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Your Guide to Online Qualitative Research

Written by Alida

Published April 14, 2022

Have you ever wanted your relationships with customers to feel more like chatting with a friend? Are you looking for ways to get increasingly valuable data from user feedback? Are you feeling uninspired by techniques that, while effective, don’t allow you to dig deeper into customer emotion? 

You’ve come to the right place.

Online qualitative research is your key to building better, stronger relationships with customers — and getting higher-quality data from those relationships.

Here’s what you need to know.


What is online qualitative research?

Essentially, online qualitative research is a digital research method that involves collecting the perceptions, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes that people have and share with a brand — most commonly through live, virtual discussions.

Qualitative research conducted through online conversations can involve in-depth interviews (IDIs), dyads, triads, focus groups, and other forms of qualitative feedback.

Qualitative conversations provide the most personal, in-depth feedback from a customer. This data-gathering technique is like sitting down to have a conversation — but instead of awkward ice-breakers and small talk, you come prepared with planned questions and topics to address. 

Online qualitative research is like an insight community in many ways. In fact, this is often where you’ll go to find participants, as these users have already expressed interest in interacting with your brand. The main difference is the intimate nature of online qualitative research. An insight community is like a big, friendly party. In turn, online qual it’s like having coffee with a friend.

Here are a few key elements of online qualitative research:

  • Structured but comfortable. While you may have created an outline or prepared ideas to guide your conversation, qualitative research doesn’t need to feel like a job interview. Instead, they’re comfortable, welcoming, and encourage participants to be themselves (which results in better, more honest feedback).
  • Conversations, not interrogations. You don’t have to be the only one asking questions and posing new ideas. In fact, you should encourage the two-way nature of qualitative research, and allow your customers to make their voice heard in an intimate setting where they can see real reactions to their points.
  • Carefully researched. While the actual conversation of a focus group or IDI might take many forms and directions, there’s nothing spontaneous about the research and planning process. You should do your homework to understand who your participants are, what matters to them, and how you can structure the discussion to encourage honest, unfiltered feedback.

In short, online qualitative research is your opportunity to learn how customers feel by sitting across from them and asking that very question.


Why is qualitative feedback such a big deal?

While qualitative research methods have historically taken place in-person or through phone conversations, the online research approach offers many significant advantages in terms of saving time and resources compared to more traditional methods. For example, instead of spending time and money on recruitment, travel logistics and costs, online qualitative researchers can utilize virtual recruitment hubs and streamline workflows to complete projects in record time.

Online qualitative research also provides greater access and convenience for participants, researchers, and even observers. Through online customer feedback sessions, researchers are able to connect with people in more difficult-to-reach locations and during times that fit into their lifestyles better. By removing barriers to access respondents where they are, online qualitative research has become a great equalizer in terms of sourcing more diverse consumer voices. 

The most important thing to know about qualitative research is that it provides the kind of feedback you can’t get anywhere else. Take, for example, a survey. While surveys are effective and should certainly have a spot in your customer experience arsenal, they can’t generate the kind of in-depth data you would come to expect from qualitative research. The difference is the immediacy: Qualitative research is a two-way conversation enriched by vocal cues, nonverbal communication, organic interactions, and more.

Let’s take a closer look at what makes qualitative research a game-changer:


When you and your clients are engaged in a real conversation, you’re free to ask them additional questions if they bring up something you’d never considered. They, too, have your undivided attention, thus creating an interactive environment that allows thoughts to flow freely.


When a customer is answering a survey or interacting with an insight community, they often have time to think about—or even overthink—their answers. That can lead to feedback that is well-intentioned but heavily filtered, which might not be valuable for your specific needs. Instead, qualitative research encourages participants to respond with whatever comes to mind—an unedited view into their perspective, values, and concerns. Plus, when a customer can actually see and hear the person who’s gathering their feedback, they’re more likely to feel comfortable disclosing their truth.


While other data-gathering approaches may be efficient, they have limitations in their design and implementation. Qualitative research, on the other hand, is a playground for creativity. For example, you could show customers a new product in real-time, and allow them to give you their first impressions. This could spark conversations about what makes your existing offerings stand out, thereby providing even more data.


Qualitative research has a shorter turnaround compared to other feedback-gathering approaches, which allows greater data collection if used in the right way. That’s good news for you, but it’s also something that will delight your clients since, after all, they’ll love to see how their feedback is put to work.

The key to qualitative research

If you can’t wait to get started on qualitative research, you’re not alone. However, there’s one thing you should work on first: your customer relationships.

Let’s go back to the coffee shop example. Here are three ways this interaction could go depending on how close you are to the person you’re talking to:

  • Acquaintance: This conversation might be surface-level, awkward, even forgettable. You’ll probably have a good time, but you may not feel like you’ve learned much about the person across the table.
  • Casual friend: When you get coffee with a casual friend, you’ll probably have more in-depth conversations—like how your families are doing, what’s happening in your career, or what you’re hoping to get done over the weekend. You still might not dive very deep into the real stuff.
  • Close companion: In this scenario, you’ve already developed a close relationship with the other person. You know key things about them and are genuinely interested in the highs and lows of their life; you’re not here for small talk, but a genuine, authentic conversation that will make you both feel fulfilled.

The difference between these three conversations is, of course, the relationship between participants. Interviewers don’t need a personal connection with every customer to conduct an IDI or focus group; they just need a solid foundation of mutual trust and respect, one that your brand can start building right away.


Start your online qualitative feedback journey today

Sometimes a survey sent to thousands of participants just isn’t enough. There are times when you need to sit down with a participant and dig deeper into the reasoning for their choices. Online qualitative research provides a wealth of opportunity for honest, valuable feedback from your customers. And to unlock what they are really thinking and feeling, you need to create a solid relationship and have the tools necessary to conduct IDIs and focus groups when the time is right.

Focus groups and 1:1 interviews benefit greatly from a video format. Since the pandemic hit, people are also increasingly used to having virtual meetings to avoid commuting and unnecessary physical contact. Consequently, the option of providing feedback via a video session seems ideal. 

Keeping things digital also allows for a wider geographic reach. Having in-depth conversations with participants globally used to be incredibly expensive and logistically difficult to organize. Now people from different countries, different continents even, can sit in on the same focus group discussion, and save you time and money. 

If you’re ready to introduce customers to a brand new way of sharing rich qualitative feedback with your brand, check out Video Discussions today.


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