Customer Interviews: The Easy Guide To Gathering Awesome Business Insights [2021]

This article will cover everything on the importance of customer interviews, and how you can conduct them in the most effective manner. 

Research reveals that 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a better customer experience. And what better way to improve this experience than getting to know what they want directly from them?

Here’s how you can use interviews to learn directly from your customers and improve their experience with your brand.

    What Are Customer Interviews?

    Customer interviews simply mean talking to your customers and asking them a few questions to better understand their perceptions about your brand and if you are meeting their needs properly.

    Such interviews are conducted mostly in a one-to-one setting and follow a casual structure. The point of customer interviews is not to intimidate your customers or get serious information out of them.

    They are very informal and provide you with an opportunity to look at your business from a candid and unbiased point of view.

    Most customer interviews include questions related to their needs and wants, and if the business is able to fulfil them properly.

    You can collect quantitative responses by asking them to rate certain aspects of your product or service, or simply rely on qualitative information.

    Besides, you could also get some information on your competitors and how they are perceived relative to you. The point again is to understand where you stand and where to go next.

    Customer interviews cartoon
    Source: Marketoonist.com

    Conducting customer interviews can be a hectic process in terms of the time and effort you need to invest to get the right information. However, they can be way more helpful than mere surveys and questionnaires. 

    You can use such interviews to make crucial business decisions such as transforming a product or service you offer or building a launch strategy for something that is in the pipeline.

    Besides, you may also get a thorough perspective of the market from the eyes of your customers and use that information to predict future trends and plan accordingly.

    The list of benefits customer interviews have is endless but all it comes down to is that you interview the right people at the right time.

    Also, getting into a habit of interviewing customers regularly can be very helpful since you get up to date insights and understand the situation how it really is.

    Types of Customer Interviews

    Customer interviews can be very extensive and often take a lot of unintended directions if not structured properly.

    Therefore, it is important that you understand the broad categories they can be put into so that you plan properly and get exactly what you need.

    Types of Customer Interviews

    Here are some basic types of customer interviews organizations usually conduct.

    Exploratory Customer Interviews

    Exploratory interviews are useful in understanding the basic needs and wants of the customers and putting everything in a set structure to construct buyer personas.

    These personas later help in market segmentation as you are clear on what the pain points look like for different types of customers and how they can be targeted better.

    It is extremely important not to ask any leading questions here since the customers themselves are often unsure about their opinions and doing so may introduce bias.

    Also, you may or may not mention your exact product or service depending upon what kind of information you want to collect. If it is limited to establishing customer pain points, don’t mention any product or company at all so that the customer can reveal his true needs.

    Targeted Customer Interviews

    These interviews are a little more focused as compared to exploratory interviews and include more specific questions. The goal is mostly to test your theories and perceptions of the market and see if they hold any value.

    Targeted interviews are helpful when you need to develop a new product or launch new initiatives whether they are in terms of marketing, advertising, branding, or anything else of that sort.

    The idea here is to focus on a specific problem your target audience faces and present your solution to see if it makes sense for the customer or not. 

    The only thing you are gauging here is how the customer reacts to your solutions which may be in the form of a product or a service.

    It is adequate to mention your exact product here or even use a few of your competitors’ just as a reference point.

    Again, since you are gauging genuine customer reactions, do not ask any leading questions so that the response you get is one hundred percent authentic.

    Business Efficiency Interviews

    These interviews really zoom in on the needs and wants side and try to figure out if there are any inefficiencies with the solutions you are providing for their problems.

    In the tech industry, this could also resemble one-on-one usability testing of apps where potential customers provide their honest opinion on how the app performs.

    These interviews are helpful when your business is stalling and you really need to update your current market offering to better meet the needs of your customers.

    Without doing such interviews regularly, you could run the risk of not being able to keep up with changing customer needs. And as a result, your competitors might run over you and throw you out of business.

    You can conduct business efficiency interviews to identify room for improvement in your products or services and then fill in the gaps to always stay relevant.

    Customer Satisfaction Interviews

    Customer satisfaction interviews help find out the gaps between what you are delivering and what the customers expect.

    You may ask questions about the usefulness of the products or services you offer and see how they fit in with the day-to-day workflow of your customers.

    Customer satisfaction levels
    Source: JoomConnect

    These interviews help minimize dissonance and give you insights that you can use to tweak your market offering accordingly.

    You may get both positive and negative reviews about your business here so make sure you are ready to listen to whatever your customers have to say. 

    If the reviews are positive, you may try to dig deeper to further identify room for improvement. Outright negative reviews may be taken with a grain of salt but make sure you learn from them and use this criticism constructively.

    7 Steps to Conducting Great Customer Interviews 

    1. Set clear goals

    Conducting these interviews with a long list of customers is going to take up a lot of your time, and to use this time productively, you need to be clear on your goals. Be very clear on why you are talking to them and what you expect to get out of the conversation.

    The goals don’t need to be very complex or data-driven. It could be as simple as getting feedback on your products or discussing solutions to a certain problem customers face.

    Just pen down your basic thoughts regarding the goals and then you can build off of that idea to get relevant responses.

    If you are confused, you can go over the different types of customer interviews we discussed above to get an idea of what goals can you set.  

    2. Do your homework

    The interviews do consume a lot of your time but more than your own time, you should value the time of the interviewees. At the end of the day, these are your customers and if you waste their time on useless discussions, it could negatively affect your brand.

    Do thorough research on how the market is like and what the general perception of your business is.

