Customer research: Methods for better products and happier customers

Only by knowing your customers' pain points, values, and motivations inside and out can you create a product customers actually want to use. In fact, it’s a lack of proper research that former business owners cite as one of the main reasons for startup failure—highlighting just how important customer research is for success.

In this article, we look at exactly what’s meant by customer research, and why it’s vital for your organization’s success. We also run through five steps for conducting customer research, so you can start planning your research initiatives today.

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What’s the difference between customer research, customer experience research, and market research?

Customer research, customer experience research, and market research may all sound like the same thing, but while overlap exists, each of these terms has its own meaning.

This article’s focus, customer research, is the process of learning your customers’ pain points, motivations, preferences, and needs. It helps you develop an in-depth understanding of your customers—who they are, what their needs and struggles are—so you can create user personas for them, reflect on the customer journey, and tailor your product or user experience to their unique expectations.

Here’s how customer experience research and market research are different from customer research:

  • Customer experience research: Looks at all the touchpoints throughout the buyer journey, and helps improve customer experience through insights and customer experience KPIs, such as customer satisfaction scores
  • Market research: Collects information on the wider market landscape, including potential customers, industry trends, market needs, and product gaps


Customer research is specifically concerned with who your customers are, while customer experience research is about how they interact with your product. Market research is easier to differentiate, focusing on the market itself, rather than customers.

Why is customer research important?

Customer research is important as it gives your company the insights necessary to tailor your products and services to buyers’ preferences. By thoroughly understanding your customers, you can steer major product decision-making in the right direction, create better products, and fulfill business goals.

Customer research also helps your business attract new customers: over 80% of buyers state they're more inclined to do business with an organization that delivers tailored brand experiences. Alongside this, it helps your business get more referrals—with 70% of buyers more likely to recommend a brand that offers personalized experiences.

When should you conduct customer research?

Customer research is beneficial at various stages of product development. From planning new products and services to personalizing your marketing strategy, here’s some times to conduct customer research:

  • When creating buyer personas: By thoroughly understanding buyers, you can create comprehensive user personas with demographics, brand perceptions, behaviors, and pain points
  • When you aim to improve products or services: Understanding preferences means you can improve your products or services to match your customer’s expectations
  • While crafting brand messaging and content that resonates: Customer research provides clarity on customer motivations and pain points, which you can use to personalize messaging and communicate effectively with your customers
  • To identify new opportunities: Discovering new things about your audience opens up the chance to create products, services, and features your team hasn’t considered before
  • For guiding your business decisions: Knowing what your customers want, and how they want it, serves as a signpost for making major business decisions—for example, positioning your brand, allocating resources, and signing off on major UX design and development changes

What are the types of customer research?

There’s more than one way to get the scoop on your customer’s deepest desires, expectations and motivations. You might be surprised to learn you can gather useful customer insights from what your users are already saying about your brand. All you need to do is tune in.

Here are the four types of customer research.

1. Primary research

Primary research is research that you conduct alone or with the help of your team. Here, you select your own research methods, design your project, and analyze data to gain specific insights on topics you’ve outlined beforehand.

Primary research is beneficial because it gathers the customer insights and knowledge you need. However, unless you’re conducting guerilla testing and meeting your customers in real-life situations, primary research can be resource-intensive.

This brings us to our second way to do customer research.

2. Secondary research

Secondary research entails investigating data provided by someone else. Yes—you can do that! All you need to do is find the forums, communities, and review sites where your customers hang out and discuss their needs, preferences, and satisfaction levels. You can use Voice of the Customer tools, or one of the easiest ways to get customer feedback is by linking up with your customer success and support teams—tune into client meetings, read up on feature requests, and follow Slack channels to hear on-the-ground feedback.

You can also conduct secondary research by revisiting data from previous research studies your product or UX research team may have conducted, or looking at industry trend studies done by other companies—for example, our Future of User Research Report. If your organization has an existing research operations team or central UX research repository, you can garner a lot of first-hand insights that already exist.

Secondary data can be a quick and easy way to conduct customer research. But since it's done by other parties, you have no control over the amount of data or the exact insights you’re getting. It’s also important to consider any confines of the data you’re looking at—for example, the research questions asked, or research objectives being pursued when the insights were collected.

But what about the different data types that result from customer research?

3. Quantitative research

Quantitative research uncovers numerical data, statistics and trends about your customers. The number-based insights work best for identifying patterns and gathering broad understandings of preferences, opinions, or how many people fall into a certain category.

