Why you’re doing customer research all wrong (and what to do instead)

Diary of a customer

Customer research done poorly starts with a question like:

“Would you buy this for £X?”

It’s a question I hear entrepreneurs asking all the time when testing out ideas for new products and services.

I mean what can be better than getting some customer research in, right?

Not quite.

How many times have you created a product or launched a service to find that all those voices expressing interest are suddenly very quiet.


… crickets.

If you’ve ever asked fellow business owners and customers whether they would buy something from you if you created it. And then went on to spend time, effort and money creating and launching it, you may have found it didn’t quite pan out as expected.

It’s easy to do this kind of customer research and still end up with a product or service no-one is willing to buy EVEN though they told you it would be good.

Were they lying?

Were they just being polite?

Was it some dastardly plan to trick you into believing you had a success on your side?

The answer to all of these is NO.

The problem isn’t with customer research. That is essential.

The problem lies with the nature of the question.

When you ask a future-focused question you’re asking the other person to imagine what they might do.

The thing is they *might* do lots of things. It is purely hypothetical.

It simply isn’t related to what they will most likely do.

And that’s why so many businesses get it wrong.

Instead, customer research needs to look backwards not forwards.

What does your customer actually do? What is their behaviour?

Because what they do and what they say are very different.

And sometimes they don’t even realise it.

People may say they want to buy nice, healthy organic food… but actually end up buying frozen pizzas and ice cream.

People may say they want to watch the latest documentary exposing the palm oil industries… but actually end up watching Made In Chelsea (guilty here)

People may say they want to read Stephen Hawking’s quantum physics classic A Brief History Of Time... but actually tear through the latest Dan Brown novel instead.

There is nothing wrong with this. It is perfectly normal human behaviour.

You see, given the chance to signal our future intentions we will always endeavour to make these as optimistic and positive as possible.

And that is what you get when you ask a future-focused question like the one at the top of this post.

To get better results, ask about past behaviour.

Past behaviour is the most accurate predictor of future behaviour.

  • What was the last meal you had?
  • What was the last TV programme you watched?
  • What was the last book you read?

All these tell us more about future behaviour than a question about what they want to. eat, watch or read.

The same with products and services.

  • What was the last product you bought to help you write better copy?
  • What was the last investment you made marketing your business?
  • What was the last book you read about sales?

Find out what people are *doing* and build your products and services based on those results.

Given the choice you’ll get better insights from someone’s diary than from a survey.

Jody Raynsford

Copywriter, author and founder of Hello Genius agency