How to Use Customer Research to Amplify Your CRO Efforts

Customer Research To Amplify CRO Efforts

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March 28, 2018

Note: This is Article 1 in a series that will examine the process, tools, and analysis of performing customer research for conversion rate optimization. Stick around for following articles!

Because conversion optimization deals with improving website performance, and because websites are primarily technical constructs, it’s easy to lose sight of one simple fact: websites exist to draw customers, and customers are real people.

All of the traffic reports we see in Google Analytics (and similar tools) represent actual human beings visiting a site and trying to figure out whether to buy anything or not.

We can get overly absorbed in the technical details of tracked events, goals, conversions, and other more exact and numerically expressed indicators. All these quantified data points are easy to interpret — the data can’t lie, right? — and sometimes we can neatly, gratifyingly fit our findings to our theories.

However, we’re frequently surprised by the findings of the analytical tools that we’ve taken great care to configure. That’s because our visitors are human — so no amount of statistical data we collect will ever be enough to completely explain their behavior.

Using purely quantitative data, the “why” of our users’ observed behavior remains just outside our reach. Sometimes, users act in ways we cannot easily (or at all) explain.

For example, imagine you’re trying to solve the issue of high cart abandonment on your product landing page. While analytics and quantitative data will tell you how many of your visitors leave without completing their purchase, you will remain in the dark as why they abandoned their purchase.

The main objective of customer research, therefore is to answer the question of the “why,” and provide you with a central piece in the overall CRO puzzle: the actual face of your customer.

Qualitative research plays a huge role in conversion optimization

We use qualitative research to find out information about our customers’ behavior that takes us beyond what they did and where they came from.

This information is important in more ways than one. Not only do you get to know what people think and feel about your website firsthand, you can also understand the story underlying the dry data.

While quantitative data often has its own “story” to tell, qualitative research has the advantage of being directly attributable to every business’ most important consideration: its customer. By citing the customer, you add more weight to any insight you may have.

Remember our landing page cart-abandonment example from before? When you perform qualitative research, you no longer have to say things like, “According to the traffic data estimates, navigation patterns, and places of exit, we think that the prospect left because they lacked trust in our payment processing provider.”

Instead, you can simply point to the number of real-life customers who say that they’d like to see PayPal as a payment option.

Qualitative research allows you to devise solutions to problems earmarked by quantitative research, without just guessing what your users want. It reveals a direct route to improvement. By just following your customers, you can match their expectations and meet their needs more closely — and close more sales.

The purpose of qualitative research is clear. So how do we go about doing the research itself?

Methods of qualitative customer research

The obvious answer to the question of how to gather qualitative data: ask your customers directly. There are multiple different ways to ask the right questions the right way.

First, though, let’s list the main sources of qualitative research:

  1. Surveys and questionnaires
  2. Direct interviews
  3. User testing
  4. Customer support interactions
  5. Customer reviews of products offered on webpage
  6. Social or forum posts

All these methods deliver insights obtained directly from customers or prospects. What combination of them to apply largely depends upon the purpose of your website. For example, ecommerce websites can generally glean the most valuable insight from sending surveys about their checkout process and placing polls at friction points. If you can identify why customers are unwilling to complete the purchase process, you’ll be near the solution.

The trick with any qualitative research is to conduct it in an unbiased way, collecting users’ genuine opinions without putting words in their mouths.

Consider the wording of these two questions, which both aim to understand why a customer failed to complete a purchase:

“What problem do you have with the website that is stopping you from completing purchase?”


“Do you find our website credible?”

In the first example, the customer is being asked to identify the problem in their own words. In the second example, we are already planting an idea in their head.

How customer research benefits your CRO efforts

Properly conducted customer research offers multiple benefits. The first and most tangible is the ability to get a clear idea of what bothers your visitors. By understanding your main friction points, you can hypothesize and test solutions, all the while knowing exactly what your visitors and customers expect.

Plus, once you get to know your customers and what they think of your website, you can create user personas with much more accuracy and even potentially predict the behavior of your existing and new visitors.

Customer Research CRO Checklist
Customer Research CRO Checklist

The advantages and possibilities of this deeper customer understanding are numerous:

1. You can better map out your marketing efforts

By knowing who your customers are, you can find out where they hang out, what social networks they use, and what message is likely to grab their attention and bring them to your ecommerce store with intent to buy a product. You can create campaigns and landing pages that will cater to their specific needs. You can also identify the search keywords and channels most likely to result in bringing your target audience to the site.

2. You can plan for future revenues

If you can accurately track what your regular customers buy, when they do it, and how much they spend, you can identify patterns and create predictions that relate to similar, unknown customers. This is one of the primary benefits of developing personas, which we’ll touch on in a bit. Once you can predict customer lifetime value, you can accurately plot spending and the resultant revenues.

