Iterative design is a staple within the product world, where the most innovative R&D departments and developers create prototypes of their new offerings, put them out for user testing, adjust based on the results, and then retest…and repeat. Just as product development benefits from iterative feedback, your customer understanding can grow through continual dialogue. Your business questions refined, and your knowledge of the customer deepened as you go through rounds of feedback.
When taking an iterative research approach, the questions asked should evolve, adapt, and change from one conversation to another. Further, how you ask may also vary from one conversation to another. Often an online survey will be appropriate, but at certain times an online insight community or focus group may provide for deeper understandings.
Shifting approaches allow for maximum flexibility, quick responses, and continuing dialogues that deliver richer insights. For example, an initial discussion may help illuminate how customers perceive a market. Subsequent conversations or an online survey may tease out specific dimensions of those perceptions, and later conversations may go more in-depth and so on.
Implementing an iterative approach
It’s useful to think about all of your research as iterative: that you are building a body of knowledge that will grow and deepen through each study. Doing so creates a continuous feedback loop that creates a holistic understanding of your customer.
It is essential to put a framework around any program you start, and an iterative approach is no different. Precisely what that looks like will depend on your area and objectives. However, it can be helpful to think about the various stages using a house-building analogy:
Stage 1: Build the foundation. Create a foundational understanding of where things stand. What are the truths? If you had to talk to someone who knew nothing about the topic, how would you bring them up to speed? What are the realities of the problem and possible solutions?
Stage 2: Build the supporting walls. Build on the truths established in Stage 1. Gain deeper understandings and explore any problems and their solutions.
Stage 3: Create the rooms, roof, and deck. Observe, measure, and record the chosen solution topics. Find points of consensus and potential areas for personalization.
Stage 4/Stage 1: Return to the foundation. Reevaluate for integrity and new understanding. For instance, has there been a disruptive shift in the market that means your initial knowledge is no longer completely valid? If so, now is your opportunity to adjust.
Here’s an example using a customer satisfaction program as the use case:
CSAT survey scene: This is a food and beverage brand, and the results of CSAT show a decline in customer perceptions of freshness/ food quality.
Stage 1: Initial interviews to help you see the brand through the eyes of your customers. Discuss how the brand and key competitors are perceived, and understand what freshness/food quality means to your customers.
Stage 2: Explore freshness/food quality in more detail. How is this being addressed by your brand? The competition? What impact does it have on customer behavior?
Stage 3: Test out concepts to improve freshness/quality perceptions (open kitchen, marketing effort around local ingredients, etc.) – discuss the impact of success/failure, and assess the cost/risk of each internally.
Stage 4: Evaluate the performance of the selected concept and measure impact in CSAT. Depending upon the performance, reevaluate initial assumptions/understanding in stage 1.
As customer perceptions and expectations continually change, keeping an open and evolving dialogue is even more critical. And as the need for insights to make data-driven business decisions continues to grow, it’s essential to be smart in the approach – draw upon existing knowledge wherever possible and ask new questions that will further that body of knowledge.