“Supposing is good, but finding out is better” – Mark Twain.
Without proper knowledge of customers’ needs, it isn’t really possible for a business to thrive. Successful businesses are those that understand the need of their customer even better than the customer does.
To gauge your customers’ needs, you need to interact with your customers and identify their pain points. You cannot just assume your customers’ needs; you have to find them. And, the best way to do so is by conducting a proper ‘customer interview’.
What is a Customer Interview?
A customer interview is a well-structured conversation with potential customers. The core idea behind it is to understand customer needs and reflect this knowledge through products and services.
While customer interview aims to understand customers’ need, you cannot directly ask this question to them.
As Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, once said “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”.
So, you need to structure your interview intelligibly to extract the required information from your customers without scaring them with complex questions.
Why Customer Interviews are important?
The primary importance of customer interviews is that you get to KNOW your customers.
The customer is the king of the market. Businesses that understand the need of the customers are those who eventually get them as a customer. No successful product or service can be developed without knowing the pain point of customers. A successful business person like Steve Jobs vouches on this by saying “You have to start with the customer experience and work back towards the technology, not the other way around”. Customer interview provides you that opportunity to get to the starting point i.e. knowing the customer experience.
Customer interviews, when done effectively, can be the catalyst for making smarter business decisions. When customers complain about some specific usability issues, you can use the information to better your product. You can get innovative ideas when you listen to the aspirations of your customers.
Though talking to customers can give you useful information, you need to be prepared well to extract the valuable ones. Not all information is equally important. An effectively planned customer interview can help you get the information important for your business decisions while filtering out all unnecessary chit-chats.
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How do you prepare for customer interviews?
Yes, you need to prepare yourself for customer interviews. You cannot just let your customer take you to rabbit holes you do not need to visit. You have to take charge of the interview without offending your customer.
The first step in preparing for a customer interview is to prepare yourself mentally. You have to first make it clear to yourself why are you planning for a customer interview in the first place. You need to have a clear vision of the process as well as the result of the interview. In addition to having a clear picture of your requirement and expectations, you should have a clear idea about your target interviewee.
You and your team need to have an agile mindset. When you are going to directly deal with customers you need to be prepared for unexpected moves. You should also educate yourself about all kinds of metrics important for your purpose before jumpstarting the interview. The metrics may include a demographic picture of the target market, the social and financial position of your target audience, etc.
How to Plan Customer Interviews?
Now that you are prepared well, let us take you to the step-by-step procedure of planning a customer interview.
- Set a goal for your interviews – As mentioned above, customer interviews need to have a specific goal or agenda. You cannot prepare a questionnaire without knowing your purpose for the interview. Are you planning to launch a new product and need to gauge market demand? Do you need your customers’ feedback about an existing product? Are you looking forward to knowing more about your customers in general? Whatever it is, you have to know your goal clearly.
- Collect questions to get insights – Now that you know your goal as well as the target audience, you should start collecting questions to get an insight as to how you can proceed with the interview for your purpose. You need to use those insights for creating your questionnaire. The questions need to be designed to extract the information you need from the customer. However, open-ended questions are better than ‘yes or no’ type questions. The answers to open-ended questions may sometimes provide you a very different angle of looking at things. Further, your questionnaire should not be a rigid one. Leaving the scope for follow-up questions is always a good idea. The questionnaire should be a guiding light rather than a rigid frame.
- Write the guidelines – You need to write clear guidelines for your team who would be conducting the interview. Guidelines are a very important tool for minimizing the effect of personal biasedness on the interviewers. Different team members will have their unique style of approaching a task; they will have their belief system and biasedness. A standard guideline will help you in maintaining uniformity in interviews conducted by different team members.
- Find customers – Now that you are all prepared, it’s time to find your ideal customer. If you produce say a luxury product you can’t interview lower or lower-middle-class people. If you are planning to launch a cost-effective alternative for a product already available in the market, you cannot get the right insight by talking to the ultra-rich classes of society. Identifying ideal customers is crucial for getting benefitted from customer interviews. So, be very cautious while preparing your final list of target customers to be interviewed.
How to Execute Customer Interviews?
Once preparation and planning are done, you have to focus on executing your customer interview. Here are the important steps for the same.
Before you start shooting questions to your customer, make sure you are ready for the interview. You must have a proper medium for recording the answers of your customer being interviewed. You cannot simply rely on your memory and interpretation. You should know all the guidelines and have your pre-made questionnaire with you.
When you are talking to your customer you cannot just start asking them questions out of your questionnaire. Talk to them in a friendly manner and tell them the purpose of the interview. Keep in mind to frame your sentence in such a manner that your purpose statement should not sound selfish. You cannot say that you are looking forward to increasing your sales volume. Instead, you have to say you want to better customers’ experience. Don’t rush to your questions before getting comfortable with the interviewee.
Be a listener
Once you start the interview hold the urge to speak your mind. Let the customer speak their mind. The purpose of the interviewer and the questionnaire in any customer interview is only to keep the interview in line with the overarching goal of the interview. Ask your question and listen to the answer without disrupting the interviewee. You can ask follow-up questions if you want the interviewee to speak more on the topic.
Ensure to record for feature references
As mentioned earlier, customers’ responses need to be recorded. If you fail to record customers’ responses for future reference the efforts of the interview will fail.
It is important to end an interview with the same friendliness and zeal with which you started it. So, don’t forget to thank the interviewee for their time and say bye with a friendly smile.
Get Your Action Items
Once you have conducted customer interviews with your chosen customers, you need to take action on the received response. Here is what you need to do.
Note down points from all interviews
The first action you need to do is to go through the responses from all the interviewees. And then note down points from all the interviews. Refrain from analyzing or judging any response at this point. Just create a compilation of the points given by customers.
Discuss internally and finalize action items
Once you have all the points written in a single place you can start analyzing and discussing those points with your team. The aim of the discussion and analysis should be to chalk out the plan of action based on information garnered from the customers.
Benefits of Customer Interviews
As a final note let us see some of the benefits of customer interviews for business.28
- You get unadulterated feedback direct from the customer. This helps in making smart business decisions.
- You get a better picture of customers’ pain-point and problems that help you build a better product or service.
- You can assess customer demand before investing in new product development.
- You get to see your products and services from the customers’ viewpoint. Getting in customers’ shoes is a great idea for enhancing the customer experience.
- You may get inspiration for a brand new product or service while talking about the needs and aspirations of your customer.
- Customer interviews build trust in you. Customers feel good if they are asked about their opinions and are more likely to stay loyal to your brand if they feel valued.
Rakhin has over 10 years of experience driving business development and client services. In his prior roles, he stayed close to customers to understand their requirements and help them achieve their business goals. He is passionate about customer success.
Published August 19, 2021, Updated August 19, 2021