Business behind the scenes: Sprout Customer Research

COVID-19 has forced us to confront (and overcome) numerous challenges in business – including our relationship with our customers.

While our interactions may have become more digital, they have ironically become more personal as we get to know the business community more intimately and become accustomed to letting down our guard in these universally acknowledged tough times.

It’s certainly a trend that BWN Committee Member Gillian Johnston from Sprout Customer Research is seeing, and one she believes is a big positive for the way we operate businesses.

“As part of this reset, being a customer-lead organisation is at the forefront of what businesses are prioritising. Adapting, evolving and growing with customers.” 

“We know from research that customers are positive. It’s time to stop introducing everything with ‘in light of previous events’. We know Kiwis are optimistic about the future, negativity is softening and the businesses that are succeeding are those that walk alongside their customers on the journey.” 

“Research shows us there are four key business phases: Reaction, resilience, recovery and new reality. Many businesses are adapting to COVID-19 and looking towards the new reality phase of business and how they can adapt to be more customer focused.”

For Gillian’s own business, she says the reset has allowed her to strengthen relationships with loyal customers and create real relationships on a more personal level.

“Meetings with Auckland customers now regularly consist of at least one kid running through the background, normalising the co-existence of family and business together.“

“For me, that has been a positive adaptation as having better relationships ultimately results in better outcomes. It allows us to pull off each other’s strengths and together use our expertise to work through new challenges, building solutions together.”

Working together and supporting each other is a view that extends through the wider business community, with the ‘support local’ sentiment continuing to build momentum over the past year and a half as we continue to see businesses as people, not buildings.

One of the most encouraging trends that are coming through at the moment is that people are thinking close to home. 

“There is genuine comradeship within New Zealand with customers wanting to support local and see their local businesses succeed, they are wanting to be connected. This manifests itself through to pride in place. Pride in place plays a key role in our communities connectiveness.”

Gillian adds that there has also been a trend in the adoption of Māori names and language: “While some businesses are embracing it, others are taking a more conservative approach – not because they don’t want to commit, but because of the fear of getting it wrong. Research shows New Zealanders are thinking about it and it is on our customers’ minds.”

Sprout Customer Research specialises in customer experience and branding research. Qualitatively and quantitively, they talk to people to understand human behaviours, identifying what motivates and drives purchase decisions.

“People come to us because they get a customer-led solution to a business challenge they might be facing. Understanding what people/customers want and how this can be delivered are tools as well.”

Gillian recommends using this time to reflect and think about your business approach when it comes to your people, she provides some thought starters for businesses wanting to better understand their audience.

“One home truth is that if you are in an industry where consumer spending is down due to COVID, it remains important to know it will end eventually and the brands that do not maintain their awareness/ presence in the market will be forgotten about.”


“Use this time to ask yourself, are you:

  • Trustworthy and transparent: Social and environmental responsibility is on the radar for consumers more than ever. As people reset, they don’t have time for companies that don’t hold the same values. Customers are willing to pay more for ethical retailers.
  • Clear about your business purpose: Are you customers clear about your purpose?
  • Passionate about what you do: Do customers buy into and get excited by this passion?
  • Still resonating with your market: Are you on top of the changing values of Kiwis?
  • Connecting on an emotional level: People are out there looking for good things, they want to connect. Do they see your brand as relevant to them? 
  • Empathetic to what is happening right now for your customers: Do you understand what your customers are going through?
  • Personalising your experience: Do your customers feel valued?
  • Saving your customers time and effort: Are you responsive to evolving needs?

While there is a myriad of tools for businesses to gather data (such as Survey Monkey), Sprout’s unique point of difference is how they utilise the data to solve business challenges through strategic thinking.

“For example, we did an online survey for a client recently to understand why non-customers did not trust and / or resonate with them. They were in a market where everyone was more localised and this presented a challenge. 

“Using the data, we provided various strategies on how they could go about lifting these metrics – who to focus on and ways to get this communication over the line, as well as examples we have seen work elsewhere with clients in different industries that have had similar challenges or that do this well.”

BWN Quick Fire Question:

What is the biggest misconception about your industry and what is the reality?

If we look in the research rear-view mirror, what we see is companies that conduct lengthy surveys and interviews, and generate lengthy reports with little insight and a large cost. 

As our world evolves, research no longer has to be expensive. Times have changed exponentially through automation. Long lengthy reports are a thing of the past. Automation allows us to provide data via dashboards/ automated reports for a fraction of the cost.

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