qualitative data for acquisition and retention

How to use qualitative data to improve customer acquisition and retention

If you’ve been following our blog in recent months, you might already know a thing or two about qualitative data.

You know that qualitative data is that which cannot be boiled down to numbers. True qualitative data must be explained, illustrated or demonstrated to be effectively communicated.

You know that qualitative data allows you to better understand context, sentiment and other “intangibles” that quantitative data doesn’t necessarily communicate.

And you know that collecting qualitative data is a rather involved process that requires more than just assessing a set of numbers. Collecting qualitative data often involves observing and otherwise engaging with your customers to better understand their motives and behaviors.

In this previous article, we also walked you through the general process of collecting qualitative data:

  • Create a list of questions to be answered throughout your research
  • Look first to your related quantitative data
  • Dig into the qualitative data relating to this numerical info
  • Develop, test and implement improvements (one by one)
  • Document and communicate your findings

This process can be used for a variety of purposes throughout your organization.

Here, we’re going to focus specifically on how to use qualitative data to improve customer acquisition and retention.

How can qualitative data help improve customer acquisition and retention?

Alright, so we’ve already discussed the “big picture” benefit of collecting qualitative customer data:

It allows you to better understand the quantitative, numerical data you’ve collected surrounding a certain process or issue. While the numerical data tells you that there’s a problem, your qualitative data tells you what the problem is.

More than that, qualitative data allows you to find the best possible solution for the given situation. Here, the quantitative data tells you “where you should be”, while the qualitative data tells you how to get there.

Going even further, qualitative data helps you go the extra mile for your customers, rather than simply meeting their expectations. Again, quantitative data shows you what KPIs to hit; quantitative data shows how you can deliver even more value — and get more back in return.

Finally, the knowledge and understandings you glean from your qualitative research can likely be applied to other areas of your business. In contrast, quantitative data typically revolves around a specific scenario — and applying it elsewhere without understanding context can often lead your team in the wrong direction.

How does all of this impact customer acquisition and retention?

Consider the following scenario:

Checking your sales numbers and other performance metrics, you realize your cart abandonment rate has gone up considerably in recent months. Upon closer inspection, you find that most abandoners leave when asked for their payment method. After surveying your audience, you realize that most of your competitors are now accepting PayPal — and your customers have come to expect it as an option.

Without qualitative data, you’d know there’s a problem with your checkout process — and that it likely has to do with payment options.

But you wouldn’t have enough information to determine what the problem was, nor how to fix it. And you certainly wouldn’t have enough information to deliver more value to your customers.

But, with qualitative data in hand, you can:

  • Identify the specific problem (i.e., your customers aren’t buying because you don’t offer PayPal)
  • Remedy the situation (i.e., add PayPal as a payment method option)
  • Announce and promote your new payment option on your various marketing channels

In turn, your current customers will be more likely to stick around — and your potential customers will have yet another reason to convert.

What’s more, you’ll also know that payment options are a crucial issue for your customers — and will know to keep their preferences in mind moving forward.

You haven’t just fixed an issue. You’ve optimized the entire situation.

That’s what’s going to get your customer acquisition and retention rates to skyrocket.

Collecting qualitative data: Start with a question (or two)

The first step in conducting qualitative research is documenting your questions — and answering as many of them as you can.

Some questions to answer at this initial stage include:

  • What do I want to know about my customers?
  • How will learning more about them help the business?
  • How will I collect the necessary data?
  • How will I synthesize quantitative and qualitative data to reach accurate and specific conclusions?
  • How will I document and use the knowledge gleaned from my research to improve the customer experience in the future?

These questions serve to shift your focus from the immediate, singular issue to the “bigger picture” surrounding said issue. The more versatile and applicable your research is, the more valuable the knowledge you gain will be.

Your answers will also help you formulate a game plan as to how you’ll be collecting, organizing, and using your qualitative data. This ensures you stay focused on relevant data, have a clear idea of what you’ll be doing with it, and can assess your team’s performance moving forward

With these questions as a springboard for further research, let’s now discuss the key ways to use qualitative data to improve customer acquisition and retention.

Using qualitative customer data to improve acquisition

Generally speaking, improving your customer acquisition rates comes down to one of four things:

  • Improving your brand’s reputation
  • Improving your targeting
  • Improving your messaging
  • Improving your initial customer experience

Here, we’ll break down your main research goals, and discuss some of the most effective ways to collect the data you need, as you look to accomplish each of these tasks.

Let’s dive in.

Using qualitative customer data to improve brand reputation

Knowing what your audience thinks about your brand is crucial for your customer acquisition efforts.

Simply put: If they don’t think much of your brand, they aren’t going to buy from you.

In fact, a 2019 report from Edelman found that 73% of consumers consider a brand’s reputation before making a purchasing decision.