Quantitative research is best done with UX research methods like heatmaps or UX surveys with Likert scales, close-ended questioning, and multiple-choice questions. It aims to answer ‘what’, ‘where’, and ‘when’ with objective metrics, collected indirectly—often through a UX research tool.

4. Qualitative research

Qualitative research entails collecting and analyzing descriptive, contextual, and interpretive data. This non-statistical data looks at the ‘why’, aiming to uncover customer opinions, viewpoints, and experiences.

Typically obtained through research methods like focus groups, user interviews, and open-ended question surveys, qualitative research helps you get deeper insight into your customers’ motivations and pain points. To give customers space and the opportunity to provide rich, descriptive feedback, qualitative research methods will typically have open-ended ‘why’ questions.

5 Customer research methods for uncovering insights

There are plenty of research methods that can uncover and collect the customer insights you’re looking for. Here’s our top five recommended methods for conducting customer research.

1. Customer interviews and focus groups

Nothing uncovers rich, descriptive, contextual insights better than sitting down with your customers and asking them the questions that matter. That’s exactly what customer interviews and focus groups do.

For interviews, you can prepare a list of open- and closed-ended questions, connect with customers one-on-one, and transcribe your answers with the help of a specialized research tool—like Maze Interview Studies.

With a focus group, you’re sitting down with no more than ten customers to gather a collective opinion of a market segment with representative sampling.

Both interviews and focus groups are especially helpful for uncovering customer:

  • Attitudes
  • Beliefs
  • Experiences
  • Problems
  • Thoughts
  • Feelings

While interviews and focus groups do go in-depth, conducting them can be time-consuming. If you’re short on time or resources, surveys and questionnaires can save you time and effort.

2. Research surveys and questionnaires

Customer experience surveys and questionnaires are a quick and easy way to gain insights with a list of open- and closed-ended questions. Instead of sitting down with your customers, you can send surveys through channels like email, social media or in-product pop-ups.

Surveys and questionnaires are especially versatile due to the many types of questions you can include; from open-ended questions to collect qualitative data, to close-ended questions, rating scales, and multiple choice for quantitative customer feedback.

3. Usability testing and product analytics

Both usability testing and product analytics are common customer research methods, and should form a big part of your customer experience strategy.

With usability testing, you give customers a task to complete and see how accomplish it with your digital product and service. Note down any friction points: where did customers find it difficult to progress during the digital experience? You can follow up usability testing with a quick survey or longer user interview to gather more context on their experience.

Identifying where customers struggle, and seeing this first-hand, gives you insight into their preferences and needs.

Product analytics show you how customers interact with your product by tracking metrics such as time spent on your product, success rates, heatmaps, and click rates. This analytical data helps you common problems and patterns, and identify which customer segments are having the hardest time using your product.

4. Social media and online review mining

Instead of meticulously creating tests to gather customer insights, social media and online review mining lets you collect already existing data from and about your customers. By finding reviews, comments, and ratings online and through social media, you can hear from customers in their own words, to identify where your product falls short, and where it matches their exact expectations.

So, where will you find this treasure trove of valuable insights? Look toward:

  • Public review sites such as Capterra and G2Crowd
  • Niche communities and forums where your customers gather such as Reddit, Slack, and Quora
  • Comments and hashtags on your company’s social media channels such as LinkedIn, X, Instagram, and Facebook

5. Competitive analysis and market research

Customer research helps you understand who your customers are. Competitive product analysis and market research give insights into the space in which you and your customers exist, and provide you with more context on their preferences.

With competitive analysis, you’re not just looking at how customers react to your product but also to your competition. Look for which customer needs or expectations other companies fulfill; where they fall short, and how you can leverage data to understand your customers and create better products and services.

For example, maybe a competitor’s newest helpdesk offer tracks customer resolution times for airline services, but customers are complaining about the platform's lack of reporting options. This could indicate that your product’s major differentiator and competitive advantage should be extensive reporting options and in-depth analytics.

You can also apply your customer research strategy to the market and study bigger industry trends. Market research helps you better understand demand, what customers are willing to pay for a product or service, customer demographics, and segmentation.

How to do customer research: 5 steps for success

Understanding your customers will tell you almost everything you need to know about how to create a product or service that exceeds their needs. It’s the daunting task of collecting these insights that often stops organizations from investing in customer research—but it shouldn’t.

