I can talk to my husband about absolutely anything. But I tend to avoid jabbering away about the latest drama on Grey’s Anatomy over dinner. Why? Quite simply, he doesn’t care. That information isn’t relevant to him and he doesn’t find it the least bit interesting.
On a larger scale, content marketing works this exact same way. In order to capture your audience’s attention—and keep it!—you need to be consistently producing content that they consider to be helpful and valuable. In fact, relevancy is the number one reason why people quickly bounce from your site.
But, you aren’t psychic (at least as far as I know…). So how exactly can you get into your customers’ heads to determine what’s really striking a chord with them? Yes, your analytics are helpful, but they only tell you so much. If you want the deeper information, you need to take things one step further. How? Two words: customer interviews.
Yes, interviewing your customers is a great way to gain some insight into what exactly makes them tick, as well as how you can use that information to continuously improve and grow your business. These one-on-one chats can have a huge impact, but they’re still relatively easy to pull together. So, let’s dive right into the good stuff!
Why are Customer Interviews Important?
If you’ve never conducted a customer interview before, you might be operating under the misconception that they’re a waste of your precious working hours. After all, why would you want to spend 45 minutes on the phone when you could be spending your time producing something tangible?
You need to adjust your thinking, because taking the time to dig in with your customers offers unmatched insights into what you need to do to widen your reach, target your efforts, and grow your business. Plus, these talks strengthen your customer relationships. If that’s not a win-win, I don’t know what is!
What You’ll Learn
To pull together a successful customer interview, you should first have a firm grasp on what exact information you expect to get out of the experience. Not only will this assist you in crafting appropriate questions, it will ensure that you don’t end the conversation with only half the information you wanted.
Here are three key things you should be able to identify after you hang up the phone with a customer:
- What You’re Doing Well: Your customers are your customers for a reason—they like something about what you’re doing. Talking with your customers will clearly illustrate the things that are really working well for them. Hey, everyone loves a good ego boost!
- Areas Where You Can Improve: On the flip side, your customers can also be brutally honest. So, they’ll likely be more than willing to highlight some aspects that really aren’t working well for them. Trust me, this is a good thing. You’d rather have that information in hand to fix the issues, than lose customers due to a misunderstanding or oversight. Some of it may be difficult for you to hear, but there’s no denying that it’s helpful information.
- Your Customers’ Pain Points: Not only can you learn more about how your product or service helps your customers solve problems, you can also dig into some of the other pain points they frequently experience. This information is especially helpful in creating valuable content that really helps your customers.
No two conversations are the same, so you might just learn something during an interview that really surprises you. Perhaps one of your customers is using your product in a way you never imagined. Or, maybe they’re frustrated by something that had never even appeared on your radar. As Cindy Alvarez says in her book Lean Customer Development: Build Products Your Customers Need, “The best indicator that you’re done is that you stop hearing people say things that surprise you.”
Structuring a Customer Interview
As with any type of interview, the magic really lies in an effective plan and structure. While it may be tempting to jump the gun and wing the entire conversation, to have a beneficial dialogue, you need to sit down and map out how you envision the conversation flowing.
Once you have a conversation booked with one of your customers, you should start by doing some research about them. What do they do? How are they using your product or service? How long have they been a customer of yours? Remember that the goal of your phone call is to really dive deep and get the nitty gritty details about your customers—so get the basic facts out of the way yourself.
Also, before jumping on the phone, remind yourself that you’re there to listen. Yes, you’ll need to present the questions and perhaps prod for some more information to reach your desired level of detail. But, you want to spend the majority of the time listening and absorbing everything your customer has to say. And, without a doubt, you need to resist turning the conversation into a sales call. You won’t get what you need, and your customer will undoubtedly be a little put off.
With all of that said, what does a basic customer phone call structure look like?
- Start by asking your customer for a general overview of their business, and how exactly they’re implementing your product or service. Don’t hesitate to ask for clarification on any explanations you don’t understand. The goal is to get an overall understanding of their big picture.
