|4th December 2014
We all like collecting things. After many years as a qualitative research moderator, I am the proud owner of ‘collector moments’. Qualitative interviews and focus groups are designed to tease out customers’ beliefs, attitudes and motivations that underpin their behaviours. So as to achieve this, qualitative researchers strive to make respondents comfortable and to engage them. Overall, I would say that we are pretty good at doing just that. But over time, I have found the real magic of qualitative research in collector moments, when the opportunity for a truly emotive connection between moderator and respondent arises and, carpe diem, the opportunity is seized to foster discussions that go beyond the brief.
Once, a respondent asked me, "May I borrow your glasses please?" I immediately gave him my glasses – non-prescription magnifying glasses only, for readers keen on the details! My respondent had said little and had looked unengaged until then, as we had been going through communication materials. His expression and body language changed, and we engaged in a rich and friendly discussion, occasionally sharing a laugh. The rest is history, including my bright and shiny new pair of glasses, since he had walked out with mine – yes, unintentionally if you ask.
I also once had to gently talk a respondent out of a semi-hypnotic state, as my voice had guided him through a projective exercise to explore his emotive brand perceptions. We found his experience surprising and intriguing and as we shared his feelings, our rapport changed and we proceeded to a rich discussion that opened further avenues to explore. I also remember ordering two respondents out of the room as their verbal disagreement dangerously descended into aggressive verbal fighting, and that scary moment when a focus group participant rescued another from choking on cocoa powder from a piece of chocolate cake that he had just eaten. On both occasions, the unexpected negative eventually fostered positive and emotive dynamics in the rooms, which in turn gave a new dimension to our ensuing discussions.
The overall goal of qualitative research is to support the shaping and refining of products and services that align the brand with customers’ needs. Qualitative research is about giving marketers fresh perspectives or insights into our mental models and behaviours. As a qualitative researcher, my goal is to uncover those nuggets of insights that give marketers clear directions for developing excellent and differentiating customer experience. But my collector moments also remind me to be ready and open to the opportunities to go beyond the brief, and to establish deeper connections with customers during the short time we spend together and whenever the opportunity arises.
As a qualitative researcher in healthcare, I have had many discussions with different healthcare stakeholders. I have seen how brand managers and healthcare marketers can use the qualitative insights so as they can contribute to turn the unwelcome experience of illness into a supportive and engaging chain of positivity across key stakeholders. Call me an idealist:
When I can find and hold those collector moments to help them achieve this, then my goal is met and magnified. I could not find a better outcome to my interest in qualitative customer research.
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