Obtaining customer feedback is crucial to the success of a manufacturer. As a manufacturing company, the term customer could mean many things to you. Customer could mean a distributor. Customer could mean and end-user. Customer could mean a buyer or purchasing agent. Customer could mean an OEM manufacturer. Whatever you deem as your customers, the same theory holds true: customer feedback is invaluable.
When it comes to market research services for manufacturers, you are not short of options. You may be asking yourself: Where do I start? What type of project is better than the other? How long will it take? What does our manufacturing company get from the market research?
Our manufacturing market research company will clear all of this up for you in this post. I will walk you through 5 of the most common, and not surprisingly, most valuable tools in market research. These types of projects are used by manufacturers all across the world.
As a manufacturer you have a ton of options for market research. Let us give you a recap of some of the most valuable approaches which will produce the best ROI for your company.
Here are 5 types of market research services for manufacturers. These combine both qualitative (exploratory) and quantitative (measurement) approaches for your organization. Each offer their own unique benefits.
Service 1: Voice of Customer (VoC) for Manufacturing
This may be the easiest to implement and the purest form of market research. It's a simple concept of reaching out your customers through a formal survey, asking pinpointed questions, collecting feedback, analyzing the data, and generating insights, actions, and strategy from the results. It is based on aligning your corporate strategies with the needs and wants of your customers.
Again, take customers with a grain of salt. When you reach out to your customers through a survey you'll want the ability to break down results by audience. This gives you the opportunity to split data by segment: end-user, distributor, buyer, etc. Comparing wants and needs across these audiences will help your marketing team design specific messages to generate awareness, consideration, and conversions with each audience.
You have several options for your VoC survey but you will most likely want to go the email route. Email is the most cost-effective and timely approach over phone or mail. It helps to work with an independent third-party manufacturing market research firm for this. Why? The feedback will be objective. If your customers speak directly to you and your team, they may not be 100% honest with their feedback as would be the case with a middle-person separating the communication between buyer and seller.
"I have a few negative things to share about your turn-around time, bulk pricing, and technical support. But I prefer not to tell our sales rep who has worked with us for 20 years. Can you send me a confidential and anonymous survey through a third-party?"
VoC through email runs quickly. Most of our manufacturing VoC projects take between 4 and 6 weeks to complete. This includes everything from kickoff through a report. The key piece of the VoC process is the report. All of your hard work should be centered around interpreting the feedback, creating data-driven strategies, and then taking action. Do not just collect feedback to collect feedback with no action taken. This is arguably worse for your customers than collecting no feedback at all.
Service 2: Image and Awareness Survey (I&A)
Now that we have recapped Voice of Customer (VoC) market research services for your manufacturing company, let us move to the other side of the fence to talk about the market in general. If you know everything you need to know about your customers, a logical next step is an image and awareness survey. The main focus of this survey is to randomly survey the market to understand what non-customers think about your brand.
Several key objectives of an I&A survey include awareness of the brand, awareness of specific product lines, perceptions of the brand, word associations with the brand, factor(s) in choice, source(s) of awareness, and several others. It helps your manufacturing company understand the pulse of the industry and where you sit with non-customers. It identifies areas of strength, weakness, and market opportunities to grow revenue.
This is often accomplished through a panel of rented emails, similar to an email list. Another option is conducting the market research through LinkedIn which has proven to be a strong resource to profile and find the right target market for manufacturing companies. Similar to VoC, the goal here is to collect this information online. If the sample size is too small or difficult to reach, options exist for phone surveys or mixed-mode surveys.
This survey can be completed rather quickly, but requires a little extra time to profile, prepare, and designate a list of contacts. This usually results in 1 or 2 extra weeks of fieldwork. From start to finish this manufacturing market survey runs about 5 to 7 weeks on average.
Service 3: ISO 9001 Customer Surveys
Nothing like a certification to push a company to market research. As is the case with the ISO 9001 customer evaluation requirements. This certification requires your manufacturing company to have a mechanism to collect and act on customer feedback. Some manufacturers simply fulfill this requirement through a comment box on their website or by having their sales reps log feedback on their mobile phone or tablet into the CRM tool.
