Customer interviews are one of the best ways to understand your customers’ lives and how to give them what they want.
The customer interview can tell you which offerings to keep and which to cut, how to communicate with your customers and what specifically about your offering or value proposition drives the purchasing decision. Despite its importance, customer interviews are sometimes overlooked and under thought-out aspects of a small business’ marketing strategy.
Here are a few things to consider when planning for customer interviews:
• Build rapport and put your customers at ease early.
Approaching a customer, not to mention a stranger on the street, to interview them can be uncomfortable for both of you. Take a moment to establish why you want to ask them questions and let them know that you respect their time by saying something like “Do you have a few moments? Can I interview you because I am working on a project?”
The “because” is really important. It tells your customers why you are asking for their time and it makes them more likely to participate, even with a vague explanation such as “I am working on a project.” Provide a more specific reason if you can and it will be even more effective.
Asking your customers for their advice is another great way to earn their trust. Everyone loves to give advice, and if you can phrase your questions so that they illicit advice from your customers, you will be more likely to engage them early and keep them engaged in the interview.
• Let your customers do the talking.
Try not to interrupt them, put words in their mouth or steer the conversation. Ask open-ended questions, then be quiet and let your customers finish their responses. Remember the natural ratio of the number of human ears to mouth.
You should be listening at least two-thirds of the time, if not much more. If their responses leave anything unclear in your mind or pique your interest, prompt them to expound with questions like “Can you say more about that?”, “And then what did you do?” or simply “What else?”
Follow-up questions should emerge from the conversation.
• Look for and pay attention to your customers’ stories. When you have found a customer’s story, don’t move off topic too quickly. Stories explain not only factual context, but also the emotion and pain that your customer feels.
From these stories, you can determine their needs and requirements, and those requirements form the basis of potential solutions. So how do you get your customers to tell you their stories? Well worded questions will go far in priming your customers to tell their stories.
“Tell me about the last time…” is one of the most effective questions for eliciting a story response because it asks the customer to remember the most recent instance. That is usually easier to do than remembering the worst, best or most unusual instance because determining those instances requires thinking about and evaluating multiple instances.
Other story-eliciting questions include “What’s the hardest part about that?” and “What don’t you love about the solutions you’ve tried?”
Effective customer interviewing is a skill that can be developed like any other. With enough practice, interviewers will learn how to effectively ask questions, engage in a conversation about their customers’ pain points, determine what isn’t working with existing solutions and identify patterns in customer responses.
This can be invaluable information for keeping your offerings relevant and in demand.
Jason Anderson is director of the Georgia Southern University Small Business Development Center, and he may be contacted at email@example.com. Find out more at coba.georgiasouthern.edu/sbdc/.