3. You can predict costs

As a mirror image of revenue prediction, you’ll be able to predict and reduce your costs. Along with adjusting and perfecting your marketing strategy and ad spends, you can optimize your inventory to fulfill the needs of your customers.

4. You can start to personalize your user experience

The next logical step up from customer research? Personalization. The more you know about your customers, the more familiar the user experience you can offer them. It’s a well-recognized and thoroughly researched fact that personalization increases the likelihood of conversion and causes visitors to spend more on average. There is really no excuse to pass up this opportunity.

Speaking of which, what *is* personalization?

Personalization: The perfect child of CRO and customer research

Customer Research Personalization
Customer Research Personalization

Personalization means tailoring user experience to match users’ expectations and preferences. It’s not just limited to content — personalization can apply to design and interface elements, too, allowing the user to adjust website display and more to match their preferences.

The practice of personalization results first in increased brand recognition, as visitors naturally like your website more when it adapts to their preferences. And as we all know, if visitors like you, they’re more likely to convert.

Your visitor loyalty will increase, and you’ll be able to ask favors of your users — like answering surveys or polls to provide more information about themselves, which allows you to further increase your site’s personalization. This process is a positive feedback loop that eventually becomes self-perpetuating.

Plus, increased knowledge of your visitors (a natural byproduct of personalization) also allows you to present different content and offers that fit customers’ needs. You can tweak product offers, campaign messages, and even marketing channels to increase the number of visitors you bring in, while knowing they’re more likely to convert.

Personalization naturally leads to better engagement and an increased perception that your content is relevant and attractive.

From there, you’ll see increased conversions, since visitors find your offer more attractive. There are many examples of successful use of personalization in conversion research, but Amazon’s example stands out. They were able to reach $544 in average annual revenue per user by leveraging personalization according to Business Insider and their Prime members spend over 1.000 US$ a year..

What follows from more conversions? Well, more opportunities to cross-sell and upsell, of course — yet another example of a positive feedback loop started by increased personalization. And the more you know about your customer, the more relevant your offers will be, which increases the likelihood of additional purchases…

There’s just one major caveat.

Personas must be based on real data

Personalization will only work if you have actual information about your visitors. This is easy if your site requires user accounts, wherein customers register for a login that they can use to shop or access the site as a uniquely recognized customer. This is an ideal situation for personalization.

However, this ideal is often hard to achieve. Users may not be willing to give you all the personal information necessary to establish an account. Establishing this sort of trust takes time, and the trust process cannot be hurried.

In the meantime, you can start personalizing on a more general scale. Using analytics, the patterns of behavior or origin of individual users can be tracked, and they can be grouped into personas according to specific criteria. Group customers according to specific parameters, such as age, gender, geolocation, marital status, and other demographics that are interesting or relevant depending on the nature of your business.

Using tools like Tag Manager, it is possible to not only identify behavior patterns, but to assign specific attributes to individual users. When we gather sufficient data, we can sort new users into the right persona purely based on behavior.

These basic “personas” will allow you to identify a few distinct customer types that represent larger groups. Using this small sample, you can offer a more personalized experience to new visitors as they show up and begin exhibiting behavior that you’ve tied to a certain persona.

As a rule, you’ll need a relatively limited number of personas. Any more than 10 will most likely be too many. The point is to generalize visitors and reduce the number of different solutions for personalization.

Article recap & what’s coming next

Customer research is essential for ecommerce, as it creates unique opportunities to increase the relevance and attractiveness of your offers. Whether you deal with customers or other businesses, knowing more about who’s buying makes the process of selling easier. Customer research is mostly conducted through direct contact with customers or prospects.

Once you’re in the habit of conducting customer research, you’ll be able not only to make more relevant offers, but to further personalize the customer experience and create an environment where your customers enjoy themselves. This enjoyment will encourage customers to return more often, spend more money, and like your brand more.

Creating personas is the initial step of personalization, and you can do it with a relatively limited amount of customer research. Personas allow you to address the different needs of different groups of customers, recognize patterns of behavior, and emphasize the content or products in which a given group is interested.

Plus, using personas, you can extend personalization not only to the customers you know and recognize (AKA registered users) — but to new users and returning users who never registered.

In the other articles in this series, we’ll go more in-depth on how customer research can be conducted, how to define personas, and how to use Google Analytics and Tag Manager to identify personas.

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Edin is a Senior CRO Consultant. Edin is into Google Analytics and testing (any A/B testing tool really) and likes to write about it. You can follow Edin on Twitter.