As a gift to early-stage startups, the gods kindly offer a paradox – it is imperative that you do detailed research, but there is insufficient numerical data on users. How can you test your approach to the customer journey with a limited number of participants?

To grow your business, you need to know what works and what doesn’t. As a startup at the beginning of its development, your data set is often too thin to be meaningful. This does not mean that you shouldn’t prioritise research. Rather, you should go boldly progress using research strategies that focus on real-life experiences, feelings, and emotions of customers.

This is a matter of favouring qualitative research over quantitative research.

Qualitative and quantitative research

Research methodologies are broadly broken into two categories – quantitative and qualitative. The former is concerned with numbers, and answers the question, how many? It is comprised of large surveys, big data, user tests (A/B testing), and performance marketing results.

In my opinion, too many startups invest heavily in quantitative research when they don’t have enough data. In terms of in-depth conversion rate optimisation (CRO), you need a lot of actions to get meaningful numbers that inform strategy. You need volume for statistical significance.

Google Analytics is a basic quantitative tool which is available to all. It reveals the numbers behind a website, which is critical to understanding performance. But these numbers mean very little without interpretation, and startups often don’t have enough traffic to make decisions with clarity and confidence. This is where qualitative research steps in to fill the void.

Qualitative research tells you what the numerical data might mean. Whilst a census (quant) might show that the number of people above 70 has grown, interpretation (qual) will add to the mix and highlight the impact of this fact on individuals within a society. But it also stands alone as its own method of generating insights. Qualitative methods include interviews, discussions, societal observations, questionnaires, online forums, and on-site focus groups.

A criticism is that qualitative research isn’t wholly objective. However, these subjective experiences are exactly what you’re looking for to understand customer experience. People with subjective opinions and emotions will decide whether or not to buy into your brand.

Qualitative research and your customer journey

As your business grows, you will find yourself using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methodologies. However, until you have more numerical data to play with, the insights will likely come from qualitative research.

There are various pathways to researching your customer journey with qualitative research methods. Firstly, direct interviews and conversations with prospects, customers, and those who have not been retained. This can be delivered via online questionnaires to inboxes, conducted over the phone, or arranged face-to-face. Your set of questions must be designed to gain maximum insights, in their most honest and raw format. This will provide information about the gaps, obstacles, and misconceptions in your customer journey map plan.

Important note: Your customers don’t know they’re part of a journey map. Use language and frameworks that they understand, rather than shoehorning their responses into a structure that makes sense in the corporate world. What does this mean in practice? Well, rather than asking a participant if they loved the “conversion stage” of their experience, ask them how they felt when they paid to upgrade to the pro plan of your app.

On-site focus groups and workshops are also fruitful, albeit more difficult to organise. The principle of this exercise is: if you can work out how people feel and what they are looking for at any given time, you can work out exactly what to serve them at any given time. This will shape your customer journey plan, and improve effectiveness of your touch points.

Regardless of the method, the most critical aspect is to be a good listener. Set aside your bias for how fantastic the product or service is, and truly comprehend the meaning of feedback.

Summary

Like any relationship, emotions are at the core of the exchange with your customers. You must figure out how the customer experience makes them feel, what their worst fears are, and where you can alleviate pressure on their decision-making in the context of their specific situation.

A customer journey map is a visualisation of the customer journey through this universe, built according to each persona. By creating a map of their experience, right from introduction through to conversion and onto post-sale, you can tailor content and touch points throughout.

When you have a limited number of users, qualitative research will be your best friend. As you go further, your capacity to conduct this kind of research will stand you in good stead, allowing you to incorporate more quantitative methodologies to further deepen your insight into your business and its customers.