What is a Customer Panel?

This involves the creation of a body of customers who agree to be consulted on a periodic basis. The lifespan of the panel can be either short or long-term. Shorter-length panels are generally set up to support an ad hoc project and are particularly effective in observing real behaviours in relation to a specific subject. Longer-running panels, often called communities, are typically used to provide a sounding board for whatever project needs arise for the brand. Here a panel can provide a cost-effective, consistent point of view on the company’s performance/initiatives etc.

What are the aims of Customer Panels?

Customer panels are set up with the hope of making companies more customer-centric i.e. they provide an easy way to have immediate dialogue with those who matter most. In the age of ‘big data’ these panels are increasingly seen as a useful way of understanding the ‘why’ behind the numbers. There are, however, two criticisms of this research method. Firstly, it’s a brand’s most loyal shoppers who tend to participate in panels, meaning feedback can be overly positive and thus unrepresentative of all shoppers. Secondly, they encourage an ‘ask the panel’ culture where stakeholders defer all decisions to the assembled consumers. This can lead to lots of ‘micro’ projects being set up that aim to answer narrowly defined questions –which doesn’t encourage the making of good, joined-up decisions for the brand as a whole.

How are Customer Panels undertaken?

Nowadays such panels are generally consulted online, using a variety of techniques including digital communities, online focus groups, webchats, polls and online surveys. Panels are often established on the back of other research programmes – especially customer satisfaction surveys where respondents are asked, at the end of the questionnaire, if they would be prepared to take part in further research.

Recent example of our work in this area

A major supermarket chain asked us to investigate healthy eating amongst its customer base. Given that we know, in this arena, consumers are very likely to overestimate the healthiness of their lifestyles, we decided to spend a month talking to them about their behaviours, without ever putting them on the spot via direct questions. This technique brought to life all the contradictions that so many of us have about the foods we eat.

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