On your personal life, when you want to know how a person feels about something, what do you do? Do you go about randomly guessing all possible perceptions or do you simply go and ask the person?
Well, even though it sounds really obvious and some people actually follow this philosophy on their personal lives, it’s not uncommon to see companies trying to guess their customer’s perceptions about something without actually asking them.
If you want to know what your customer thinks or how you can help him/her, just go ahead and ask. This is exactly the situation when customer interviewing can come in handy!
If you’re well prepared and ready for it, interviews can offer priceless insight on the customer’s needs and improvement opportunities for your product/service.
Customer Interviewing 101
To begin with, before you even consider interviewing your customers, you have to know the right questions to ask.
Let’s face it, customer interviewing is about extracting the largest amount of information you can in a small amount of time. If you don’t worry about preparing in advance you might end up spending an hour or more talking about random subjects and everything else except what you wanted to know.
I’m not saying that you must do a completely scripted interview and act like a robot while doing it. Going off topic can be very useful to help break the ice during those awkward initial minutes and get the customer more comfortable throughout the interview.
The most important thing is to have a clear idea of what is it you want to know and guide the conversation towards the subject. It doesn’t matter whether you want to know how a customer feels about a certain feature or if you’re just analyzing general customer satisfaction. Determine what you want to know and work towards getting that information.
Using the appropriate language and tone of voice is almost as important as asking the right questions. Knowing all the right things to ask won’t make any difference unless you know how to ask the questions.
Using excessively complex or farfetched language can confuse your interviewee and make you not only not get the information you wanted but also irritate the customer (and that’s something you definitely don’t need.
Here are a few key points you must stick to in order to be successful at customer interviewing:
Be prepared (and I can’t stress this enough, ALWAYS be prepared)
It doesn’t matter whether you’re interviewing the customer in person, on a Skype call or on the phone, go into every customer interview with a clear plan of what information you want to extract and how you’re going to do it.
It’s very helpful to do a quick research about the customer you’re interviewing: learn more about the company, what’s their relation to your product/service and adapt your approach to each specific situation.
I’m not going into the specifics of planning questions on this article (it’s a subject that deserves its very own article) but what I will tell you is that it’s incredibly helpful to define a line of questioning and focus on asking the questions that”ll get the information you need.
You can’t possibly cover more than one or two topics thoroughly during a one-hour interview. That’s why it’s so important to focus on what you want to know today. If you excel at customer interviewing for the first time you’re very likely to have other opportunities to ask the customer about other subjects.
Instead of writing down all your questions and risk sounding like a broken record or an inexperienced trainee, write down keywords to remind you of your general line of questioning and make sure you cover all of them by individually crossing out each one as the interview progresses.
Remember: it’s an interview, not a criminal interrogation!
We’ve pretty much covered this when we talked about the tone of voice and language but it’s better to be safe than sorry, right? When interviewing customers, remember that both parties volunteered willingly to do it so you’ll get much better results if you make it a conversation instead of an interrogation.
Flooding your customer with a never ending stream of questions will not only irritate him/her but it’s also very likely to impair the overall result of your interview (or even ultimately cut it short).
If you think of customer interviewing as a conversation instead of following a carefully written script (remember, don’t write questions, write keywords), questions are bound to emerge naturally which will leave the customer a lot more at ease when answering below.
Patience, young grasshopper!
As said before, you’re not likely to explore more than one or two topics in depth in a single interviewing session so be patient. If you try to explore more topics than your interviewee’s attention spam can bear chances are you won’t get the information you’re looking for (or another chance at interviewing).
Unfortunately, it’s very common (specially among salespeople) for people to be goal oriented and, therefore, giving more value to quick conversions.
Customer interviewing, however, demands patience and focus – you’re way more likely to get precious insight from your customers if you don’t try to move the conversation forward faster than it should.
Conversation is a two-way street!
The most effective way of wasting a customer interviewing session is not paying attention to your customer’s answers or taking notes. What’s the point of planning ahead and asking all the right questions if instead of taking notes and paying attention you’ll just let your mind drift off while you plan what to say next?
Don’t be too eager to move on with the conversation – focus on really listening what the customer has to say and, after they’re done, take a minute to think about what he/she said and then formulate your next question.
Don’t worry about awkward silences while you reflect and find out what you’re asking next – most people will automatically interpret a short silence as a sign of interest in what they had to say.
If you’re anything like me (I have a very, very short attention spam) and you feel like you’re constantly missing bits and pieces of the answers, recording the interview so you can review and explore it in depth later can be a life saver.
You want honest information, don’t lead!
Once again going back to making the interview a conversation, instead of asking the customer questions that’ll intentionally lead him/her to answer what you want to hear, ask open ended questions. Trust me, a fair share of customers will likely identify leading questions and won’t fall for them.
Focus on asking open-ended questions that cannot be answered with a single word (such as yes or no). Starting your questions with “What”, “How” and “Why” almost guarantees they’ll be open ended and actually get honest results. If you’re worried about asking questions that are too generic, don’t. If you ask a question that’s not specific enough, the customer is likely to ask you to clarify it.
Always remember that you’re interviewing a customer because you’re actually interested in his/her point of view. Be careful not to jump into interrogation mode and harass your customer. Making it an honest, simple conversation will open the doors for future conversation and sales opportunities.