More About Your CustomersIt’s fundamental to creating both a usable customer experience and a better business: you need to know who your customers are.

It however can be surprisingly difficult for organizations to connect with their customers to collect information.

But just because it isn’t easy doesn’t mean you should skip it. Collecting core demographic information and customer attitudes lays the foundation for building personas and customer segments, which then allows you to tailor a product to better meet your customers’ needs.

Unless you’re in the enviable position where you already have data on all your customers, you’ll need a method to collect the data. Data collection methods have their strengths and weaknesses. The best approach is to use a combination of the following five methods to offset each method’s particular bias.

1. Website Intercepts

You’ve no doubt seen these pop-ups on websites. Often called a true intent study, intercepts are a cost effective way of understanding basic demographics and attitudes on desktop and mobile websites. We use these to collect top-tasks and SUPR-Q data as well.

You need to keep intercepts short and experiment with when and how they’re presented to website visitors. Expect a small response rate (<3%) unless you offer an incentive like a discount or gift card. And for the sake of your users’ sanity, don’t overwhelm them with too many pop-ups!

Weakness: For this method you may find respondents have strong opinions (positive or negative) about your brand that may bias your results. It also assumes that enough of your customers actually visit your website and don’t purchase or inquire via other channels. And of course, popups can be disruptive to customers browsing or purchasing.

2. Email Surveys

When you have a working email address, you can ask customers to answer a few questions in an email survey. Again don’t expect a high response rate (<10%) unless you offer an incentive. With email surveys you can ask more in-depth questions to better understand your customers than you can with other methods.

Weakness: It’s likely that customers who are willing to provide both an email address and answer a survey from a company have more favorable attitudes and may not be completely representative of your total customer base.

3. Purchase Process Integration

Ask a few questions when your customers purchase a product. For B2B purchases, often just a name of an organization (one additional field) can tell you a wealth of information about industry, company size, and region.

Weakness: While you’re unlikely to have a response bias, you don’t want to bog down the purchase process; too many required fields impede conversion rates. A/B test any fields you want to add before incorporating them into your purchase process.

4. National ID Matching

Even if you only have an email address of a customer, you can find out a lot more about them. As big-brotherish as this idea sounds, there are services that match email addresses to detailed demographics, purchases, memberships, and physical location. All from just an email address!

Weakness: Such methods aren’t bulletproof. Expect partial, missing data, or inaccurate data on some of your customers. Depending on the data needed, these can get expensive too.

5. Research Providers

One service we provide clients is to work with national panels to locate and find out more about customers. When using third-party providers the respondents are usually unaware of the company behind the research, which means you’re likely to get current and former customers who have both positive and negative experiences (and attitudes) toward the company. With this approach, you can also collect the same customer information on competitors too—something you can’t easily do with the other methods.  You can try out this approach yourself at our Rome UX Boot Camp and Denver UX Boot Camp.

Weakness: Using panels means you’re collecting data from customers who are willing to participate for a small amount of compensation and may not be completely representative. Our favorite panel is Op4G, which helps increase representativeness (especially for hard-to-find customers) and donates half its compensation to charity.  The cost for finding customers typically varies between $10 to $75 per completed response.

After you find out who your users are using one or more of these five methods, you can use additional methods (for example, in-depth interviews) to dig deeper into motivations and attitudes that explain buying behavior and loyalty to help create a better customer experience.