    Try to get as much information you can get without the interviews and then use the interviews to only build on that discussion. Do not waste time on getting answers that you already know or are outright irrelevant. 

    This is also the point where you should decide if you need a team or an additional notetaker or you can handle everything yourself.

    Either way, be fully prepared so that you can get straight to the point when you finally interact with the customer.

    3. Structure everything

    Take some time to structure your thoughts and make solid notes on everything you have till now. Also, don’t forget to list the questions down so that the interview doesn’t go off-track.

    This does not mean that the interview needs to be very structured and there shouldn’t be any off-topic conversations.

    These conversations are also essential as they help the customer get into their comfort zone and answer everything in a relaxed manner. 

    Let the conversation flow naturally and improvise on the way. These questions will only be a reference point to fall back on in case you lose track or miss out on something.

    4. Make the call

    It’s time you finally meet the customer. Be confident in your interactions and make sure the customer feels relaxed as well.

    You can start with greetings, introductions, and open-ended questions such as “tell me about yourself”. This will allow them to describe exactly who they are and what their career, ambitions, and hobbies are.

    Before you delve into the bigger questions, you will need to go over the framework for the interview so that the person being interviewed knows what they are in for.

    You may mention how long the interview will last, what your goals are, and that you want their honest feedback on everything.

    5. Dig in deeper

    This is the main part where all the exciting discoveries happen. At this point, you can start using the list of questions you jotted down during the initial phase. 

    An important thing to note is that you want the customer to be as candid as they can be during the whole interview. Let them tell stories that are personal and real and avoid leading questions.

    Use open-ended questions so that they give you a complete context of why they say what they say instead of giving a simple yes or no. You will get the most out of your customer when you ask them more ‘why’ questions.

    You could also keep digging in with multiple layers of whys just to get to the thought behind it.

    Customer interview questions
    Source: Strategyzer.com

    Most importantly, talk less and listen more. It can be tempting to cut in and complete their answers for them but avoid this as much as you can. Give your customer the time and space they need to answer a question fully before you move on to the next one.

    Also, don’t forget to take notes or record (with consent obviously) their responses so that you can later document and report easily.

    6. Express gratitude

    When you are satisfied that you have received good responses to all the questions you had, thank the customer for taking out time and say goodbye. Let them know that you value their time and feedback and you are genuinely grateful that they took time out for this. 

    Some organizations even go a step ahead and give incentives to customers who take time out for feedback interviews. This incentive could be free goodies, discount codes, vouchers, etc.

    Incentivizing customer interviews is highly recommended if you have the budget for it. You can read more on how to encourage customers for such interviews with non-monetary incentives here.

    7. Take buffer time

    Take at least 10 to 15 minutes after each interview to process everything that was discussed and try to structure the hasty notes that you took during the interview. 

    This practice is particularly helpful when you are conducting multiple interviews in a row.

    If you don’t take these 10 minutes for yourself, all the information you collect will start getting jumbled up; After 2 or 3 interviews, you won’t be able to recall anything correctly.

    Dos and Don’ts of Customer Interviews

    Now that we know exactly how to conduct these interviews, here is a quick recap of all the dos and don’ts of a customer interview.

    • Do: List down all the questions you need to ask in advance.
    • Don’t: Include leading questions or questions that get a simple yes or no as a response.
    • Do: Improvise during the interview and let the conversation flow naturally.
    • Don’t: Interrupt the customer and try to change the course of the conversation forcefully.
    • Do: Take notes and record the interview but with consent.
    • Don’t: Rely on your memory or delay taking notes till the end of the interview.
    • Do: Ask open ended questions and get stories out of them.
    • Don’t: Confuse them with very broad questions that they find difficult to answer.
    • Do: Express gratitude at the end and let them know they are valued.
    • Don’t: Extend the interview above the time you initially told the customer.
    • Do: Take time to process everything before the next interview.
    • Don’t: Take interviews in a row without short breaks in between.

    Conclusion

    Taking good interviews is a skill, and like any other skill, it will take some time to master. Making customer interviews a regular part of your marketing or sales strategy can do wonders and you will only get good at it if you keep doing it.

    You can also use customer feedback software to automate the process to some extent but interviews will always have their place.

    So put yourself out there, plan your interviews, and start meeting your customers!

    References & Sources 

    1. Product Coalition: The Four Kinds of Customer Interviews
    2. User Interviews: The Ultimate Guide to Doing Kickass Customer Interviews
    3. AMS: Customer Interviews: Do’s and Don’ts
    4. Atlassian: Customer Interviews
    5. The Daily Egg: How To Do Customer Interviews That Reveal Priceless Insights
    6. Strategyzer: The One Biggest Error in Customer Interviews
    7. JoomConnect: Customer Satisfaction Levels
    8. Marketoonist
    9. SuperOffice: Customer Experience Statistics
    10. OutboundEngine: Take notes

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What are customer interviews?

    omer interviews simply mean talking to your customers and asking them a few questions to better understand their perceptions about your brand and if you are meeting their needs properly. Such interviews are conducted mostly in a one-to-one setting and follow a casual structure.

    What are the types of customer interviews?

    Broadly, customer interviews can be classified into three types: Exploratory, Targeted, Business Efficiency, and Customer Satisfaction. All of these could be either structure, semi-structured, or unstructured.

    How to conduct great customer interviews?

    You can conduct great customer interviews by setting your goals clearly, doing your research, and then asking your customers open-ended questions. Let the customers talk more and focus on listening and taking notes on whatever they have to say.

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