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7 Tips to Master Customer Interviewing

By Carmel Dibner

Customer interviews can provide enlightening insights when conducted properly. Our team of interviewing experts have compiled several helpful tips to ensure that you get the most out of your own customer interviews:  

  • Tip #1: Don’t exclusively interview top customers  

It’s always easiest and most comfortable to interview your best customers – those who have been loyal to your company’s products or services for years. However, it’s wise to also include less loyal customers in your research, such as those who use both your and your competitors’ productsCustomers who use a variety of brands and who are less loyal to your brand may have a good sense of the market and can offer insights around how your products or services compare to those of your competitors.  

Include non-customers in your interviewing sample as well to avoid biasing the feedback. Non-customers might exclusively purchase from competitors in the category or they might not even purchase from your category, choosing substitute categories insteadWhile more difficult to recruit, non-customers provide unique insights that can’t be gathered elsewhereYou can learn a lot by understanding why they choose to go with competitor products or substitute products instead of your products or category.  

  • Tip #2: Align on the scope of the interviews  

While you probably have a long list of questions you’d like to ask customers, it’s best to keep interviews focused on the core topics of interest. To do this, align with your team on the types of questions that are most important to answer with the research. Part of determining what’s in scope is a candid discussion of what is beyond the scope of the initiative. While thoughtfully defining the scope is time-consuming on the front-end, the payoff comes when all stakeholders are aligned at the end of the research.  

  • Tip #3: Develop a discussion guide  

A good interview is designed around a discussion guide. The guide should outline all the questions within scope that you’d like to answer during the interviews. The questions should be organized around broad topics (e.g., safety, ease of use, etc.) with general questions before more specific questions.  For example, a company in the snacks space looking to see if their product is too salty may want to start with broad questions first to see if respondents bring up salt content unaided. For example, they may say “tell me about the taste” or “what do you think about the ingredients?” If respondents don’t mention salt, then the moderator should ask specifically about the saltiness of the snacks.  

The questions should include probes such as “why do you say that?”, “tell me more about your experience…” to ensure that your interviews capture as much depth of insight as possible. Once drafted, solicit feedback on your guide from key stakeholders, but be sure to remind everyone of the scope of the research. It can be tempting for those peripherally involved to try to throw in more questions that are only tangentially related to the research objectives 

  • Tip #4: Use the discussion guide as a tool but not a crutch 

While the discussion guide should inform your conversation, try not to become too reliant on the guide. It should serve as a general outline of the questions and topics you want to cover, but don’t expect to cover the entire guide with each respondent. Over the course of all the interviews, all questions should be covered, but it’s neither realistic nor a good idea to try to cover all questions with each interviewee. Allow the conversation to flow naturally and accept tangents that may be “off guide” but beneficial to the overall research objectives. 

  • Tip #5: Create an analysis and reporting plan from the start  

Before you begin your interviews, think about how you will analyze the data – are there certain questions you want to tally and ask of all respondents? How will you know if you’ve proven or disproven your hypotheses going into the interviews? A careful analysis plan up-front can help ensure that your customer interviewing initiative is a success. 

  • Tip #6: Record all interviews  

Recording interviews allows you to fully focus on the conversation instead of intensive notetaking. Reviewing the recording after the fact will help you to capture all key insights learned. However, be sure to ask the respondents’ permission before recording the interviews. 

  • Tip #7: Transcribe the audio recordings  

Transcribing the audio recordings is a best practice that we follow at AMS. It is a fast and accurate way to revisit findings and ensure you’ve captured all key insights. Additionally, the transcripts can be easily shared with key stakeholders. They can also be used to capture quotations to add color to your final presentation of the results. There are a variety of transcription services available to assist with this task.  

Are you working on your 2020 customer insights strategy? Let AMS help! Speak with one of our interviewing specialists today. 

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