8 Simple Steps for Conducting Killer Customer Interviews

Whenever kicking off a new client engagement, a thorough vetting of how the brand is being positioned, messaged, and perceived—both internally and externally—is in order. Customer Interviews provide a valuable opportunity to audit the entire approach through which we should be communicating with our target—presenting the right message, to the right person, in the right place, at the right time.

So, what’s the quickest way to get to the bottom of this? You could analyze industry trends, or deep dive into consumer data, but often the path of least resistance (with the most informative results) is this: just ask! This may seem obvious, but you would be amazed how many companies neglect to take the time to do exactly that with any regularity.

It’s hard to read the label when you’re stuck inside the bottle. Customer Interviews offer critical insights about why, how, and where a prospective customer might choose your solution over that of a lateral competitor—that are often missed or misunderstood from an internal perspective.

If you are struggling to gain market traction with your marketing efforts, experiencing stagnating sales and declining consumer sentiment, or just want to gut-check your current approach from soup to nuts, customer interviews can offer rich returns for a modest investment of time.

See below for 8 simple steps to structuring and conducting winning customer interviews:

  1. Evaluate Your Audiences

    Think critically about the different parties involved in the chain of Buyers for your product or service. Does one role or job title handle the entire process from evaluation to decision? Is the thought process different across parties, or industries-served? The answers to these preliminary questions will inform the breadth of the different groups from which you will need to solicit interviews.

  2. Define Your Objectives

    What questions do you seek to answer? Begin by aligning your objectives with the individual groups you will need to interview, then move on to defining the top-level buckets of desired insights to further explore with these target audience(s). See below for a few key opportunities to help get you started:

    • Moment-of-Action: What were the circumstances that led your customer to begin looking for a solution to the problem that your product or service addresses? Answers to this line of questioning will provide useful touch-points you can leverage to build better rapport and alignment in your messaging, as well as illuminate some less traditional potential avenues for promotion.
    • Thought Process: What were the most important considerations when making the decision about which solution to ultimately adopt? What tipped the scales in the end, and what carried little weight? Answers here will help you triage the key points to hit in your advertising creative, keyword targeting, and/or destination landing page copy that will instill confidence in your familiarity with your prospects’ mindset, and thus would be better suited to provide an effective solution than a less aligned competitor.
    • Evaluation Process: How, and where, did your customer go about the practical process of identifying and weighing the potential solutions available on the market? What channels did they use, and why? These answers will help you dial in your media mix—ensuring that you invest appropriately when building your marketing presence, only in the areas where your prospects are.
  3. Structure the Conversation

    To paint a comprehensive picture with each interview, leverage the inverted pyramid structure. Begin with broad questions about the respondent’s overarching role and experience, and work your way down towards specific, pointed questions for each objective bucket as the interview progresses.

  4. Don’t Confuse Hypotheses with Fact

    Confirmation bias is a serious concern with interviews, particularly when the interviewer is close to the subject matter. One of the biggest mistakes you can make in your survey design is to gloss over questions you think you already know the answer to. Don’t be afraid to reconfirm the things you already believe to be true, because it’s the exceptions that truly matter.

  5. Secure an Ample Sample

    In an exploratory interview, you don’t need statistical significance to identify trends. However, it is still critical that you conduct interviews with enough respondents to confirm correlation, and eliminate outliers. Start with a minimum sample size of 3, or an ideal range of 4-6 (per unique audience group), for best results.

  6. Conduct Interviews Verbally, Not in Writing

    Conducting interviews verbally enables you to read the respondent in real time, so you can adjust your line of questioning as-needed to further unpack important insights. An organic conversation is always preferable to a structured, written survey—which may result in terse, overly conservative, or uninformative results.

  7. Budget Your Time Properly

    When scheduling your interviews, set proper expectations. 45 minutes – 1 hour is typically necessary to fully explore a comprehensive line of questioning for each dimension of the survey you identified in the objective-setting phase.

  8. Revise Your Questionnaire

    As you complete interviews with multiple members of a given audience, common threads will begin to emerge. Don’t be afraid to re-adjust your line of questioning to get to the heart of these areas more efficiently in subsequent interviews within this group.

Follow these 8 simple steps and you’ll be well on your way to uncovering some meaningful (and often truly surprising) insights about your customers which you can leverage to great effect as you further optimize your marketing approach for the future. Happy interviewing!