Conducting Research to Uncover Customer Insights

  • author

    BHN Rewards Partner

  • posted

    Jan 25, 2023

  • topic

    Digital Marketing, Market Research

Conducting Research to Uncover Customer Insights

This is a guest post from Adriti Gulati, an Inbound Professor for HubSpot Academy.

There’s a lot to consider when conducting user research. Depending on the question you are trying to answer and the data you need, there are many methods you could use to uncover the most beneficial information from users. When beginning a round of research, it’s important that you first understand the problem you’re trying to solve, and then, depending on that problem, choose an appropriate research method.

Based on Christian Rohrer’s model, the chart below helps researchers determine what research methods to use based on what they’re trying to figure out.

On the X axis, you’ll notice the two ends are qualitative and quantitative. Studies that are qualitative generate data based on observing a person or thing directly, which is best suited for answering questions about why or how to fix a problem. Quantitative data is gathered indirectly, like through a survey or analytics tool, and answers “how much” or “how many” types of questions.

On the Y axis, the two ends are attitudinal and behavioral. Attitudinal can be characterized as what people say, versus behavioral, which can be characterized as what people do. According to Rohrer, the purpose of attitudinal research is usually to understand or measure people’s stated beliefs, which is why it’s used heavily in marketing departments. In short, behavioral tells you what’s happening, and attitudinal tells you why it’s happening.

The type of research you’ll do will depend on the insights you are trying to uncover, as well as the stage of development for your question. Keep in mind that you may need to use a couple of different research methods, depending on the scope of your question.

Let’s go through the various research methods and where they lie on the graph.

The Basics

In the early stages of your research, you’ll probably be looking for answers to questions like:

  • What do people need?
  • Where are they starting?
  • What’s working and what’s not? 

The best way to collect these answers is through exploratory interviews and support call shadowing.

Exploratory interviews

Exploratory interviews are in-depth discussions with users to uncover thoughts, problems, or solutions. Your interview should be made up of an introduction, where you set expectations with the user about how the interview will go; background questions to further build trust and rapport and suss out any additional context; and finally, key research questions to help you understand the insights you’re after. Other tips to keep in mind:

  • There are no wrong answers. Establish in the very beginning that your goal is simply to understand their perspective.
  • Avoid jargon. Make your interviewee feel comfortable by speaking in terms you both understand.
  • Ask one question at a time. It can get really confusing for a respondent to hear a sentence that has several different questions in it. Oftentimes, this results in the respondent answering one part of the question.
  • Ask open-ended questions. Instead of “Did you have a nice day?” which prompts the respondent to give a simple yes or no, ask, “How would you describe your day?”
  • Be mindful of tone. If you want more information from them, ask, “What else?” instead of “Anything else?” The latter is better if you’re trying to wrap up the question.

Support call shadows

Support call shadows — as the name suggests — are when researchers shadow the support team. Arguably, support agents are closest to the customer. By shadowing support reps as they answer emails, calls, or live chats, you’re gaining information about customers’ needs, issues, and potential fixes. If shadowing isn’t an option, ask for a record of previous support cases.


As you gain more information through interviews and support call shadowing, the next step is to validate some of your findings. Appropriate research methods for that include listening labs, card sorting, and surveys.

Listening labs

Listening labs are when a researcher engages in completely observational, uninterrupted, natural use of a product that fits the current context and need of the participant, paired with a “think aloud” protocol. For example, in a listening lab to find out how customers use a coffee shop app, give the interviewee a vague task, like “order a drink.” Then have them think aloud as they complete it, asking them questions like:

  • What do you think of that?
  • What are you looking for?
  • What do you expect that will do?

After they’ve completed their task, ask questions like:

  • How does this experience compare to what you want to do?
  • What do you like and dislike?
  • What are three things you would do to improve this product?

Listening labs are best used for walkthroughs of apps or websites, product tests, and anything that involves your customers completing a task. If possible, record your session. After you’ve finished a few, have your team watch the labs, taking notes about what they notice.

Card sorts

Card sorts are when participants place information into categories that make sense to them and group them accordingly. To conduct a card sort, you can use actual cards, sticky notes, or online card sorting software, like Miro. Card sorting is useful in two scenarios:

  • When you want to discover how people understand and group concepts.
  • When you want to improve the existing design or create a new design.

Card sorting can be open, allowing users to create and name their own groups, or closed, where users have to sort into the provided, pre-named groups. Open card sorting is best when you want to design something completely new, like a website or blog. Closed card sorting is best when you’re simply looking to improve or prioritize features.


Surveys are structured questionnaires that your target audience completes (usually) over the internet by filling out a form. Use surveys when you need low-cost, quick, quantitative feedback to validate or invalidate a small assumption. Surveys best uncover “how much” or “how often” types of answers. When writing your survey, remember:

  • Keep it simple. An ideal survey should take five minutes or less, meaning the number of questions should be under 15. Under 10 is even better. You should also try to limit the number of pages in your survey. Each added page will increase the dropoff rate of respondents.
  • Include only necessary questions. Ask yourself what you would do next with the learnings from each question. If the answer is “nothing” or “it’s just interesting to know,” leave the question out.
  • Order matters. Add easy questions to the beginning, goal-oriented questions in the middle, and sensitive questions at the end.

Benchmark studies

When you have a good idea of what the majority of users are saying and you’re looking to push an idea live, benchmark studies can come in handy.

These usability studies are conducted over time with multiple participants to compare metrics such as time on a task or success rate. This ensures your ideas are on the right track to improve your customers’ experiences. When conducting a benchmark study:

  1. Choose what to measure. Focus on key metrics that best reflect the quality of the experience you’re interested in evaluating. This could be happiness, engagement, adoption, retention, etc.
  2. Collect your first measurement to establish a baseline.
  3. Put your ideas into place. Remember, you will have meaningful results only if you change what you’re testing.
  4. Collect additional measurements. There’s no rule on how long to wait after a design is launched to measure again. For products, two to three weeks can be a good start.
  5. Interpret findings. Generally speaking, you’ll need to use statistical methods to see whether any visible differences in your data are significant.

Start With Strong Participant Recruitment

No matter what research method you decide to use, finding participants is hard. Incentives are a great way to increase sign-ups, but make sure you’re offering the right incentives. Blackhawk Network research shows that discount-based promotions aren’t as effective as those that use rewards, and traditional swag is a hassle to order, pack, and ship, especially if you’re recruiting participants in other countries. 

With digital incentives, you can send e-gift cards for top global brands and virtual prepaid cards that can be used in more than 150 countries, as well as e-donations — a particularly ideal option when you’re targeting government employees, doctors, and other professionals who can’t accept regular incentives. Using a digital rewards platform like BHN Rewards lets you integrate and automate research incentives, instantly deliver reward emails customized with your brand, and easily track your budget and claim rates. 

Armed with the appropriate research methods and the right incentives tools to recruit participants, you’re ready to go out and understand your customers a bit better.

Once you’ve collected your customer data, what’s the next step? Check out Part 2 of our HubSpot guest blog to see how to analyze and apply your findings!

about the author
BHN Rewards Partner

BHN Rewards integrates with leading marketing, survey, research, and community platforms to streamline rewards management and delivery. We like to share our partners' expertise and best practices to help you get better results.

BHN Rewards integrates with leading marketing, survey, research, and community platforms to streamline rewards management and delivery. We like to share our partners' expertise and best practices to help you get better results.