If there's one main takeaway for you, regardless if we work together or not, it's to talk & listen more to your customers. Ask better questions, listen, & learn to find the insights! It doesn't make for fancy headlines or front-page material on a lot of websites, but its value cannot be ignored.

Why Customer Interviews? 

You understand the importance of buyer/customer personas, yet customer demographic information only goes so far. This type of information does not account for the complexities of human beings, namely human behavior. If you're creating buyer/customer personas simply on demographic type of information, there are serious gaps in your business.

Demographics often betray. Behavior rarely does. 

Look at how behavior might not track to what demographics & typical assumptions might have one believe.

Google study on potential customers demographics might miss

Video game purchases stat from Google

Baby product purchases stat from Google

Source: Google

We also know visitors & customers are at different phases in the buying cycle. Yet, how many seemingly solid marketing campaigns fail or perform poorly because the creative & content did not properly align with the mood, psychology, & timing of one's audience.

Plus, even with the best collection methods & the fanciest software,
Quantitative Data never tells you, "Why?"

Why would you not want to understand your customers better?

Conversations with your customers can benefit your business in countless ways, everything from improving your copy to providing a better experience for them. Plus, relative to other means & costs, interviews cost very little, while they can provide a significant ROI.


2 Elephants in the Room

After speaking with business owners, I've learned it's often not because they don't see the ROI, but rather 2 key factors prevent these types of conversations from ever happening.

Praise You?

I have nothing against Fatboy Slim or Christopher Walken's dance moves, but the truth is, your business sometimes needs honesty, not always praise. Praise certainly has its time & place, but not here. Approach these customer conversations with a willingness to learn & listen. (And no hard feelings if you're cursing at me here).

"This is Embarrassing!"

So you've overcome the "we only listen to praise" bias, yet I know a lot of you are thinking, "We can't show our customers what we don't know. That's too embarrassing!"

The vast majority of humans like doing business with other humans. You're not the T-1000 (thank goodness), demonstrate you're human. Channel your inner Brené Brown, courage wolf, or Zen master, feel the fear...& do it anyway. (Just think about how many times in life, you've stood tall & have stared down fear). You've got this.


Have Conversations & Interviews 

These are not product review requests. Those are important as well, but we're talking about conversations & interviews here. If _____(Oprah, Ellen, Conan, or Edward Murrow) contacted you, which is more appealing?

"I'd like you to complete a survey.


"Let's talk. I want to schedule an interview with you."

Avoid using the term "survey" when communicating with customers. The reality is, there can be negative connotations (thank you spammers & robocalls) with the word, "survey." Instead, inform them you value their feedback & want to interview them. People don't want to complete surveys. They very much want to know their experiences, voice, & perspectives matter.


Steps for Creating Your Interviews 

To reiterate, these are not product review requests or simply a NPS type question. Both of these are really valuable as well, but we're talking about conversations & interviews here. There's no perfect question to ask & this is a basic outline. Please modify & adapt it to your business accordingly.

1. Create your interview/feedback questions. Here's an Example Customer Feedback Form For B2C to evaluate & help you with possible questions to ask.

The 3 main areas to cover with your questions are their behavior & thoughts...

  • before purchasing (pre-purchase)
  • while making the purchase (during purchase)
  • after they've purchased (post-purchase)

Or framed another way: their behavior, their considerations & obstacles with purchasing, & their mindset.

Avoid asking these types of ?’s:

  • What do you think about this product or feature?
  • Do you think you would buy/use this new product or feature?

Tip: Use close-ended questions when seeking to confirm your hypotheses & open-ended questions to find out what you don't know or are uncertain about.

2. Get aspirational. Think about the aspirations of your customers that might be long-term. There are many short-term problems or needs that are a means to an end & are connected to longer term aspirations. For instance, someone might have immediate needs for running gear & training software to help them run a marathon. However, they might be running the marathon to raise $ for a family member, friend, or cause (and are not a frequent marathoner or even much of a long-distance runner).

3. Don't ignore demographics completely. Especially in the context of which communities/groups/organizations your customers belong to, what their trusted sources & resources are, which tools they use on a daily or weekly basis, etc. there might be some relevant connections with your business, products, & services.

4. Create a form or document to save their responses & share with other relevant team members. There are numerous options to assist with asking questions & recording responses. Typeform, Paperform, & Google Forms, are just a few form resources to consider. There are also plenty of screen recording options if interviews are conducted online or even a voice recording app can be used, if conducted in-person.

