Customer interviews Customer interviews

eCommerce customer interviews: How to collect actionable feedback

You can learn a lot through analytics and shopping data, but the most powerful insights come from real conversations with your customers. Interviews are one of the best tools to learn about your customers, build buyer personas, and improve their experience.

Interviews are one of the best tools to learn about your customers, build buyer personas, and improve their experience Click To Tweet

If you want to grow your eCommerce store, it’s important to interact with your customers regularly. Learn their problems and goals. Learn what triggers their behaviors. Even learn what words they like to use.

Customer interviews dive deep into your customers’ minds. They’re opportunities to learn exactly what drives your customers and what they expect out of a shopping experience.

When you get a customer on the phone for an interview, it’s important to ask questions that provide the most value for your business. That is, you need to ask questions that gather actionable feedback you can use to run experiments and make changes to your store.

But wait, can’t you do that with online surveys? Why spend time talking to a single person on the phone when you could blast an online survey to hundreds with a click?

Not sure what to ask your eCommerce customers during an interview? This free list of questions will get you started.

Surveys vs real conversations

Surveys are an easy way to gather feedback from your customers. It doesn’t take long to generate a few questions through a survey tool (or maybe a landing page with a form on your own site) and send it out to your customers and fans. Plus, survey tools let you quickly see your responses in aggregate, like Survey Monkey does here.

Customer interviews

But surveys have several disadvantages:

  • Respondents may not feel the need to answer accurately or honestly because they’re not talking to a human.
  • Respondents might be unwilling to put sensitive or private information on record.
  • Close-ended questions (yes/no or multiple choice) sometimes force respondents to choose an almost accurate answer if their answer isn’t available, which skews your data.
  • Open-ended questions, on the other hand, often lead to short, one or two word answers that aren’t helpful (and you’re not there to prod them to go deeper).
  • Respondents might be unwilling to provide answers that make them look bad.
  • Respondents might skip questions they don’t understand.
  • If there’s a reward or offer at the end, people may give nonsense answers just to pass the form.

That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t use surveys at all, but they don’t give you a complete picture. It’s important to pair your survey strategy with customer interviews.

Customer interviews let you have robust, thoughtful conversions with your customers. Click To Tweet

Customer interviews let you have robust, thoughtful conversions with your customers. They help you dig into your customers’ heads, ask unique questions, and follow every response with, “Why?”

The main drawback to customer interviews is that you can’t conduct them at scale. If you have thousands of past customers, it’s not feasible to call them up one-by-one for an interview. Even if only 10 percent pick up the phone, you would still spend weeks asking questions. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take many interviews to start seeing trends.

How do you get the most value out of your customer interviews?

Ask your question, then stop talking

Amateur interviewers make the mistake of qualifying their own questions to help the interviewee understand, but this technique actually prevents you from getting good information.

Bad example: “Did you find anything difficult about your shopping experience? For instance, did you have a hard time completing checkout? Were the buttons hard to find? Was it tough to browse products? Stuff like that.”

A question like that gives the interviewee opportunities to serve back one of the examples, effectively putting words in their mouth and giving them an easy way out of the question. This is a leading question, because it leads the interviewee toward a specific answer, which shouldn’t be your goal.

Good example: “Did you find anything difficult about your shopping experience?” (Full stop.)

By forcing the interviewee to come up with their own answer, you get better information that isn’t skewed by your own biases.

Furthermore, don’t be afraid of silence. It may feel awkward at first, but don’t rush to fill every second with conversation. Give the customer some time to gather their thoughts and respond.

Let your customers lead you a bit

You may be tempted to keep the conversation to your prepared questions, especially if you have several interviews to get through. But if your customer wants to talk about something different, there’s probably a good reason. It’s okay if they take the conversation in a unique direction.

Plus, you don’t want to come off as a robot asking a series of monotonous questions one after another. You want a relaxed, human-to-human conversation that makes your customer feel comfortable and forthcoming.

For instance, if you ask your customer where they spend time online reading and talking about his pets, but he slides into a tangent about the local dog show, let him talk a bit. His responses may trigger you to ask more probing questions or open your eyes to new opportunities and partnerships.

Follow every question with “Why?”

In many cases, you’ll find the most useful information in your customers’ justifications—the reasons they think or behave in certain ways. To get to the core of their answers, it’s helpful to probe for deeper information by following each answer with a “Why?” question.

Here’s an example:

Question: “Did you look for products from our competitors first? If so, which ones?”

Answer: “Yes, I also looked for dresses at Kohl’s, Charlotte Russe, and Hello Molly.”

Question: “Why did you look at those stores first?”

Answer: “Those stores are always on top of my mind because I see them on Facebook a lot.”

The insight here is that a strong presence on Facebook (whether organic or through paid advertising) made the customer think of those stores first. This might lead you to investing more in your Facebook strategy. But you wouldn’t have learned that unless you asked, “Why?”

Interview customers who will provide the best answers

As you know, all customers aren’t equal. Some are far more invested in your brand than others. Some will shop once and forget about you completely.

It’s important to interview the people who will give you the best answers to your questions. Click To Tweet

But that doesn’t mean you should only interview frequent buyers. Who you interview should depend on what you ask.

Example #1: You suspect people find your checkout experience difficult, so you want to ask some customers about it. Interviewing your top customers who buy weekly won’t give you the best information because they’ve become accustomed to the checkout challenges. They may tell you there’s no problem because they’re used to it. In this case, it’s better ask recent customers who just bought for the first time.

Example #2: You’re worried you send too many email marketing campaigns to your subscribers. Customers who purchased recently won’t be able to answer your questions because they haven’t been exposed to many campaigns. In this case, it’s better to ask long-time subscribers.

Ask about problems and solutions

While your customers aren’t always the best ones to provide solutions to their own problems, hearing their ideas can give you a reasonable place to begin.

For example, if a customer states that your return policy is confusing (the problem), follow it up with something like, “How could we make it simpler?” The customer may respond with a recommendation you can’t accommodate, or they may give you a reasonable suggestion, like…

  • “Put a product’s unique return policy rules on the product’s page.”
  • “Clarify that the return period starts when I order, not when I receive the product.”
  • “Don’t make me to request a return shipping label.”

In some cases, you can take immediate steps (like adding clarity to your copy) to fix the problem for future customers. In other cases, you may have to check with your team or run some tests before you can implement their solutions, but at least their recommendations tell you what type of experience they want.

Download this free list of questions to plan to your next customer interview.

Your next steps

Once you’ve collected new information through customer interviews, you next step is to rectify that data with your buyer personas. Determine what’s worth including and what should be thrown out. If something doesn’t make sense, make a note to ask about it during your next set of customer interviews. Use the feedback you collect through your customer interviews to improve your eCommerce store, your customer service, and your marketing efforts.

Beka Rice
Beka Rice is the Head of Product at Jilt. She works on app improvements, integration plugins, helping merchants improve recovery campaigns, and shares tutorials on reducing abandonment or improving recovery on our blog.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *