Customer Immersion Sessions - A Simple Guide

Emily James

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    Since the very beginning, market research has been trying to connect brands and customers together for the betterment of both parties. Generating high-quality insights is a key incentive for stakeholders to commission market research, and the actions that come from those insights are incentive for customers and consumers to get involved.

    Recently, the insight industry’s efforts to further connect stakeholders and customers have stalled, with stakeholders taking advantage of the research reports rather than the tools to talk to customers directly. These research reports are a fantastic way to bring stakeholders actionable insights from customers, but is there a more direct way?

    Customer Immersion Sessions

    Customer Immersion Sessions are designed to directly involve both stakeholders and customers in research, connecting them with minimal interaction from researchers. These sessions are used by brands and researchers to get close enough to customers so we can see and experience brand experiences through the eyes of customers.

    These sessions can be used for a good many research projects, from new product and service development all the way to creating and refining the overall brand experience. Insights both big and small can influence strategic decisions for the better.

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    Customer Immersion Sessions are designed to better connect stakeholders and customers, creating a direct line for optimal insight generation and activation.

    Creating a Direct Line to VoC

    The voice of the customer is an extremely valuable commodity in all industries, not just market research. Most of the time, it is just seen as a ‘commodity’, something to be gained that can help with profit margins, business success, etc. But the voice of the customer is more than just a way to boost business; with the rising voice of Generation Z especially and their values-based shopping considerations, the voice of the customer is a compass that brands can use to make sure they’re creating truly impactful experiences that are sustainable, necessary, and add value to the customer’s way of life.

    Customer immersion sessions facilitate a direct line of conversation between stakeholders and customers, with each session fostering a mutually-beneficial, impactful relationship between the two parties.

    Embedding the voice of the customer at the heart of business decisions is exactly what the Coventry Building Society achieve through their dedicated customer research panel. Being a building society means that their customers are also their stakeholders, so speaking directly to them is vital to continuing successful business. Immersing customers in research is key to their success; in a Research Live article, their Head of Market Research Emma Baxter said:

    “We decided quite early on not to make any topics out of bounds. It was completely up to the members to decide what they wanted to talk about on the day. But we had to put a bit of structure into it because, otherwise, we’d have ended up with 100 different topics. So, we got them to say in advance, ‘this is what I want to talk about’ and to vote on each of those ideas. All of this was done quite transparently — on the member panel, so they could see what other people had said. We then picked the top four most popular topics.”

    The directors asked not to be briefed on the questions in advance because they preferred not to come across as scripted. Spontaneous answers added to the air of openness, says Baxter, by sounding “more human and less corporate”.

    The Coventry’s research panel is hosted on the FlexMR InsightHub, and Baxter was very conscious of Coventry having a mature research programme that followed the organisation’s agenda and took a lead from customers rather than the other way around.

    The best way to create a direct line to participants is typically though active conversations and discussions like those facilitated by market research face-to-face or online focus groups. The first thing brands need to consider when creating this opportunity is which one is best for their purpose and then which tools they plan to use to conduct this research. While they both have benefits and drawbacks, the one most used at the moment is online focus groups. Video focus groups tools have developed a lot in recent years, with tools such as Focus GroupMR allowing all parties to connect at once in an intimate setting.

    Generating Immersive Insights

    There are a number of benefits to using customer immersion sessions are part of the research experience, but the biggest benefit is that, the intimacy involved in customer immersion sessions creates automatically closer relationships between stakeholders and customers.

    This has a reaction on both parts, for example on the customers end there is a comfort and willingness to provide information that wouldn’t otherwise be provided, and on the stakeholders’ end there is a drive to do more for their customers now that they’re not just numbers in a report at the end of the day. This leads to the most desired results from all parties involved: from customers this creates more complex and accurate insights, and with stakeholders, it aids insight activation and the development of brand/product/service experiences as well as internal strategies.

    After the conversation, the data analysed and insights generated after the fact only build on the insights that were registered within the session itself, the ones that stakeholders took away to think on and build their next actions around. These initial insights are typically indicative of the deeper insights generated in the analytical stage, and are key to engaging stakeholders in market research after the customer immersion session has concluded.

    How can we facilitate insight-filled conversations? Natural insights are great but they rely on self-propelling conversations, some stalling is to be expected so a few prompts might be in order to get the conversation going again. Direct questions are great conversation starters, but be careful about asking leading questions – for organic insights it’s well-known that open questions are typically the best for gaining accurate insights.

    While professionalism is important, relaxing a little bit to use humour can be a fantastic way of easing participants into the swing of things, providing a more comfortable space to share their thoughts rather than a clinical one. Humour is a fantastic way to smooth things along and present moderators and stakeholders as relatable, but we need to keep it professional even so. These are all lessons we can learn from research moderators, and there are more tricks and methods that help moderators get the most out of participants and create an enjoyable atmosphere in customer immersion sessions.

    Moderating Immersive Sessions

    One of the tricky parts of this occurs when stakeholders are directly involved in the conversation: how do we effectively moderate the interactions between customers and stakeholders? How do we safeguard data privacy, maintain the ethics of market research, create impactful research experiences while protecting all parties involved when they have no idea of proper research etiquette and rules?

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    Customer Immersion Sessions are fantastic ways of gaining high-quality experience based insights as well as forming intimate brand stakeholder-customer relationships.

    We are used to moderating discussions with one of these parties at a time, but to moderate both would require an almost herculean effort on the part of the moderator. There are a few ways we can mitigate any risks involved and maximise the impact of the customer immersion sessions:

    1. Have more than one moderator on hand and delegate a party for them to manage. While some might say “too many cooks spoil the broth”, I say “a problem shared and a problem halved” is a better sentiment to apply to this situation. Having multiple researchers around helps enhance the chance of research etiquette being valued and applied throughout all conversations that happen within the session.
    2. Educate the stakeholders beforehand on focus group and research etiquette so they can interact safely with customer respondents. Beware of impulsive comments and actions though, in-the-moment spontaneity can sometimes breach research etiquette when one party feels pressured to act.
    3. Ease stakeholders into full immersive sessions by having them observe other research tasks beforehand. Focus groups before immersion sessions can help stakeholders get a sense of what it going to happen and how, and they can prepare themselves accordingly. These pre-session test runs also gives stakeholders time to ask questions of the researchers involved so they know how far their role in the actual immersion session extends.

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