Interviewing customers requires skills that can be learned, honed, and mastered. Better skills = better results.
The deepest insights spring from sincere conversations with customers about their experiences. A skilled interviewer creates these conversations.
Great customer interviews:
- Uncover quality customer insights to focus your strategy
- Identify unknown customer problems that fuel innovation
- Discover your customers’ feelings about your brand that impact their loyalty
Bad customer interviews:
- Validate your own opinions instead of uncovering new learnings
- Confirm your unconscious biases instead of illuminating them
- Frustrate you and your customer
Improve your customer interview results by mastering three skills.
1. Discover the Whole Person
Your customer is a whole person, with a life outside of your product or service. Learning about this whole person is one of the most powerful things you can do in an interview.
For example, if you’re interviewing a customer about their experience at a coffee shop, don’t limit the conversation to their in-store experience.
Try questions like:
- What does a typical week look like for you?
- How do you feel about the beverages you buy?
- How do you decide between coffee and another beverage?
These questions help you understand the customer as a whole person, not just a consumer of coffee.
You can eventually hone in on your customer’s experience in the coffee shop, but your insights will be much richer if you know why they walked in the door in the first place.
- One customer buys coffee as a reward for getting up early and completing a workout.
- Another customer views the logo on the cup as a status symbol when walking into the office.
Understanding your customers’ motivations gives you entirely new perspectives on their experiences inside the store. These insights lead to innovation.
2. Become a Humble Researcher
Approach customer interviews as a humble researcher interested in learning. Humility is the key to discovery. Become the student and let your customer be the teacher.
Focus on listening and learning what it feels like to be a customer. Discover new perspectives that might challenge your existing assumptions and opinions.
Avoid temptations to defend your brand or correct your customer’s behavior. You are there to learn from your customer, not the other way around.
If you feel yourself getting defensive and you don’t know what to say, fall back on empathy statements. These simple statements defuse tension and build trust. Internalize a few empathy statements ahead of time, so you can rely on them if the conversation gets tense.
- Thank you for sharing that with me.
- It’s really important to get that right and it sounds like we let you down.
- That had to be really frustrating. I’d be frustrated too!
Empathy statements keep you humble and your customer talking.
3. Ask Open-Ended Questions
Open-ended questions make the customer think. They don’t have simple yes/no answers, or lead the customer in a line of thinking.
In contrast, closed-ended questions have simple answers that don’t require much thought. The answers are fact-based, or confirmations of the interviewer’s own opinions.
Closed-ended questions narrow the discussion, while open-ended questions expand it. A skilled interviewer explores many possibilities, rather than converging on a few.
Prepare for interviews by developing questions in advance. Translate closed-ended questions into open-ended ones.
- Do you use the search feature to find new movies? becomes How do you discover new movies you’re interested in? Instead of getting a yes/no answer about the search feature, you might learn about a whole new way your customers are discovering movies – even if it’s outside your product!
- How many times a month do you contact customer service? becomes Can you tell me about your interactions with our customer service team? Instead of getting the number of service calls, you’ll get to hear how your customer describes these interactions, or lack thereof.
- What frustrations do you have with the application? becomes How do you feel when using the application? The first version may seem like an open-ended question, but it’s not. By asking about the customer’s frustrations, you’re leading them toward an answer based on your own bias. The second version allows customers to describe their feelings, positive or negative.
A skilled interviewer can translate closed-ended questions to open-ended ones on the fly.
As you discover what is truly important to your customer, use three Power Questions to expand the conversation around those topics and stories. You’ll learn the customer’s whole story and their ideas for improving the experience.
Being a great conversationalist or good at small talk does not naturally make you a great interviewer. Practice these skills to improve the quality of your interviews.
Practicing these skills is easy! We are all customers, so interview a coworker or family member. Learn about their experience as a customer of Netflix, Starbucks, or another common brand.
As a humble researcher, you don’t have to be an expert on the product or service. Remember, you’re there to listen and learn!