The art of the customer interview
Editor's Note: The following is a guest post from Linda Deeken, chief marketing officer, and Chris Fosdick, principal, at The Cambridge Group.
To get to the heart of customer demand and unlock new growth for your business, conducting customer interviews is a tried and true tactic for understanding how your customers interact with your product and what you could do differently to better fit into their lives.
With a vast array of content touting sage wisdom on the best approaches for customer interviews and the top questions to ask, it’s clear that the jury is still out on the guidelines for a great customer interview.
Perhaps that’s because the crux of the matter isn’t the interview questions, but who your interviewees are and how you’re engaging with them. To better understand the path your customers are on and how to join them on that journey, it’s important to consider the who, what and how of your interview process before diving in with a list of questions.
Rather than cold-calling a random list of customers, uncover those who are most passionate about and highly engaged with a category or brand. How is the best way to do that? Ask the right questions. Your best customers give you the best insight, but only if you really ask them the hard questions no one else is asking.
This insight translates into a wealth of category and brand knowledge that your best consumers are only too willing to share. Rather than exchanging polite pleasantries with your interviewees, with this approach, you’ll receive tactical and actionable insights that drive change.
Whether we know it or not, customers don’t just buy products, they "hire" brands into their lives to do a job; in other words, they buy products to help them realize desired progress in their lives. After you’ve identified and contacted your customers, outline questions that will help you reveal what "jobs" your consumers are "hiring" your products to perform and how to actually move that from a theory to an actual job to keep them as engaged customers.
To do that, unlock insights that fuel successful innovation and align your strategy with your most profitable customers by digging deep with questions like:
- What progress is the person trying to achieve?
- What are the circumstances of their struggle?
- What obstacles are getting in the way of the person making that progress?
- Are consumers "making do" with imperfect solutions through some kind of compensating behavior?
- How would they define what "quality" means for a better solution, and what tradeoffs are they willing to make?
Keep your questions open-ended and be willing to veer off script to learn how your customers are really hiring and using your product, or to uncover any new jobs you could fill. Learning from these priority consumers requires the understanding of the rich, multi-faceted story that underlies the job for which consumers are hiring your product. Not only do they know a lot about the category, they genuinely want to share their learnings and thoughts with you. And you certainly want to hear what they have to say.
Remember that at their heart, successful innovators are fundamentally great storytellers. They understand the rich, multi-faceted narrative behind the jobs in their sector and how that will play out in their lives. This level of understanding is what separates your customer from being just a profile to understanding your actual customer as a person.