How market research can help determine the future of communications

I wrote today’s article by blinking at my car dashboard and making the right gestures from time to time. No need to @ me, friends! I broke no laws and it’s just an example of how the future of communications may look.

Sounds crazy today, but many new ideas do.

Of course, it can be hard to even imagine the future of communications.  Voice strategy expert Scot Westwater reminded me that many of the common ways of communication today felt weird when we first heard about them years ago:

  • Talking to our phones? Sounded strange.
  • Being alerted by voice of traffic accidents, traffic enforcement and red light cameras ahead of us directly from our phones.
  • Me texting my 13-year-old while we are both in the same house, but on different floors. (Some people still say that’s strange, but I think it’s highly efficient!)
  • Creating content through voice dictation

The list goes on of how technology has changed how we communicate. But what does the future hold? What’s the next level up for the future of communications? Will it be voice, gestures, something else? Maybe a glare?

Maher Beltaifa, human insights manager at Faurecia, won a Viddy for researching the future of communications in cars. He’s on a mission to understand what customers want in the future.

“We are looking at new ways to interact in cars,” Maher said on an episode of “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show.” “Not for tomorrow, but the day after tomorrow. Moving from touching screens, touching buttons and using voice and maybe moving to something else and to something different – maybe gesture. And how it all fits together and basically elevates the experience of the car.”

Maher explained that market research and developing usable insights is an important strategy for Faurecia to be customer centric.

“It’s a small team and we are studying with humility and do the best we can,” he said. “It’s a very exciting journey.”

Read next: How market research technology helps with customer-centricity

The future of communications in cars

Certainly communication will continue to evolve and that includes in cars. Will it include gestures, eye movement and motion and what else? Video surveys helped Maher and team get ideas from customers on what they thought about a host of potential advancements.

“The project we did with Voxpopme was really pivotal at the beginning to just get ideas out right,” he said.

Getting feedback from consumers along the way, helped the team understand what forward-looking ideas might be worth moving forward.

Why video surveys worked

The big advantage was to show people and what they have to say, something that is easy to do with video surveys. Consumers record their responses to questions asked by brands directly in the app, which can then be reviewed by the brand employees.

“People have preconceived ideas of what’s good and what’s bad for consumers,” Maher said. “At this stage I really wanted to show them what it’s like for a normal consumer. Someone who drives in a car and lives a normal life and not someone who works at Faurecia.”

And it did the job. The insights team could show customer feedback directly to product development.

“‘Oh right!’ You get those kind of reactions,” Maher said. “OK, maybe we went a step too far. We aren’t saying it’s a bad idea but maybe we need to take a step-by-step approach.”

In the not-so-distant past, qualitative research wouldn’t have been used this early in a process because of cost and amount of effort in implementation, added Jenn Vogel, vice president of marketing at Voxpopme and host of “Reel Talk.”

“Agile qual is not just about being fast or cheap but about being iterative and this is such a great example of that,” she said. “It’s just at the core of the innovation life cycle.”

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“It’s really important to get your ideas in order,” Maher added, citing this lengthy workflow from the past:

  • Get buy-in.
  • Write a brief. Get that approved.
  • Write the questions. Get those approved.
  • Send questions to the agency to start the survey.

“Before you actually start a project you need two months,” he said. “And sometimes you may still need to do that, but oftentimes – especially early on – it’s good to get a feel for things.”

Put some hypothesis on paper early and figure out what idea is most likely to succeed – by talking to customers.

How to get the best insights on forward-looking projects

“It definitely has to be an iterative process,” Maher said, adding that Faurecia also uses other types of research – including a mix of qual and quant. “We anchor consumer intelligence at the front of each project to really understand what is going on. Then we ideate from there.”

Read next: How qual and quant complement each other

From there the team moves into the user experience design phase and focuses on trying to create experiences that actually solve consumer tensions. From there, the team goes back and forth with the consumers to see what their reaction is to an improvement.

“It’s user testing – using machines, using interviews, using all possible techniques to keep that intimacy with the consumer going,” Maher said.

Read next: Customer-led product development through design thinking

“It sounds like you are using a lot of methods,” Jenn said. “How do you decide now is the time for quant or this is the situation where we need a focus group versus a video survey? How do you determine the best method for the objective in front of you?”

It can depend on what internal stakeholders already know and determining what they need to know, Maher said. It also depends on budget.

The method also depends on if you have to show something to stakeholders or customers. For example, with video surveys, the Faurecia team can just show a quick reel highlighting customer feedback in a few moments.

“We know what people think and we’ve done our feedback and we can actually show you,” Maher said. “I would love to use video feedback for that.”

Video surveys are more memorable than PowerPoints

Elisabeth Trawinski, of Reckitt, has heard that many times: Stories heard directly from customers have a much bigger impact than words on a PowerPoint slide.

Understanding the segments

Customer feedback also can help companies understand what segment a customer falls into.

  • Functional. Some cars express function. Is this working? Does it do what I need it to do?
  • Emotional. Some cars express an emotion, Maher explained. That could include feeling in control, save and comfortable.
  • Choice of interaction. Some cars express the different ways of communication. Think about the on-board touchscreen vs. in-car iPhone screen vs. voice commands vs. gesture.

Without those categories there are also different needs. For example, people who use their cars only to go fishing by themselves or as a couple, that second row of seats isn’t used. It might as well become more storage area for the fishing gear, Maher said.

Personally, I’m not in the fishing audience as I chauffeur kids around while hauling their softball gear.

Of course, that’s why it’s important to understand the different customer segments. Different needs require different product configurations.

“How much personalization do cars need?” Maher said, adding that many cars basically look the same – two seats in the front, more in the back and a trunk. “Could it be any different?”

How do you balance what people are asking for versus what they need?

You have to balance the two, said Maher, but it’s about understanding the specific need.

Makes sense to me: When people asked me years ago if I needed high-definition television, I said: “No, this is fine.” Do I need an iPad Pro? Not necessarily. But both of them solve specific problems and evolved the future of communications. I love watching sporting events on the big-screen HDTV. My iPad Pro allows me to lie on the couch and communicate much easier than was possible just a few years ago. Forget about the rotary phone on the kitchen wall. Producing “Reel Talk” is also much easier on my iPad Pro.

When it comes to the future of communications in cars, Maher said, customers already have a good amount of pain points that Faurecia can focus on.

“We need to keep an eye on the signals from customers, the emerging trends and we need to do that all the time,” Maher said. “We don’t want to miss the boat. If it’s happening we want to be aware of it. Design of the future is about being in-sync with the early adopters.”

Traditionally, people have thought of cars to be able to drive from A to B, from home to work, but there are so many other things to consider now.  With the average commute time in the United States being about 30 minutes, people certainly spend a good amount of time in their cars. I couldn’t find any stats regarding driving kids to sport practices and the like, but those are additional hours – easily eight hours or more a week, depending on where games are.

“People use cars for so many different purposes now, you can’t imagine,” he said.

When should we look back for customer feedback?

Certainly we should use the customer insights we have for future development and updates. In-the-moment adjustments to experience are also a good idea to improve customer experience as we discussed here.

Looking at past behaviors is important, Maher said, but keep in mind that it’s still important to track that close to when an interaction occurred.

“Because we started tracking immediately then we have that reflection on the past,” Maher said. “Tracking those behaviors is really key for designing for the future.”

While the future isn’t as clear as it could be at times. One thing is clear: How we communicate will continue to evolve and why not give customers a voice at the table when your team is creating innovative experiences?

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What’s a question you’d like to ask consumers?