The Difference Between Qualitative and Quantitative Research

difference between qualitative and quantitative research

Before you start customer research you already make many choices: what are your questions, who are you questioning and how do you do that? Do you opt for surveys among a large group of customers (quantitative research) or do you review 20 customers face-to-face (qualitative research)? To help you make the right choice, we dive into the difference between qualitative and quantitative research.

Quantitative and qualitative research definition

Let’s start with the basics:

  • The definition of qualitative research: ‘In qualitative research, you find in-depth information about people’s motivations, thoughts, and expectations. Qualitative research is about words and not numbers.
  • The definition of quantitative research: ‘With quantitative research you obtain numerical insights about people. It provides answers to questions that can be expressed in quantities.

Qualitative research and quantitative research in practice

What does such an investigation look like in practice? The main features at a glance:

Characteristics of qualitative research 

  • You do a qualitative research with in-depth interviews or group discussions.
  • In qualitative research, the focus is mainly on finding the answer to why questions. “Why do customers find our services insufficient?”
  • During the interviews or group discussions, the discussion topics are usually fixed, but the exact formulation and order of the questions differs per conversation.
  • The researcher keeps asking if he notices that a respondent has a lot to say about a certain subject.
  • An interview usually takes half an hour to an hour. It can be done face-to-face or phone.
  • After the research, the interviews are analyzed, usually with the help of a data analysis program. 

Characteristics of quantitative research

  • The questionnaires are standardized. This means that the order of the questions is fixed, as are the answer options. For example, respondents should choose an answer on the 5-point scale, from ‘completely agree’ to ‘completely disagree’.
  • The results of quantitative research are numerical, so quantifiable.
  • Quantitative research answers questions such as: ‘What percentage of our customers are very satisfied with our services?’ And: ‘What percentage of our customers are considering switching to a competitor? ‘
  • The respondent completes the questionnaire himself on the computer. Or he answers the questions by telephone (a telephone survey). A quantitative examination usually takes no longer than 10 minutes.
  • The research data is analyzed with a special software program – such as SPSS. 

One more example to illustrate the difference between the two methods:

With quantitative research, you determine that customers rate your new store design with an average of 8. You will also discover why this is the case with qualitative research.

Difference qualitative and quantitative research

The difference between qualitative and quantitative research is therefore in the research method and the type of information that you retrieve with it. But there are two other points of difference: 

The different size research group

In quantitative research, you usually question a large group of respondents, sometimes hundreds or thousands of people at once. In qualitative research, the number of respondents is much smaller. Think of groups of 15 to 30 people.

Other investment of time

Quantitative research requires a large investment of time in advance. The questionnaire must be 100% correct because sent has been sent. The greatest time investment is afterward in qualitative research. Listening to and transcribing the interviews takes a lot of time, just like entering the data and the final analysis.

Qualitative research vs quantitative research

Then, of course, the key question remains: when do you go for qualitative research and when is the choice for quantitative research better?

When qualitative research

You choose qualitative research if you are engaged in improvement research or innovation research. In improvement research, you look for answers to questions such as: ‘How can we better meet the expectations of our customers?’ In renewal research, you try to respond to changes around your company or organization. You want to know what customers want from you in a changing world. For both types of research, it is important to dive deep into the customer experience. And that is where qualitative research is best suited.

When then quantitative research

Suppose you have to show management that the degree of customer satisfaction with a certain product is increasing. You need hard numbers for that. With this type of accountability research, you rather opt for quantitative research. Because quantitative research is easy to repeat, you quickly gain insight into developments and trends.