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Experience Research

The basics of customer experience research

22. August 2019

The basics of customer experience research

Here is a quick overview on the most important questions to clarify, and the most prominent methods to use to successfully conduct customer experience research.

The why: research question and scope

What is your aim with the research? Why are you pursuing this question? The starting point of successful research is a clear research question and a defined aim. You could ask questions like:

  • Why do my customers rate the restaurant’s service negatively?
  • How do my customers experience the booking process?
  • What is the experience like for my employees during the weekend shifts?

Research can also have different scopes. For example: you’ll have a different scope if you look at a service which takes 15 days (e.g., the period from the booking until the flight), than if you look at a specific part of the service that takes 15 minutes (e.g., a customer gets in contact with your customer service in order to solve a problem with her flight booking).

State if you want to research a specific point or if you want to zoom out and look at your offering from a higher level.

Assumption vs. research-based work

Assumption-based work

This is where the researcher sketches out what they think the customer journey is like. Assumption-based customer journey maps can be useful as a first draft because they can help plan your research or what you think you want to explore. It also might help you highlight what assumptions you might be making about a problem. When it comes to making decisions – base them on research.

Research-based work

To create researched-based personas or journey maps, draw on the data you have. For example, with a customer based project – chances are you have knowledge about your customer through analytics, order history, CRM databases and so forth. Co-creative workshops with your customer or folks who have profound knowledge or lived experience of the subject matter can also be a way to create research-based personas or journey maps. Of course, research based personas or journey maps need more time and resources. Ultimately tools based on valuable research are better to reference when making important decisions and are much closer to reality.

A little hint: It’s helpful to write the research question down or post it up in your work space so you can always look back to it and align your research with your aim.

The who: sample

Who are the relevant people for your research? Who will you talk to? Is it users? Customers? Employees? Other stakeholders? Do you want to get information about the interactions between these groups? This decision will make sure that you only get relevant data out of your time and financial resources.

A few aspects to consider:

  • The number of participants: what’s the right size for my purpose?
  • The characteristics of participants: do I only want to focus on certain customers?
  • Am I mainly interested in people who have used a specific service, during a specific time period?
  • The type of technology participants use: are they okay with using a smartphone?
  • The amount of time participants have.
  • The way you invite participants: sometimes people participate together, e.g. one parent fills in reports representing the family. Also, do you even want a random sample or do you want to pick participants manually? How you invite people will influence that.

The how: triangulation, time frame and methods

How will you address this research question? What methods will you use? Once you’ve defined your research question and identified who you want to talk to, you can focus on how you want to dig into that question.


Triangulation is used in qualitative research to maximize the quality and validity of the research. Triangulating your research means including multiple types of methods, data types, participants, researchers and/or even environment. Ways to triangulate are:

  • Methods (e.g., interview, survey, and observation)
  • Data types (e.g., text, pictures, and video)
  • Participants (e.g., customers, employees, and management)
  • Researchers (e.g., customer service, marketing and developers)
  • Environmental (e.g., different time/day/season)

Time Frame

Deciding a time frame is necessary in order to get valuable data. The time frame of your research will depend on your research question, the scope of your project, and the resources that you can allocate to the project.

A little hint: Qualitative research processes evolve. You might need to dig deeper into a certain area or shift focus once you find a specific user need or problem.


There is a variety of research methods that can be used to collect data. All of them have their pros and cons, such as a certain bias that each method inherits or the specific types of data that it yields. To level out potential biases – triangulate. Choose two or three methods that you think are most promising in collecting useful and actionable data.


Data collectionParticipants are provided with a questionnaire
Typespaper-based or digital
Advantagesmakes data and respondents comparable
Disadvantages• static
• respondents can only answer the questions that are asked
Researcher’s challenge• asking the right questions
• asking the questions right
• participant recruitment


Data collectionParticipants are asked to talk about specific issues
or experiences
Types• structured, semistructured, or unstructured
• contextual or non-contextual
Advantagesdepending on the grade of structure, respondents can express what is important to them
Disadvantages• time and cost intensive
• interviewer effect: the interviewer influences the situation and consequently could impact the answers
Researcher’s challenge• being aware of when they are guiding or leading the interviewee
• remaining objective


Data collectionResearchers watch and take notice of the behaviors of participants in a certain situation
Types• participatory, non- participatory, or somewhat in between
• covert vs. overt
Advantagesmore objective view on behavior
Disadvantages• time and cost intensive
• observer effect: people might behave in a way they think it is expected
Researcher’s challenge• perceiving important information
• being aware of the influence one has on the situation


Data collectionParticipants observe themselves and reflect on their behavior, thoughts and so forth
Typesdiary studies, photos, videos, audio, artifacts, …
Advantagesinsights into the person’s inner thoughts
Disadvantages• bias caused by researcher’s prior knowledge and experiences
• data might be highly subjective or contextual and need direct explanation by the participant
Researcher’s challenge• researcher: briefing the participant correctly
• participant: conscious reflection and report of situations

Cultural probes

Data collectionParticipants collect diverse material in the situation of interest
Typesdiary studies, photos, videos, audio, artifacts, …
Advantages• abstract descriptions become more comprehensible
• recall of information is supported
Disadvantagescollection might take a lot of effort
Researcher’s challengecollection/report of cultural probes

Mobile ethnography

Data collectionParticipants use their mobile to report experiences in real-time
Typesopen vs. structured approach • mobile device
Advantages• recall bias minimized through reports in real-time
• minimal researcher bias
Disadvantageshigh effort for participants
Researcher’s challenge• researcher: briefing theparticipant correctly
• participant: conscious reflection and report of situations

Make sure not to forget about this!

Download our cheat sheet to print or save this content, put it on your desk or hang it on your workshop wall.

Katharina takes care of marketing and communications at More than Metrics. With her background in business and psychology she loves both logical as well as empathic thinking.
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