While conducting customer research can feel a lot like navigating a maze, having a solid UX research strategy sets you up for success.

We’ve put together five steps to guide your research process, to ensure you don’t spend valuable resources on dead ends.

1. Define your customer research objectives

As with any other initiative, effective customer research starts with defining the grounds for success. Your mantra to meditate on always starts with: “What do I want to accomplish with these customer insights?”

This question will help you set the course and choose the appropriate method for your customer research project.

Some example objectives:

  • I want to create comprehensive customer personas to help us personalize our product
  • I want to craft compelling brand content, copy, and communications based on our customers’ biggest pain points
  • I want to introduce a new feature that I’m sure customers will want to upgrade their account to use

Once you’ve set your target, defined any specific customer experience metrics you want to track, and gained clarity on what you want to know, it’s time to decide who you’re going to ask.

2. Identify your customer segment

At first glance, it might seem obvious that you’re going to reach out to customers to recruit participants for your research. However, your customer segments may be widely different, each with a unique set of preferences and expectations. Before you conduct research, identify a single segment and tailor your research methodology and questions to them.

Your chosen segment should be large enough to be representative of most of your brand’s customer base. Consider key characteristics in current customer data. What demographic categories do your customers fall into? Are there any preferences and motivations that you already know of?

3. Select a customer research method

The customer research method you opt for should align with your overarching goals. Let’s say you want to understand customer motivations in order to create an empathy map and customer personas.

Such a goal warrants conducting customer interviews and focus groups for contextual, qualitative insights. Perhaps you want to know your customer segment’s single greatest pain point and target that in the next bug-fix sprint. A quick survey with Likert scales and closed-ended questioning may reveal that 87% of your customer segment struggles with inefficient workflows that lead to lost time.

✨ Pro tip

Running low on resources for customer research? Guerilla research tactics are an informal and cost-effective way to gather insights by meeting your customers face-to-face where they’re likely to use your product, and asking them questions in short 5–15-minute sessions.

4. Conduct your customer research

Once you’ve settled on the appropriate testing method, you’re ready to contact customers and begin your research project.

If you’ve chosen surveys or questionnaires, you’ll need to choose a distribution channel such as email or social media. Consider offering customers incentives for completing interview—you can offer free upgrade trials, access to exclusive features, discounts, or brand merchandise.

While conducting research without a tool works, it can be time-consuming. A research tool like Maze lets you create surveys, interviews, and usability tests and automatically analyzes your data for actionable insights. Product analytics capabilities also provide you with heatmaps, click rates, and scroll analytics for an in-depth look at how customers interact with your product.

Using specialized AI tools can also help you streamline tasks throughout conducting research, such as ensuring you don’t ask leading questions.

5. Analyze your data and draw findings

Your customer research will return responses, transcripts, and customer feedback in the form of qualitative or quantitative data. But data by itself is unusable—you need to create UX reportings and conduct data analysis before you can get the insights you’ve been hoping for.

If you’ve done interviews or focus groups, perform thematic analysis or affinity mapping to make sense of these large amounts of qualitative data. For surveys and usability testing, conduct statistical analysis to arrive at insights.

Once you have your insights, highlight key findings, connect them back to your overarching customer research objective, and share with your team.

Get customer research insights with Maze

Customer research opens the door to better products, happier customers, and a more successful business. It may feel like a large task, but breaking it down into bitesize steps and enlisting an all-in-one research tool can turn this large task into part of your everyday workflow.

Not sure where to start?

Maze’s comprehensive suite of user research methods make collecting customer insights (qualitative or quantitative) simple. From Interview Studies to Feedback Surveys, Usability Testing to Card Sorting—it’s a holistic research platform for gathering decision-driving data.

Tap into customer insights today

Conduct customer research, analyze data instantly, and uncover insights to fuel your product development.

Frequently asked questions about customer research

Who conducts customer research?

Customer research isn’t a strictly defined role for one professional or team. Market research teams most frequently conduct customer research, but it can also be conducted by product management, marketing, and user experience teams.

Why does customer research matter?

Customer research provides decision-makers and product teams with extensive information on customers’ pain points, expectations, desires, and motivations. You can leverage this information to create customer personas, personalize brand messaging, identify new opportunities, and tailor products and services to your customers.

What is consumer research?

Consumer research consists of gathering information on consumer needs and preferences in relation to a product or service. It’s similar to customer research, but a consumer is any person who uses a product or service, while a customer is the person who pays for the product or service.