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The Importance Of Customer Interviews And How To Conduct Them

Let’s begin by discussing whether customer interviews are really necessary or not. Yes! A million times yes! They are an absolute must-do if you really want to create a product that is designed for your customers.

I've conducted a fair few customer interviews during my career and it’s always beneficial as a UX/CX designer to talk to the customers, learn more about them, how they think, and what they actually want.

In this article, I’ll cover:

What is a customer interview? 

A customer interview means talking to a group of existing or possible customers and asking them a series of questions in order to understand how they interact with a product or service in their everyday lives.

Customer interviews are tools used to gather information on what customers really want and need from a product. This data will easily define what the product should encompass and which customer problem it should solve. They really cover a lot of the work that has to be done in the research phase.

Now that we have (hopefully) established the importance of customer interviews, you should continue reading to deeper understand what the types and benefits of interviews are, how to conduct them, and how they will impact your purpose.

Types of customer interviews

There are several types of customer interviews depending on different factors. For example, interviews can be customer-focused or product-focused, according to the objective. These two categories have subcategories of their own, depending on the phase the project is in and the goals of the current study. 

Customer-focused interviews can be exploratory or validation interviews. These are focused on the problem the customer is facing. Product-focused interviews can be satisfaction or efficiency interviews. These are focused on solutions. Customer interviews can also be structured, semi-structured or unstructured, based on the interviewer’s role and involvement in the interview process. Interviews can be conducted online or in person.

This categorization could go on and on for a while but, in this article, we will focus on customer-focused interviews, the so-called exploratory interview, these being the most commonly used customer interview type at the beginning of any research process.

Exploratory Interviews (Customer–Focused Interviews)

The goal of exploratory interviews is to establish the customer’s pain points. They are a way of understanding how customers feel about a product, what they think, what they like or dislike, how they interact with the product, is the product solving the problem they have, is it easy to use, or what should be improved.

They allow the designer to get in the shoes of the customer and understand their mindset. Yes, it is a pretty powerful tool that will lead the designer toward creating a more useful, usable, and enjoyable product.

But, as every good interviewer knows, it is crucial to not only listen to what customers are saying during an interview, but also analyze their movements, reactions, facial expressions, and behaviors. 

Customers are not always totally honest in what they are saying, or they may unconsciously say something different from what they actually think or feel. Very often, their uncertainty can be recognized through their behavior, opposed to what they say.

Now let’s look at why you should do customer interviews.

Benefits of Customer Interviews

With the development of any new feature in an app, a customer interview is a tool that I use to gather preliminary data on whether the new feature idea is viable and feasible.

Wasting a ton of resources in implementing a feature that customers won’t use, a feature that makes customer experience more difficult rather than making it better, can result in drastic loss of valuable resources.

Preparing a series of questions I would like to ask the customers and spending no more than 15-20 minutes per person, has proved to be an efficient way of avoiding any unwanted consequences. It has happened many times that I have saved a pile of money and a lot of hard work, just by understanding during customer interviews, that the new idea my team had, didn’t solve any of our users’ issues.

For example, it turned out that adding a new ‘discussion’ button for a movie theatre app was an option that only 1 out of 16 customers would use, as they found other sites to be credible sources for that kind of information.

Anyway, spending a day talking to customers was not a waste of time. I still got to meet new people and customers were happy to talk about things they would like to see improved in a product they use, they enjoyed a cup of coffee and a small friendly chat. And in the end, my company saved a lot, which is, of course, a big win!

As mentioned before, a user interview is crucial for service or product development. Customers are the people who will be using that product or service in the end, so the product should be designed according to their needs. This brings us to the first benefit of customer interviews:

1. Understand customer needs

Customer interviews allow you to have an in-person and in-depth conversation with your end users, where you can ask specific questions about their experience or interaction with a certain product. 

You can also study their behaviors to understand what their true needs actually are. You can get a deeper glimpse into the customer journey. The more you understand your customers’ needs, the more successful your product or service will be.

2. Identify customer pain points

Being aware of the things that can be improved in your product or service is priceless. Especially, coming from your customers, first-hand. Customer interviews allow you to gather enough feedback so you understand the pain points that customers are facing, and you will immediately be able to brainstorm and come up with viable solutions. This study is useful in different stages of a product’s development, as it can always provide valuable insight for further improvements.

3. Understand customer demand

This is especially important in the beginning phase of any product or service development. The first thing one should do before making that business idea real is to understand customer demand. If there is no demand for that idea you are considering, you should not go through the trouble of bringing something new to the market, if nobody is going to buy it or use it. The easiest, and let’s say the most convenient way of understanding the demand, is through user interviews. This will help you recognize if your product or service idea is actually needed.

4. Identify potential target audiences

Another great thing about interviews is that they can be performed in a very easy, cheap, and convenient way. They do not require a lot of resources, so doing a few extra interviews can turn out to be quite beneficial. 