So, you know you need to keep your reputation in good standing.

Now, you’ll need to conduct qualitative research to determine:

  • What does “good standing” mean with regard to your industry and your audience?
  • What does your audience currently think of your brand?
  • How can you make impactful improvements to your brand’s reputation?

Your first order of business: Look to your current customers.

In some cases, you may need to solicit information directly from your audience members. Customer surveys, interviews, or on-the-fly engagements can provide more insight into why they chose your brand over another — and what their potential objections may have been.

customer survey ideas

In others, the information may already exist — you’ll just need to unearth it.

First, look at the questions, comments and feedback you’ve already collected from your customers.

capterra customer reviews

As you consider this data, ask yourself:

  • What can all this teach you about your audience’s perception of your brand?
  • What are you (or are you not) doing to set their expectations from the get-go? 
  • Are you meeting these expectations once they’ve been set?

To flesh out your understanding here, you’ll then need to look to third-party sources for more information.

A few examples of where to look:

  • Customer reviews on third-party sites
  • Mentions of your brand on social media
  • Industry reports focused on brand performance and customer needs

Whether looking internally or externally for this data, you don’t need to do it manually.

CRM software like HubSpot, for example, makes it easy to track individual customer engagements and log any questions, comments, or concerns they may have at a given moment.

tracking user engagement in hubspot

You can also enlist the help of monitoring tools to help you identify mentions of your brand on social media, published content, and elsewhere on the web.

seo tracking tool example

More than just identifying mentions of your brand, monitoring tools use sentiment analysis technology to understand the “mood” of the mention and overall engagement. This can help you gauge your audience’s overall perception of your brand — and can help you identify specific things you can do to improve their outlook.

sentiment analysis example

Your brand’s reputation cannot be expressed in numbers. 

Rather, it requires an in-depth look at the quality of your customers’ (and others’) comments about your company. Only once you’ve collected this qualitative data can you focus on doing what it takes to keep your brand in good standing — and keep new customers coming aboard on a regular basis.

Using qualitative customer data to improve your targeting and messaging

Another key reason your acquisition rates may be down is that you’re missing the mark when it comes to audience targeting.

Or, maybe your acquisition rates are steady, but your acquisition costs are way too high.

In either case, your focus will be on improving your messaging, targeting and retargeting strategy — with qualitative data again playing a critical role in the process.

First, you need to know who your ideal customer is — and know them well. 

This means learning as much as you can about your best customers as consumers and as people. Specifically, you’ll be looking to those who have provided the most value to your business.

customer persona template example

Source

Once you identify these individuals, you can then collect qualitative data to better understand who they are. This, in turn, will allow you to target more consumers like them, and to do so more accurately.

Surveys can again allow you to learn more about your customers in a number of ways. Here, your surveys will focus on customer:

  • Attitudes, interests, and opinions regarding certain products, topics, or ideas
  • Habits, thoughts, and behaviors when shopping or engaging with brands

customer survey example

Monitoring tools can also help you collect qualitative data, like brand mentions and product reviews, from your high-value customers.

awario dashboard screenshot

Combine this voice of the customer data with session recordings of your best customers’ site visits. This will give you a better understanding of the offers, content, and language your best customers use and respond to.

session recordings example lucky orange

Put all this information together, and you’ll have a comprehensive idea of what your best customers “look like” — and of what attracted them to your brand from the get-go. In turn, you’ll know what to do more to attract new customers that fit this high-value persona.

Using qualitative customer data to improve your initial customer experience

A prospect’s initial experiences with your website can make or break your future together.

If your first-time visitors are immediately turned off by your site, you have little hope of converting them.

Luckily, optimizing your website for your potential customers doesn’t have to come down to guesswork. 

Once again, qualitative data comes into play. As in the previous section, here you’ll be collecting data from your current customers to inform your future efforts. 

The three goals for your qualitative research here:

  • Identify positive and negative parts of your customers’ first visits to your site
  • Identify ways to deliver more value throughout the initial experience
  • Identify ways to streamline the path to a first purchase

To accomplish these goals, you’ll be using some of the same tactics we discussed earlier — while tailoring your approach to focus on your customers’ first experiences with your brand. 

As a matter of course, you should be collecting some kind of feedback from all of your first-time customers after their first purchase (and even before this).

target post purchase survey example

Source

Through surveys, interviews and real-time engagements, you’ll learn more about what they liked (and didn’t like) about their initial experiences with your brand. Moreover, you’ll discover the parts of the experience that were integral to their becoming a paid customer.

(Note: Unlike before, we’re not just looking at high-value customer data here. The first-time conversion being our current focus, we’re looking at all individuals who have made at least one purchase from your brand.)

Now, you’ll also want to collect data on first-time site visits that didn’t lead to a conversion. In contrast to the above, this data will help you identify what caused these individuals to leave your site before making a purchase.

