Effective customer research relies on many pieces; well-defined objectives, carefully formed questions, methodical analysis and speaking with the right people. The bad habit many companies fall into is conducting the research with their favorite customers. This isn’t ideal.

There are several factors which contribute to this temptation. First, it’s much easier to call a friend to arrange a meeting then to contact a total stranger and convince him/her to spend time with you. Then there’s the feeling that because they already know and trust you, you are more likely to get honest opinions and insight into their needs from a friend than from a stranger
who may not be comfortable revealing this information in a first meeting.
 
The negatives, however, outweigh the positives. Remember that the main objective of the research is to gain a deeper understanding of the needs and opportunities in your target market. Each interview or survey is a data point which adds to your overall understanding. The closer the interviewee is to your intended customer, the more valuable will be their input. So the key
criteria in evaluating the usefulness of interviewing your favorite customer is how close are they to your intended customer, not how much they have bought from you or how much they like your company.
 
Another problem is bias. By being a customer, and most likely a repeat customer, they have already proven they prefer your value over alternatives. It’s a self-selecting group. It’s like asking people in the ticket line at a Lady GaGa concert how much they like Lady Gaga.
 
I’m not suggesting you ignore your current customers. They are a source of valuable information. But you do need to balance their input with other points of view. Interview customers who stopped using your products and customers who use your competition’s products. If you can arrange it, interview prospects in your target market who have never heard of your company. The combination of all these points of view will add up to a more thorough understanding of your opportunities.
 
What methods do you use to select candidates for research involving face-to-face interviews?