5. Create a basic script for outreach or not. (I know some people hate scripts & others cannot function without them). Either way & regardless of medium, ask your customers permission to chat with them & personalize as much as possible (no mail merges Allowed)!

6. Identify which customers to reach out to. What's an important KPI? (Probably a good place to start).

7. Determine where to interact with your customers.

Include a link & a CTA, whether it's a link to the feedback form or a way to schedule a phone call. Here are some suggestions for where to provide a link.

  • On the packing slip or receipt you send with a customer's order (go one step further, why not personalize it?)
  • Email some of your most valuable customers
  • Private message them on social media
  • Text them

Or just call them.

8. Schedule time for these interviews.

Whether it's simply adding it to a calendar or a project management software, it's important to schedule time. Consider blocking out 1 hour on a specific day each week for example. Also, consider using a scheduling type of software such as Acuity or Schedule Once, which will hopefully, result in a more productive use of time all around.

9. Pick up the phone or Meet in-person. 

Forms can be helpful & we all use email/messaging everyday, but I recommend calling at least a few customers, (even if you primarily use a form).

10. Evaluate if you need to offer some type of incentive. Response rates can improve with an incentive. However, this can be a slippery slope for sure. If you do offer an incentive, ensure the customer only receives it after they've completed providing feedback to you.

11. Direct the interviewee to the relevant form for recording their responses or record their responses yourself.

12. Analyze to find insights. Do you notice any patterns? What are the connections between the qualitative & quantitative data (especially since we know what people say doesn't always correspond with their behavior)? (Besides spreadsheets, I find mind maps to be incredibly helpful for organizing key takeaways & prioritizing what to address further).

Source: RocketWatcher

13. Evaluate how to incorporate into other frameworks and testing processes, such as the Value Proposition Canvas , your positioning, your customer acquisition process, or your growth framework.

Growth Machine Process by Brian Balfour

Source: CoEvaluate

Business Examples

Location...location...location? - What's an upcoming neighborhood or an increasingly popular area in the city you live in? It's likely you've probably at least driven by a condo development that's primarily geared towards empty-nesters & those seeking to downsize or move.

As discussed in the Know Your Customers' "Jobs to Be Done" article, a real estate company in the Detroit-area, realized talking with potential customers was necessary to determine the 2 main reasons why people weren't buying (and it had nothing to do with pricing).

They even had the demographics nailed down with reaching those seeking to downsize & divorced single parents. However, that wasn't enough; sales for the units were still sluggish.

Only after speaking with potential customers do they find out how people's dining room tables were of great importance because of the memories, experiences, & feelings associated with them.

Initially, the newer units lacked space for most dining room tables. This in turn, created anxiety for potential buyers regarding what to do with their dining room table.

Because of these conversations, the architects were able to modify some of the floor plans to allow for a dining room table. Also, the real estate company provided additional services for buyers to help reduce their anxieties with moving. The result...a 25% increase in growth for the real estate company, even with raising the unit prices by $3,500.

Jobs-to-be-Done phrase

"The builders of tomorrow" - In an interview, George Revutsky recalled how Pley.com (the "Netflix for Legos"), after launching, had significant challenges with acquiring customers, despite spending thousands of $ per month on marketing campaigns. George & his team knew something was off.

They went out & interviewed various moms at the local YMCA, Jewish Community Center, & coffee shops. What was the main friction point stopping people from subscribing to Pley's service? (It wasn't the button colors on their site).

Parents were hesitant to sign up because they feared if one minuscule Lego piece was lost (which any parent can attest to, is inevitable), they feared they'd be responsible for the cost of the entire set of Legos.

Recognizing this was an important concern turning away visitors & business for Pley.com, George & his team adjusted the website copy to address if a piece were to be lost. Their conversion rate drastically improved by...98%.

Tip: Download & read Alan Klement's book, When Coffee and Kale Compete for free.

Embarrass Your Competitors 

Seek honesty & acknowledge embarrassment. Then, while others are reading 2,571 tactics to improve a landing page, your business can be improving your:

  • on-site copy & clarifying your unique value proposition
  • usability of your website & your products
  • off-site communications including your marketing campaigns
  • on-boarding process
  • retention

This certainly takes time, but in terms of required resources & difficulty relative to ROI, this can have a tremendous positive impact on your business. It's more embarrassing if you're not listening to your customers.

What's your process for creating customer personas & interviews?

P.S. In case you overlooked it, here's the link again for a few example customer interview questions.

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Brian Soell

Founder / Chief Marketing Officer of SiteUpturn

Brian is the founder & CMO of SiteUpturn. You can find him on LinkedIn.

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