No customer research method is perfect. Not even search listening (it pains me to type that, but it’s true).

To help you decide which methods are right for you, we’ve created a helpful table showing you some of their pros and cons.

Our best advice, and something we talk about quite a bit, is that to get to some really solid customer insights, you need to combine at least a couple of different methods.

It’s too easy to get stuck in a rut and over rely on a single data source. But, as you can see below, if you do that, your data is going to be flawed.

To make the best possible decisions, to get a competitive edge and kick-arse results, you need to plan from solid, multi-dimensional customer insights ongoing.

Customer research method What is it? Pros Cons
Customer focus groupA focus group is a targeted group of consumers who are brought together for an in-depth discussion, usually about a business’ products or services. • Provide immediate responses.
• Allow for rich insights and context.
• Help us understand our audience’s unique perspectives.
• Access to non-verbal clues, such as facial expressions.
• Can be used to spot trends.
• Allows tight definition of audience.
• Can be prone to social desirability bias.
• Sample size can be too small to be truly representative of our audience.
• Can be expensive, requiring skilled moderators.
• Geography can be a barrier.
One to one interviews These can be face-to-face, on the telephone or through things like FaceTime, Skype or Zoom. • Provide in-depth responses and context.
• Can introduce stimuluses (e.g. products, adverts etc.) if face-to-face.
• Telephone interviews can be fast and cost-saving.
• Can build rapport to help people open up.
• Require skill in encouraging people to be honest.
• Rapport with interviewees can lead to social desirability bias.
• Small sample sizes can mean that results aren’t representative.
Social listening Social analytics help companies understand what people say about their brand in social media • Provide immediate responses.
• Can track trends at scale.
• Provides individual context.
• Provides a strong barometer of advocacy.
• People who post and participate on social provide an incomplete picture of our audience.
• Relies on customers posting about your brand, product or service.
• Social desirability bias is rife – people know they are being watched by others on social media.
Search listening Search Listening enables organisations to use search data to understand what people think and do. • Totally candid customer insight that’s free from social desirability bias.
• Provides immediate responses, at scale.
• Can be low cost – search data is provided by Google for free.
• Tools like Google Suggest and make Search Listening easy and non-technical.
• Customers cannot be tightly defined.
• Context can be unclear.
• Relies on people actively searching for your brand, product or service.
Surveys and polls Typically completed remotely via websites, mobile devices, mail, email or telephone. • Can provide large sample sizes.
• Can remove the geographic barriers.
• Quick and easy to create.
• Relatively quick and cost-effective to run.
• Respondents may not feel comfortable providing honest answers.
• Lack of memory and boredom can skew accuracy.
• Respondents can interpret questions differently leading to unclear data.

If you want to learn more about how to use search and social listening together effectively, sign up to our Search Listening and the Customer Journey course.