However, the best manufacturing companies view ISO more broadly and use a more informative process like VoC to collect customer feedback. Then this feedback from the VoC can easily be wrapped into ISO 9001 requirements to validate customer satisfaction. If you use a third-party firm to manage your market research services like this, they make it easy for you.
Although we do not recommend running your ISO customer surveys on your own, to fulfill the requirement your manufacturing company simply needs to create an action plan to collect customer feedback and then develop levers to address the feedback. It is that simple. This is an ongoing process, per the requirement.
Service 4: Distributor or End-User In-Depth Interviews (IDIs)
The VoC surveys are an excellent way to get a broad perspective of what your customers like, dislike, and what needs to be improved. However, since there is no two-way communication with an online survey, sometimes the depth of responses may be lacking. You are at the mercy of how much or how little your customer is willing to type.
The benefit of in-depth interviews (IDIs) is there are two people involved in the conversation. It is much more active and involved. It is not as passive as an online survey. Conducting these in-person or by phone allows the interviewer or the moderator to dive deep into the thoughts and feedback of your distributor or end-user. The interviewer can ask questions like: "Why do you say that?" "What do you mean by that?" "Can you go into more detail there?" "Explain to me how you think we should fix this?"
"Thanks for reaching out to me. Yes, I'd be happy to chat more about the company. We are a relatively new customer to them so I can offer a lot of insight around initial impressions."
All of this detailed feedback offers more context and exploratory feedback than an online survey. The outreach is more personal as well. However, when compared to an online survey your sample size will be much smaller and the cost per participant or cost per response is much greater with qualitative market research.
What we recommend is including a question at the end of the VoC survey asking participants if they are willing to participate in a follow-up discussion to talk about their feedback in more depth. This opens the door for your manufacturing company or market research partner to schedule post-survey interviews with select participants. This is the best of both worlds because you obtain your measurable feedback and you now have the opportunity to go back and acquire more exploratory feedback if warranted.
The length of this study varies by how difficult the audience is to reach and how many interviews you want to conduct. A standard 10 to 12 interviews as part of a project will take approximately 6 weeks to complete.
Lastly, a CX program is the all-encompassing market research service for manufacturers. Whereas a VoC or I&A survey might imply one-and-done or once every 12 to 18 months, CX implies ongoing. It also implies multiple areas of focus.
A CX program designs surveys for several different divisions and focus points of an organization. Whereas a VoC survey covers the broad customer relationship, CX surveys are designed to track and measure specific experiences. We often find manufacturing companies design CX surveys around these common experiences:
① Sales transactions: sending a survey to a customer after an order is placed
② Customer support: sending a survey to a customer after they speak to customer support
③ Technical support: sending a survey to a customer after a technical support experience
④ Installations: sending a survey after a product has been installed on-site
⑤ On-site repair: sending a survey to a customer after an on-site repair experience took place
I know what your are thinking right now. That is a lot of surveys! This is true and one of the benefits of working with an expert in this space, is their survey software can build in mechanisms to track who participated in a survey and when so they are not inundated with surveys. This is what is called fatigue tracking. Specific intervals can be set up so no single customer receives more than one email invite every 3 months, 6 months, etc.
Of all of the market research services we highlighted in this post for manufacturing, the CX program is likely the most expensive and the most long-term. CX is a longitudinal project. It is ongoing. The idea is to create dashboards that continually track and measure the customer experience in these key areas.
CX programs are set up with case management as well. What this means is if a customer offers a rating of a "1" on a 1 to 10 scale of satisfaction with "10" being the highest, they are clearly upset and frustrated with their experience. This case is automatically flagged in the CX survey software and it generates an email invitation to the management team to review the responses. This allows the manager to speak with the rep and address the case head-on to fix it. The CX program continually keeps your manufacturing company "in the know" and tracking the pulse of your CX.
Contact Our Manufacturing Market Research Firm
Do any of these market research services for manufacturers sound interesting to you? Our market research company works with a number of manufacturing companies to help them with both quantitative and qualitative market research projects.
Questions about a project? Need a quote or proposal? Our team is very responsive online. Contact us in any of the 4 ways below.