Unfortunately, you can’t exactly interview everyone that checks out your site — especially those that didn’t buy anything.

So, you’ll need to again dig into your session recording data.

session recording data filtering

Here, you can get a soup-to-nuts view of all of your first-time visitors’ initial on-site journey. 

From there, you can look at:

  • The search terms they use 
  • The content they engage with
  • The calls-to-action and other prompts they click on
  • Spots that caused friction, frustration, or hesitation
  • Their overall on-site journey — whether ending in conversion or not

Your screen recording data can also help verify any statements your customers have given you regarding their first on-site experience. Similarly, you may uncover even more about their initial experience that they may not have discussed.

Once you have this data, you can make laser-focused improvements to your on-site experience — making every new visitor that much more likely to convert.

Using qualitative customer data to improve retention

Shifting now to your customer retention efforts, you have two overarching goals:

  • Maintain customer engagement as is
  • Get your high-value customers even more engaged

Let’s take a look at how qualitative customer data plays into your efforts here.

Using qualitative customer data to maintain engagement

At the very least, you want your current customers to continue doing business with you as they have been.

To ensure this, you need to know:

  • What keeps them coming back on a regular basis
  • What keeps them from churning

As we did earlier, you’ll be digging into the feedback you’ve collected from your customers first-hand, as well as any mentions of your brand collected from elsewhere on the web.

feedback channel reporting

For our current purposes, it’s important to analyze the quality of the feedback you get from your high-, average-, and low-value customers. Pay attention to what your regular and high-value customers love about your brand — and what your low-value customers may be missing out on.

Session recordings can also be used here to compare successful and unsuccessful site visits.

The idea is to understand the path your recurring buyers take while on-site — and figure out how to get cart and browser abandoners to take this same path moving forward.

Reaching out to your once-loyal, now at-risk customers can also help you see where their journey went astray. Re-engagement and exit surveys, for example, can help you determine the specific reason(s) they had for dropping off.

open ended email customer survey example

Source

It’s also important to maintain off-site engagement, as well. Engaging with your customers via email, social media, and other channels is key to keeping your brand top-of-mind.

So, you want to know what’s working (and what isn’t) regarding your efforts on these channels.

Some qualitative data to collect here includes:

  • The content that’s getting the most engagement
  • Any comments or feedback this content is eliciting
  • The actions your customers take after engaging with your content

It’s all about understanding your customers’ expectations — and delivering exactly what they’re looking for whenever they engage with your brand. With the right qualitative data in hand, you’ll be able to replicate your customers’ successful experiences time after time.

Using qualitative customer data to enhance engagement

Broadly speaking, enhancing customer engagement (and purchase frequency, and average order value…) requires doing more of what works — and less of what doesn’t.

Now, we’ve already discussed a variety of ways to collect the qualitative data needed to make this happen. From surveys to session recordings, it all adds up to a more comprehensive understanding of what makes your customers tick.

Here, you’ll be focusing on customers that have grown significantly in value — and the circumstances that led to this increase.

Some key events to look out for:

  • A customer making a purchase that’s much higher than their average order value
  • A customer making a purchase outside of their normal engagement pattern
  • A customer purchasing supplemental items in addition to their regular purchase

When these events occur, it’s up to you to discover what caused them to change their behavior for the better.

Of course, there are a number of possibilities here.

In some cases, it may have been something you did:

  • Offered purchase threshold discount
  • Delivered a timely replenishment reminder email
  • Promoted more relevant product recommendations

Or, perhaps the customer had their own reasons for increasing their spending habits:

  • They were making purchases for more than just themselves
  • They’re going on vacation and needed to order additional supplies
  • They had reached a milestone and were ready for the products that could take them to the “next level”

By identifying the reason(s) behind their increased engagement, you can work to deliver even more value to them (and others like them) in the future. This will not only lead to higher retention rates — but to a higher lifetime value for your customer base as a whole.

Documenting your qualitative data

As we talked about in the last article, documenting your qualitative findings is a crucial part of the research process.

Without this step, you’ll maintain a mere surface-level understanding of the data in question — and won’t be able to take any meaningful action with it.

Yes, you need to document the actual information you collect. Your customers’ comments, feedback, behaviors, and experiences are certainly valuable in their own sense.

But, you also need to interpret your findings, synthesizing your collected data into your team’s cumulative knowledge to inform their efforts moving forward.

This is why your team needs to have a solid knowledge management plan in place.

Using knowledge base software as the backbone of your knowledge management strategy, you can easily store and retrieve important qualitative data — and can just as easily document your important findings for the rest of your team. 

That way, your customer-facing teams will always know exactly what to do to convert your new prospects and keep your audience members headed to their next purchase.


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Cover photo by Thirdman from Pexels