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Harnessing AI with a human touch

There are two colleague in the picture.
There are two colleague in the picture.
April 22, 2024

The critical role of qualitative research in shaping business success

In the fast-paced world of digital transformation, generative artificial intelligence (AI) has finally caused businesses across every industry to wake up to the enormous potential of emerging technology in the areas of revenue growth, cost reduction and customer satisfaction.

The integration of AI into market research heralds a new era of synergy between traditional qualitative methods and cutting-edge technology. This collaboration is not about replacement but enhancement, where each approach leverages its strengths for more profound insights.

In fact, while data analytics has quickly risen as an essential skill for employees in our AI future, knowing how to collect, analyze and use qualitative information is just as important.

While generative AI is definitely a superpower, superhero organizations wield both qualitative and quantitative data to design, validate and build the most sustainable customer experiences.


AI’s power is in its data

AI brings to the table unparalleled capabilities in data processing, pattern recognition and predictive analytics, for example. These strengths can enable leaders to make informed decisions faster than ever before.

However, a major limiting factor for leaders seeking to deploy AI for their specific use cases is their ability to collect and use context-relevant first-party data.

It’s one thing to use transaction data from a retail point-of-sale system to recommend future coupons or offers, for example. It’s another thing entirely to use knowledge of customer motivations, decision-making criteria and personality expectations of your brand to communicate those offers in a way that makes customers actually redeem them.


The imperative of qualitative research

Qualitative research delves into the “why” behind the numbers, offering insights into customer behaviors, preferences and experiences.

It sheds light on the customer journey, revealing the emotional and psychological factors that influence decision-making. By understanding these dimensions, businesses can tailor their AI initiatives to resonate deeply with their target audience, helping ensure that technology serves genuine needs and creates meaningful experiences.


Integrating AI with a focus on customer empathy

While business leaders might be tempted to adopt off-the-shelf AI solutions for fear of falling behind, doing so risks overlooking the value customers perceive the business and its products offering.

Additionally, turnkey solutions might promise context-specific personalization but rely heavily on quantitative data to tailor the outcomes. When building customer journey maps, we focus on three facets of the customer experience at each inflection point along the journey:

  1. How the customer is feeling
  2. What the customer is thinking
  3. What the customer is doing

All three are essential for helping business leaders prioritize their investments in the customer experience, rather than chasing technology trends for technology’s sake.

Within the context of AI, an empathy-based customer journey map can help leaders identify parts of the customer’s journey where generative AI can reduce the cost of manual processes, generate highly specific ideas for how to better support customers through emotionally charged inflection points and even aid organizations in improving their own prompt engineering to take customer feedback into account.


Creating customer personas with AI and qualitative insights

If interviewing customers, synthesizing uncoded freeform responses and creating deliverables based on qualitative research feels daunting, you’re not alone.

Most business leaders would prefer to let the machines collect, analyze, visualize and use quantitative data due to the perceived efficiencies of doing so. However, generative AI has created an opportunity for businesses to efficiently collect and synthesize qualitative insights as well.

AI is a champion, for example, at parsing long-form documents, categorizing themes and even creating user personas. Marketers can, in turn, use these insights to power ideation around future campaigns and messaging to engage their audiences more deeply.

Gathering initial qualitative data from your customers is not as costly, disruptive or time-consuming as some think. Research shows that organizations only need to interview about five to six customers to collect the kind of insights they need to make business decisions.


The future of AI and research

We stand at the growing crest of a massive technology wave thanks to recent developments in practical artificial intelligence.

The intersection between AI and qualitative research has never been more important. Businesses that recognize this will not only avoid the pitfalls of a rushed AI adoption but will also set themselves apart in their ability to deliver genuinely customer-centric experiences.

The journey toward integrating AI with a deep understanding of the human aspects of your audience is both challenging and rewarding. It’s a path that demands a commitment to continuous learning, adaptation and, above all, a focus on the human element that lies at the heart of all technological advancement.

For those ready to embark on this journey, remember that the fusion of AI and qualitative research is not just a strategy — it’s the future of business success in the digital age.

  • Billy Collins
    Billy Collins
    Senior manager
    Billy puts humans at the center of every digital experience. He brings a user-empathetic perspective to digital strategy and product ideation that uncovers hidden ROI opportunities for clients.
    Contact me


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