Using Surveys to Better Understand the Customer Journey

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Your organization has plenty of data about customer behavior that tells you what different customers do where and when. You can see when they visit you online, how long they search, and how much they spend.
But too often the “why” behind their actions remains elusive. With the mountains of information you collect, the insights are often difficult to find, take too much time to discern, or require additional data. All this means it takes marketers too long to get important information that could make a real difference to the customer experience — and the bottom line.
“If you want to have a major impact, you need an integrated approach to see what is happening at all customer touch points and understand how effective you are,” says Joerg Niessing, a marketing professor at INSEAD.
The number of sources of marketing and customer data that a company integrates correlates strongly to performance vis-à-vis competitors, according to a recent study published by INSEAD. The study focused on customer and marketing data, including:
  • Digital analytics, such as optimizing email campaigns, testing content, and analyzing digital pathways to optimize website use and experience.
  • Customer analytics, including lifetime value and loyalty calculations, response and purchase propensity modeling, and micro segmentation.
  • Marketing analytics, such as demand forecasting, marketing attribution models, market mix modeling, and media budget optimization.
  • Sales analytics, including pricing elasticity modeling, assortment planning, and sales territory design.
  • Consumer analytics, including surveys/questionnaires, customer experience research, and customer satisfaction/advocacy modeling.
The study found that those companies that leverage multiple sources and focus diligently on demand generation have significantly stronger business performance, especially total shareholder return.
Straight to the source
But insights uncovered from many data sources often beg the question, “Why?” To answer that, modern marketers go directly to the source: consumers.
Traditionally, companies that use surveys and field research to try to get at the “why” behind the “what” pay a lot of money for information that is often too complex to understand and too slow to arrive. When it does come in, it is sometimes no longer relevant and leaves organizations trying to solve last month’s or last year’s problem at the expense of current ones. Attempting to get speedier or less costly results risks compromising accuracy.
But innovations in market research are changing the game. Easy-to-use survey tools like Google Surveys help marketers fill out their knowledge of customer behavior much faster than traditional surveying methods.
Companies that make use of these fast, convenient survey solutions gain insight not only into what people actually do, but also what they say they will do — and in that gap there could be opportunities. “Marrying digital and marketing analytics with consumer research from surveys gives marketers deeper insights and opens up the number of hypotheses a company can test,” says Suzanne Mumford, Head of Marketing for the Google Analytics 360 Suite. “Marketing today is in near real time and your data should be, too.”

“Marrying digital and marketing analytics with consumer research from surveys gives marketers deeper insights and opens up the number of hypotheses a company can test.”
—Suzanne Mumford, Head of Marketing, Google Analytics 360 Suite

Say your website analytics reveal that one segment of your visitors are highly engaged with your site content, but their visits aren’t converting into sales. “You can ask them directly why they keep coming back but don’t end up buying. Surveys let you take your data one step further and round out the picture of the customer so you can make informed business decisions and tailor your customer experiences,” says Kevin Fields, Product Marketing Manager for Google Surveys.
Supporting business decisions with surveys
Surveys are also useful if marketers find themselves in an internal debate about two campaign concepts. Before making a large investment based on subjective opinion, marketing leaders can validate messaging by asking the target audience about their preference.
For modern marketers, surveys have become an essential element in an integrated marketing approach — they produce insights that complement those uncovered by other data sources. “I want to make sure that the customer voice is front and center but that we also surround it with other data — that we can make really good, holistic business decisions,” says Stacey Symonds, Senior Director for Consumer Insights at Orbitz.
So think about what you’d most like to ask your customers — or those who visit your site but don’t buy. Survey solutions like Google Surveys allow businesses to get sophisticated, accurate data in a matter of days, not months. Because these methods are more affordable and quick, they allow businesses to continually iterate to meet customers’ needs.
“Surveys empower organizations to get answers when they matter,” Fields says. “And getting those insights quickly helps marketing stay nimble.”
Download “Measuring Marketing Insights,” an online Insight Center Collection of articles from Harvard Business Review, to learn how organizations are using market research to gain more consumer insights.
A version of this article first appeared as sponsor content on HBR.org in August 2016.

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