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5 Questions to Never Ask Your Customers

As a follow up to her recent webinar, AMS Principal Kristyn Corrigan will be doing a three-part series explaining the five questions you need to be asking your customers and the five questions you should avoid during voice of the customer interviews.

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In part one of this blog series, I reviewed the importance of asking “why” and eliciting stories about the last time a customer used your product or service. Part two covered the importance of understanding extremes, exploring behavior changes and determining how customers determine value. In the final installment of my three-part series, I will share the five questions you should almost NEVER ask your customers during voice of the customer interviews.

1. Avoid repetitive questions that require only a simple YES or NO answer. Here’s an example: “Do you travel for business? Do you fly Delta? Do you sit in business class?” The reason why these types of question are ineffective is because they solicit a yes or no answer, and nothing else. It’s a waste of valuable time. Remember, this interview is not meant to be an interrogation. Ideally, we should know answers to these obvious yes or no questions before we start the voice of the customer interview. A better approach is to ask your customer: “Tell me about the last time you traveled for business.” This leaves an open end for the customer to take the conversation where he or she wants it to go

2. Try to steer clear of leading questions that put words in your customer’s mouth. Although this may sound obvious, in practice avoiding this type of questioning is harder than you think. An example of a leading question is: “How does this product make your life easier?” This question assumes that the product you’re asking about actually makes your customer’s life easier. What if it doesn’t? What if your customer has a complaint to share? A better approach would be to ask “Tell me about how you use this product? What does it do for you? What doesn’t it do for you? Why?” This approach removes the bias from the question.

3. Don’t ask what I like to call “egotistical” questions that make it seem like the interview is all about you or your company. This may seem counter-intuitive, but here’s an example: When you ask something like “So, how’s our brand doing?” it turns the focus of the voice of the customer interview directly towards you. A better way to frame this would be, “Thinking about all the brands you consider or use in this category, how are you being served? What have been some of the best experiences you’ve had? The worst? Why?” What this does is gives your customer an opportunity to talk about all the vendors or brands in the category, good and bad. You’re more likely to get candid and honest responses this way.

4. Avoid asking suspicious questions that suggest a sales agenda. For example, when you ask a customer something like, “How soon will you be looking to upgrade to version 3.0 of our product?”, it sounds like you’re in a sales meeting. The moment a customer feels the interview shift from conversational to sales-oriented, they will likely start giving canned responses, instead of candid. A better way to get insights around the decision to upgrade would be to ask: “How do you decide when it’s time to upgrade a product?”

5. Lastly, try not to ask questions that might put your customer on the defensive. In my experience, clients often have a hard time resisting the temptation to respond to customer needs with solutions, or to correct their misinformation. I always caution my teams to avoid going into sales-mode or solution-mode too fast. This can put the respondent on the defensive and color their responses for the rest of the interview. If there is an update or feature that you want to be sure your customer knows about, try to keep it separate from the voice of the customer interview – addressing the issue non-confrontational way, after the interview is completed.

To learn more about best practices for eliciting customer stories, register for our Consumer Insights for Innovation Workshop, taking place on September 21 at the Cornell Club in New York City.

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