Q: How did you first become involved in consumer research?
I’ve been involved in consumer research for 12 years, having trained as a management consultant. At an early stage I recognised that most management consultancies advise on consumer strategy from an ‘expert-only’ point of view. What they lacked was any real knowledge about how consumers behave. At the same time, traditional research companies were built to collect large volumes of data. Intersperience bridges this gap between ‘expert’ consultancies and data-gathering research agencies. What Intersperience Research is really about is advising clients from a position of real consumer insight and knowledge.
Q: How has Intersperience grown in the last few years?
Our focus has been on creating a centre of knowledge on consumer behaviour so that we can get under the skin of how consumer behaviour is changing. The Intersperience team has specialised in this area for more than 25 years. To get under the skin of consumer behaviour, it is important to be able to provide research across the spectrum. It is only by fusing together different techniques and using the best interpretative models and frameworks that you really get to the heart of issues. We also pride ourselves in being able to do everything in-house, which ensures we have control of the quality.
We have grown rapidly in recent years building a dedicated ‘international research hub’ at Lancaster University – which now covers well over 60 different languages – and developing our own online research platform. Both of these are key to the future as companies are increasingly global and online.
Q: What makes a good researcher?
Being inquisitive. There is no substitute for being naturally interested in finding out why people do things and that leads to asking the right question. A good researcher is in tune with and connected to the project. Our researchers are skilled in all aspects of research and are directly involved in the objectives of the research, designing the project, collecting data, analysis and interpretation. Only by following a project all of the way through can they be truly ‘connected’ to the findings. This ensures they deliver pragmatic, actionable insights.
Q: Are clients sometimes surprised by the findings of research they have commissioned?
Absolutely. In fact, I’m disappointed when they are not! I’ve always believed that we haven’t done our job well unless the client stops and says, “Wow, that’s interesting, I hadn’t thought of it like that”. We have to make a difference – and that means that they do something different as a result of our work. This can either be a change in strategy, such as how they use the internet or how they incorporate mobiles into their customer service. It might also be setting out how a new multi-channel customer service strategy can improve satisfaction or it could be as simple as tweaking the design of a product, changing customer service training or altering a process.
Q: What motivates you?
Seeing the impact that we have with clients. Consumer research should be at the heart of every business strategy. This is increasingly the case as the internet opens up competition.
The only way business can compete more effectively is to ensure that they create the very best customer experiences – through their products, marketing, customer service support and internet services. We ensure that they have the right thinking and make the right decisions.
Technology is driving the most fundamental changes in consumer behaviour. We are nowhere near understanding what it is like to live in a global digital age. I don’t think people understand how far off we are from this. Most people don’t understand the scale and the impact of these changes in behaviour and the role that technology plays. Those that don’t catch on, and quickly, will be left on the sidelines and their businesses will not thrive. That’s where we come in.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you have ever had?
‘It’s better to act than not to act at all’. I think this is especially key in business and consumer research. Trust your instincts, make a decision and be clear what you are telling people.