- Once you have a good handle on that, it’s time to move into the specific questions you pulled together ahead of time. Obviously, these will vary based on your business and particular customer. But, remember that you want valuable insights straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Ask for examples and facts about how they’re using your products, and not just their opinions. And, don’t hesitate to follow up with “Why?” if you feel like you need more detail.
- Of course, you need to end with a genuine “thank you” to your customer. Thank them not only for their business, but also for their time. Remember, they took a slice out of their busy schedules to help you, so that deserves some hearty gratitude.
We all know that conversations are unpredictable—so be forewarned that the chat may stray from your initial plan. However, having a general structure mapped out ahead of time will ensure that you check all of your boxes, even if the conversation hops around.
In Practice at Audience Ops
Here at Audience Ops, we’re big believers in the power of the customer interview. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, we conduct initial interviews with our own clients to get a feel for their business and the specific customers they’re targeting. But, we also frequently ask our clients to connect us with two or three of their own customers that would be willing to provide some insight—allowing us to extract even more information about their wants and needs and really pick their brains.
When it comes to interviewing our own clients, it’s always the first step in our onboarding process. As a Project Manager, I’ll schedule a kickoff call with our new client. I’ll also typically have the lead writer for the account join me on the call in order to get specific questions answered. During this conversation, we cover topics including the basic gist of their business, who their target customer has been (and if they have a desire to shift that focus), some key topics they’d like to cover on their blog, frequent questions they hear from their customers, and any other information that will help us in crafting their content.
We usually walk out of those phone calls feeling nearly overwhelmed with the new knowledge we have at our fingertips. But, if we feel it’s necessary to squeeze a bit more information out of some actual customers, we’ll ask our client to put us in contact with a few of them.
There’s no doubt that interviews are absolutely crucial for us to produce relevant, valuable content for our clients. Because we’re crafting articles on behalf of these businesses without being directly involved in their daily operations, it’s important for us to really get to know their industry and their target customers, so that our content is as effective, accurate, and powerful as it can possibly be.
How do we pull it off? Here are a few tips we’ve found helpful in conducting the most effective interviews:
- Start with In-Depth Research: If a website is worth its weight in salt, you should be able to learn a lot about a business just by reading the information listed there. Before ever getting on the phone with a client, I’ll go through their website with a fine-tooth comb. Not only does this give me all of the information I need to know to conduct a successful call, it also clearly illustrates any points that require clarification or further explanation. See? I told you research was important!
- Ask Open-Ended Questions: Let’s face it—straight “yes” or “no” answers aren’t going to be that helpful to us. So, instead of asking customers closed questions like, “Has Company XYZ’s product been helpful to you?” we ask “Can you tell me the number one way that Company XYZ’s product has helped your business?”
- Focus on Negatives: Well, this seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t you want to keep things positive and sunshiney? Not if your goal is to greatly help your customers or improve your business. At AO, our aim is to produce helpful, valuable content for clients’ customers—posts that answer their questions, address their pains, and solve their problems. But, we can’t do that if we don’t know exactly what those problems or pain points are. So, don’t be afraid to specifically ask for criticism or complaints. It might seem unnatural, but it’s the most powerful insight you can get.
Without a doubt, two of your top goals as a business owner are to keep your customers happy and continuously grow your business. But both of those are pretty difficult to pull off if you don’t actually know who’s on the other end of your content and marketing messages.
To truly know your customers, you need to be willing to dig deeper than just your website analytics—those only scratch the surface. Sure, they tell you about your customers’ behaviors, but not their greatest desires, burning questions, and primary concerns.
As you now know, this is where customer interviews come into play. And, if you haven’t already, it’s time for your to harness their power. So do your research, be prepared to listen, and get ready for some of the most helpful insight you’ve ever received as a business owner. You can tell me I was right when you’re done.