on your customers' radar.
Let's say your product has a reporting feature with low usage. Your team decides to give the reporting interface a major upgrade. You spend the time and resources to build these updates — only to scratch your head when there is no uptick in usage. What went wrong?
If you breezed past talking to your customers, it is possible that the interface was not the factor keeping them from engaging. Maybe they prefer to use a separate reporting tool — in which case, an integration capability would have been a much more valuable feature to build.
Customer research helps you avoid spending time solving problems that do not exist — and highlights the ones that are real and deserving of your attention. This way, you know where to focus your efforts for the best chance of making your customers happy and meeting business goals.
How much customer feedback is the right amount?
The short answer? It depends. Your specific goals, the scope of your research, and the stage of your product's development all play a role. Here are some things to keep in mind when determining the right amount of customer feedback to collect:
Understand your goals
Are you looking to validate a new product idea or improve an existing product? Do you need to better understand customer pain points or gather usability insights? These answers will shape your product development goals and dictate the depth and breadth of feedback required.
Define your sample size
Consider the size of your target audience and customer base. In some cases, a smaller sample size can provide valuable insights, especially if you are conducting in-depth qualitative research. For quantitative research, a larger sample size might be necessary to ensure statistical relevancy.
Ensure diversity of perspective
Aim for variety in your feedback pool. Different demographic groups, usage patterns, and customer segments can provide a more comprehensive understanding of customer needs and preferences.
Include a mix of feedback channels
Analyzing feedback from different channels can provide unique perspectives and insights. Experiment with a variety of feedback methods and channels — such as releasing surveys, conducting interviews, and reviewing your social media and customer support interactions.
Consider resource constraints
Think about the time, budget, and staff you have available for collecting and analyzing feedback. Balance the scope of your research with what you can realistically manage.
Remember, customer feedback is often collected in iterations. Start with a small group of users for early insights, then expand your feedback pool as you make improvements. Each iteration helps you refine your product and strategy.
And while quantity matters, the quality of feedback is crucial. Sometimes a few detailed, insightful responses can be more valuable than a large number of superficial ones.
Primary vs. secondary customer research
Product managers will use both primary and secondary customer research to gather information. Briefly, the difference is:
Primary customer research refers to gathering your own data and feedback firsthand via interviews, focus groups, surveys, and other methods.
Secondary customer research refers to findings gleaned from external sources like analyst reports and third-party surveys.
Both types can be valuable, but when it comes to your goals as a product manager, primary research is superior. While secondary research will help you understand demographics and broader trends, primary research allows you to drill down into the details of your specific product and target audience.
Your customers' own experiences are invaluable and one of the surest signals to creating a lovable product. For this guide, we will focus on the fundamentals of conducting primary research.
How to conduct customer research
On a basic level, customer research entails reaching out to current or potential customers and gathering feedback from them via direct conversations or more indirect methods (like online surveys). Advanced tools such as product analytics and idea management software can certainly augment your approach — but are not necessary to get started.
Follow these steps to conduct your own primary customer research:
1. Define your objective
Outline your research goals and determine what it is you really want to learn. For example, your objective could be to learn broadly about your customers' business goals or gain a deeper understanding of their experience with a specific feature set.
2. Decide which customers to contact
Your objectives will help you decide who to speak with — especially if your product caters to a diverse group of customers. Think about current and potential customers and form a list of people to reach out to.
If you are leading an interview or focus group, meet with your product teammates to prepare your questions. Keep in mind you may need to coordinate with other team members who want to sit in on discussions. If you are conducting a survey, build it — then decide how and when to distribute it.
4. Start your research
Conduct your interviews or hit "send" on your survey When talking directly with customers, remember to listen more than you speak. Ask meaningful follow-up questions to encourage deeper thinking and discussion.
5. Analyze, summarize, and share your findings
Look for trends in the feedback you received. What did customers agree on? What were the most popular ideas or recurring pain points? Find common threads and share the findings with your team. Together, you can discuss and prioritize the customer ideas that support your overall goals — and promote those ideas to your product roadmap.
Customer research is an ongoing part of product management. You will need to collect feedback from many customers to make informed product decisions. And with every new product launch or major release, you may need to start fresh with a new objective and customer set.
Get started with customer research templates
Customer research templates offer a simple way to start discovering who your audience really is and what matters to them. Using templates helps you add much-needed structure to your customer research process. Below, you will find an assortment of templates to try — from planning to interviews, surveys, and summarizing your findings.
Aha! Notebooks customer interview template
This customer interview template is a great one to start with. It is a guided template with helpful prompts and instructions in each section. This makes it simple to plan your conversations with customers so you can get the most out of each interview. It is available in Aha! Notebooks — which gives you a central place to document and organize your findings.
Customer research planning template
This planning template helps you define your objectives, identify which customers to talk to, and prepare for your research session. It includes sections for customer profiles (personas, segments, and companies) to add context to your research group.
Customer interview notes template
An interview template will keep your notes organized during conversations with customers. It will also help you guide the flow of the interview and note any takeaways or action items to proceed with after the session ends. Feel free to customize the discussion questions to match your objective.
Customer research survey template
Customer surveys allow you to gather insights from more people in less time — with the added benefit of built-in reporting via online survey tools. This template will help you learn how to design an effective customer research survey and plan the demographic, use case, and customer satisfaction questions that you want to ask. It includes a blend of question types for both fixed and open-ended responses.
Customer feedback poll template
Polls offer a simple way to incorporate a quantitative component into your qualitative research. For example, you can quickly gauge the group's opinion on an idea by inserting a poll in an online focus group or empathy session. This template will help you jot down ideas for future polls.
Customer focus group discussion template
Similar to the customer interview template, this focus group template will help you structure your session. It emphasizes a well-planned agenda over note-taking — encouraging you to be present in the discussion when you are facilitating a focus group. You can always record the focus group session to revisit later and take detailed notes.
Customer research presentation template
After you have conducted your research, showcase your findings. Sharing results with your team makes customer research even more impactful — customer opinions matter at every level of the business and every stage of the product development process. This template will help you convey your top takeaways in a presentation.
Customer research has long been a core tenet of product management — and will continue to be. Templates like these will help you streamline your research process so you can focus on interacting with your audience and distilling insights from what they share.
When you are ready for a more comprehensive solution beyond simple templates, give idea management software like Aha! Ideas a try. With Aha! Ideas, you can crowdsource feedback via ideas portals, engage your community with empathy sessions, and analyze trends at the individual, organization, and segment levels. This helps you prioritize customer feedback with ease, then promote the ideas that support your business goals directly to your product roadmap.
Discover exactly what your customers want. Start a free Aha! Ideas trial today.
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