As Easy As Asking: Why Customer Interviews Are Essential

Customer reviews, user-generated content, and testimonials help build customer trust and drive sales. Asking your customers for feedback via email with automations is a crucial workflow to help you develop your backlog of social proof.

However, when you want to dig deeper into the psyche of your customers to refine your marketing and improve your products, customer interviews are the way to go. They help you validate or disprove your ideas, hunches, and beliefs so you can build your brand, boost sales, and win new customers. 

Insights from your audience are worth their weight in gold, and it really can be as easy as asking. 

A fresh new perspective.

Sometimes, you can't see what's obvious when you are close to the action. Interviews help you get inside the minds of those who you are talking and selling to so you can find out what's happening after you hit send and ship. 

In addition, customer interviews give you specific insights to build a more accurate ideal customer profile, which is a critical guide for your marketing strategy, product development, and business plan. 

Prepare for the interviews. 

First thing's first: who will you interview, what will you ask them about, and how many customers will you include? Let's look at the considerations for each: 

Who do you interview? 

Your interview cohort will influence the information you get. Here are a few examples of why you'd interview different segments and how they can inspire your interview asks.

VIPs: the clients you want more of are those who buy again and again: your VIPs. They are your ideal client, so you can interview them with the intent of gathering info about who they are, why they keep coming back to you, and how you can find and serve more of them. Try to learn about their lifestyle, interests, challenges, preferences, and what keeps them coming back to you. 

One-time buyers: the customers that bought once and never came back can have a wealth of information for you to glean. Interview these customers to find out why they first were interested enough to add to cart and checkout but didn't feel strongly enough about their product experience to buy again. Find out if it was a product or other experience issue, or if they forgot about you. 

Those that open your emails but haven't purchased: people who engage with your sends by opening or clicking but never buy are your warmest leads. If you want to find out why they continue to engage with your brand but haven't yet taken the leap, interview this cohort then develop a strategy to get ahead of their (and others) hesitations. 

Sale-only shoppers: do they buy your product as gifts and not for themselves? If so, they're buying for whom? Or perhaps they love your product, but it's just a bit above their budget. If that's a trend, it could suggest a price reduction, or adding a lower-cost SKU to your collection might be worth considering. Finally, maybe they like but don't need your product, so they buy it only on sale. If so, how do you get your products into their "need" zone?. 

No matter who you interview, remember you are asking for a favor. Your customers are giving you their precious time, honest opinions, and invaluable insights, so be sure to thank them with a gift card, product, or something else that feels generous and supportive. 

How many interviews? 

The scale of your interview cohort depends on your time, budget, and goals. You can glean a wealth of information from just 4 - 8 interviews if that size suites your research goal. However, some goals require a larger pool of interviews to pick up trends and themes and avoid data skews from a few strong opinions. 

If you want to understand your VIPs and build your ICP, a smaller set of interviews should afford you helpful insights. 

Suppose you gather information to inform product development or understand how your marketing messages are perceived. In that case, a more extensive set of interviews will be necessary to see themes and trends.

So, what do you ask? 

Begin your interview planning with a clear goal or area of focus. Among many other things, you can choose to focus on product feedback, marketing messages, or simply learning about your customer. Here are a few examples to prompt you in each area: 

Product Focus: 

  • What do customers think and feel about a product? 
  • Do they find the products useful, effective, essential, an indulgence? 
  • How to they incorporate the product into their life, and how often do they use it? 
  • What are they looking and wishing for when they shop for products within your niche? 
  • What do they find to be the most significant value of your products? Why do they like you? What don't they like? 

Marketing Focus

  • Do customers understand the messaging of a campaign, brand slogan, or other communications? 
  • Why are they (or are they not) opening your emails? What do they look for in your emails? 
  • Do they like getting SMS messages from your brand? What do they look for? 
  • Do they find your blogs, videos, and other content relevant and helpful? 

Customer Focus

  • What are their interests, and how do they spend their free time? 
  • What channels do they spend time on, and where do they get information? 
  • What are the demands, responsibilities, and key challenges of their lives? Time? Family? Work?

As open-ended questions that invite sharing and avoid leading questions. A "why" or "how" will elicit an explanation full of insights. Customers will answer in their way and may go in a direction that you don't intend. In those situations, you can clarify what you mean, but ultimately, their understanding of the question is informative, so gather learnings from wherever the conversation travels. Lastly, avoid questions that lead to speculation as you want to hear about their direct experience rather than what they think they might want or what someone else might prefer. 

Gather your interview team.

Interviews are best when they feel conversation and casual; an interview team of three (two question askers, one note taker) is often your best bet. Record the sessions for later viewing if you want to involve more of your team. Too many stakeholders in an interview will not create comfort or evoke unfiltered sharing. 

Make your Interview plan. 

Next, write an interview guide which is essentially an agenda for the interview and should include the steps you want to take from start to finish and your interview questions. Make sure each person on the interview team knows the questions assigned for them to ask, the areas they'll focus on, and how they'll approach different topics. Also, troubleshoot a few scenarios that might come up, such as questions a customer might ask or what you'll do if it moves more quickly than expected. 

As you go through the interview, respond to feedback with an open mind but without explaining or presenting solutions in the moment. You want customers to feel heard and their opinions valued, but the goal of the interview is not to pitch or get their buy-in. 

Know that every suggestion isn't necessarily the best next step for your business. Sometimes customers will address a problem or request a fix or new product, and it is your job to take that information and find an even better solution that they might not yet have imagined. Use these conversations as clues to point you in the direction of optimizations. Take the insights back to your team and dive into the process of ideation and innovation. 

Alternatively, if you discover a small thing whose fix could make an impact - do it. If you are hearing feedback repeatedly, that's a good indication that a fix for that particular pain point will benefit many customers. 

The interview process will inherently lead to some unexpected findings, and that's the hope. You have a set goal and interview guide to follow but go into the conversations with curiosity and an open mind. You intend to get a new perspective, so you can walk away full of ideas to better serve your customer and more effectively build your business.

Bonus points: gather reviews + testimonials.

While the goal of your interviews should not be the collection of social proof (or get only good feedback), it can be a happy accident. Keep your ears open for soundbites that will play well on your website as a quote, testimonial, or other highlights. Ensure to follow up after the fact and confirm you can use their quote; in some cases, the request might create an opportunity for a case study or customer profile.

Sift the findings, find the gold. 

You just unlocked a treasure trove of knowledge, congrats! Now it's time to sift your findings into clear and actionable data points, themes, and customer insights. 

Review your interview notes and rewatch the interview recordings. While doing so, highlight the points, comments, and thoughts and write them on a separate list. 

When you've pulled all the notes, go through them again and start to identify the main categories. These can be high-level themes like "product love," "customer behaviors," "marketing and brand," or "pain points." You want them to be broad enough to encompass a few of the key points but specific enough that all the topics have continuity. 

Finally, organize the key points under each category in a grid. You can do this offline with sticky notes or in a google sheet or doc to stay digital. 

Now review your findings. You'll want to look at this information and find a way to synthesize and summarize the key points into specific, actionable insights. Also, get clear on what is most important to your customer; this will help you prioritize and rank your insights. 

Review your information and compare it to your product roadmap and marketing strategies. Do each of these align with the new data you found from your customer interviews? Do you need to make changes now, or can you build your later plans around the information? Know what you will be acting on, what information informs your overall customer understanding, and what you'll deprioritize and revisit at a later date. 




Keep it real. 

Most importantly, you've taken time to talk with your customers so remember that you are doing the same in every email and text message you send. Real people are at the other end of every send, so keep the conversation going. We're here to help; get started today first for free.