Customer phone interview Customer phone interview

How to conduct a customer phone interview that leads to real insights

For anyone who has never conducted an interview with a customer before, it may seem like a waste of your time. Why spend a half hour on the phone with one person when there are so many other things you need to do to make your business successful? Surely there might be better ways to learn about your customers.

But customer interviews are one of the most valuable ways to spend your time. You may think you know everything there is to know about your customer or that you can learn what you need to from surveys and data, but a real understanding of their problems and preferences takes time and requires regular interactions with real people.

Learning about your customer is one of the most valuable ways to spend your time. Click To Tweet

Besides, having a one-on-one conversation with a customer is a great way to strengthen the relationship with that shopper. If you leave them with a positive experience, there’s a good chance they’ll pass that along to their friends.

To truly understand your customers, you have to dig deeper than your analytics. Your analytics can tell you how your customers behave, but they can’t tell you how your customers think, feel, and desire.

That’s where customer interviews come in.

We’ve written before about asking the right kinds of questions during a customer interview, but it’s important to know how to set up and conduct your phone interviews to maximize the value you get from those conversations.

Free download: Customer interview checklist

How to set up phone interviews

Setting up interviews is arguably the hardest part of the whole process.

It’s best to start with people who have already given you their phone number. Choose customers from each of your segments based on your buyer personas. Try to hit a broad spectrum – people who buy a little, people who buy a lot, and (if you have the data) people who choose not to buy.

If you have customer satisfaction data, reach out to people who were pleased as well as those who reported negative experiences.

Then, start calling. Don’t think of phone interviews like cold calls. You aren’t selling anything. Make that clear right away on the phone call so they don’t behave defensively or suspiciously.

Expect a lot of failures here. One CEO says it takes him 13 tries to have one real conversation with a customer. In most cases, potential interviewees say “No thank you,” hang up or never return the call.

To truly understand your customers, you have to dig deeper than your analytics Click To Tweet

Introduce yourself quickly (name, title, what you do with the company) and give your customers an opportunity to schedule an interview rather than do it at that moment. This makes the process more convenient for them. Plus, by scheduling time, you usually get more of it.

If your customers ask you how long the interview will take, inform them that it’s up to them. Since you’ll be asking open-ended questions, the depth of their answers will determine how long the conversation takes.

If the customer says something negative, resist the urge to defend yourself. If you defend yourself (or your products), the customer won’t elaborate. Instead, give them space to tell you the whole truth.

Conducting a customer phone interview

Customer phone interview

On phone calls, it’s tempting to want to talk a lot. It may feel like you’re connecting with your customers when you tell them about yourself, give them a peek into your business, and regale them with stories of being an eCommerce business owner.

But your customers don’t really care about you. They want to talk about themselves—then they want to get off the phone.

Limit your talking as much as possible. Prompt them with only what you need to get them to start talking again. Your job is to listen, absorb, and take notes.

It’s important to go into each phone conversation with a plan. Ideally, that means a list of questions. Some customers won’t be very forthcoming, so you’ll have to lead the entire conversation.

Whatever you do, don’t try to wing it. That rarely works. You won’t get valuable information and you’ll appear silly and unprepared in front of your customer. The Boy Scout motto is a good mantra to remember here: “Be prepared.”

But don’t be afraid to veer from your plan. If your customers want to talk to about something, in particular, give them the chance, even if it means you won’t be able to ask all of your prepared questions. The things your customers want to discuss are usually more valuable.

Furthermore, resist turning the conversation into a sales meeting. Do not try to convince them to buy additional products or services. If the customer starts to feel pressured, there’s a good chance he or she will mentally shut down. They’ll give you minimal answers just to get off the phone.

Save it for later

At the beginning of the interview, ask the customer if you can record the phone call. Recordings ensure you capture every bit of information from your customer.

In most cases, you won’t go back to review the recording (your notes will be enough—you don’t need a word-for-word transcript of these calls, remember), but sometimes a customer will say something especially poignant and you’ll wish you could go back and hear their words.

If your customers agree to be recorded, use a simple (and free) tool like Audacity or Rev Call Recording.

How many customers should you interview?

That’s the wrong question. It implies there’s a point where you’ve learned enough, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

You should be interviewing customers constantly for as long as you run your business. You don’t have to do ten or twenty a day, but it’s important to get yourself on the phone with the people who buy your products at least once a week.

You should be interviewing customers constantly for as long as you run your business. Click To Tweet

Be sure to end your conversation with a genuine “thank you.” If you can, reward them with something tangible, like a free gift. Don’t give out discount codes because those can come across as self-serving (unless, of course, you have reason to think your customers will find coupons super valuable).

How to pull insights from your interviews

During a customer interview, there are three topics you want to investigate with the goal of pulling something new out of the customer with regards to each topic.

Draw three columns on a sheet of paper. Put each topic at the top of a column. Don’t hang up the phone until you can put something in each column.

Topic #1: What you’re doing well

It’s important to know what your customers like about your business, your products, and your marketing. But the purpose isn’t to feed your ego. You need to know what they like so you can keep doing it or do it better.

If, for instance, your customers compliment your quality standards, perhaps that’s a tidbit you should place front-and-center in your marketing.

Topic #2: What you can do better

Naturally, it’s helpful to know what they don’t like so you can improve it. If your customers don’t like something, there’s a good chance it’s costing you sales. So the sooner you know about it, the sooner you can fix it.

You’ll want your customers to be brutally honest here. Encourage them not to spare your feelings.

Topic #3: Your customers’ problems and pain points

Customers buy products to complete their jobs. That is, they have problems they need products to solve. Someone who buys shoes needs foot protection and/or style. Someone who buys a drill needs a hole. Someone who buys a book needs education and/or entertainment.

When you talk to your customers, it’s important to zero in on their problems. What do they need solved? What do they have (or lack) that pains them?

You probably have some idea what they need (after all, you can assume their problems based on their purchases), but it helps to dig deep to understand the particulars.

If you’re hesitant about conducting customer interviews, know that that feeling will pass after your first couple. Click To Tweet
Keep this checklist nearby as you conduct customers to make sure you don’t forget something important.

No two customer interviews are the same

All customer interviews are unique, especially over the phone where you and the customer are more likely to share stories and follow interesting tangents. There’s a good chance you’ll learn something that surprises you or something that inspires new customers for future interviews.

If you’re hesitant about conducting customer interviews, know that that feeling will pass after your first couple. You’ll become energized by your conversations because you’ll learn real things that validate what you’re doing or teach you exactly what you should do.

By following the best practices we’ve outlined here, your customer interviews will quickly become an integral part of your marketing program.

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.