Even though interviews should be done with a target audience in order to gather valuable data, exploring a new potential customer group could open many doors for a business. Taking the time to do a few interviews with a new target group can help uncover the viability of a new idea, without wasting valuable resources and making the wrong costly decision.

5. Empathize with your customers

As mentioned before, it is not only about listening to what customers have to say. It is about deeply understanding what they are going through when they interact with a product or service. Interviews allow you to empathize with customers, to put yourself in their shoes, to understand their needs and pain points, and, most importantly, understand why the product should be improved.

6. Understand customers’ language

Designers, developers, and other members of the project team speak in a very different manner than the actual customer. A lot of jargon is used, that the other side may not be familiar with. Interviews play a big role in understanding how customers talk, what their vocabulary is like and what kind of language they use. This is crucial for a product’s design, as it can define how easy to use and how intuitive the product is for the customers.

7. Build rapport with customers

Building trust with customers may just be the most important aspect in a successful business. Interviews do not always turn out to be very useful in the end. It happens that customers provide irrelevant feedback, suggesting non-supported ideas and giving meaningless criticism, but there is still a good reason why interviews should be carried out. 

In an effective customer interview, you get to show that you empathize with customers, that you understand their issues, and you want to find a way to solve them. It shows that you are committed and you put the customer front and center in your designs.

8. Make your business successful

Right decisions are based on data and facts. Instead of just guessing what customers want, it is always worth it to consider customer interviews, and figure out the best ‘version’ of your product or service. The data gathered from interviews will only provide insights on how to improve your product and create a better customer experience.

9. A convenient method to gather data

Research is crucial in making good design decisions. But sometimes user research requires a lot of valuable resources that not every company or organization can afford. However, as well established by now, qualitative research is essential in creating a product that your customers really need. This is why customer interviews are a great tool to use. 

Gathering information from friends and family is usually profitable as well. Small incentives should be offered for customers who are not totally motivated in participating in your studies. A free coffee and a cookie looks like a good trade-off for a 10-minute talk.

Having laid out why customer interviews should be conducted, let’s learn how to conduct them.

How to Conduct Customer Interviews

Customer interviews do not require as many resources as other (more thorough and deeper) research methods and tools, such as field studies. This is why they are considered an efficient way of gathering data. 

On the other hand, they are not as simple as a quick 3-question survey. They do require a little preparation.  After all, both you and the customer will get the most out of the interview if you come prepared. 

These are the steps to prepare and conduct your interview:

1. Set a goal

First of all, set a goal (or several goals) for your interview. Think about what you want to get out of your conversation with a customer, what will you focus on, and what is it that you want to understand. Do you want to uncover general behavior or usage patterns, or is there a specific feature that you want to get feedback on? Base your goals accordingly.

2. Pick the right customer

Make sure that you recruit customers with different backgrounds, habits, hobbies, behaviors etc. Diversity is crucial in gathering valuable feedback. However, take into consideration that your interviewee has to be a person who is interested in participating, and hopefully one that would actually use the product or service you are testing.

Several ways to make sure you pick the right customers is to talk to them and ask questions to understand if they are the person the product is designed for, use social media such as LinkedIn to discover LinkedIn Groups that match your topic of interest, ask your family or friends for referrals, send emails and do cold calls. In conclusion, try to do a small research on your customers before you recruit them, in order to gather relevant feedback and avoid loss of resources.

3. Make an interview script

Write down possible questions that you would like to ask during the interview. Try to stick to less than 10 questions, as the interview could end up being too long and exhausting for your customers. Your questions should be open-ended. Avoid using a leading question so that you do not lead customers on, with a yes-no question. Try to avoid bias. Formulate your questions in a way that the customer will feel free to express their thoughts and feelings.

For example, instead of asking ‘Would you like it if we did X?’, you could formulate your questions like this: ‘Is there anything you would change about the product?’, ‘Is there anything missing/would you add something to the product?’. Always ask WHY. If you are not completely satisfied with the answer or if you do not completely understand what the customer meant to say, you should always ask ‘Why?’. Starting your questions with ‘why’ is a good practice that will provide qualitative data for your study. Another good opener is ‘Tell me about…’. This will give your interviewees a chance to tell their stories.

The day of the interview

For the actual interview day, make sure to bring all your necessary materials and tools that will facilitate the whole process. A notebook, a pen, a camera, a laptop, and a recording advice is the usual starter pack. This is how the ideal interview should go:

1. Welcome the customer

Thank the customer for coming. On-board them on the whole interview process. Ask their permission for recording the conversation, and let them know that this is not a test, rather than a short chat. Make sure they understand that constructive criticism is welcome.

2. Warm-up chat

Start out by asking a few friendly, general questions like: “How was your trip here?” (if you are meeting in person). This will allow customers to relax and feel more comfortable with you, and it should not last for more than 5 minutes. Then gradually lean toward your actual interview questions.

3. Interview questions

This is the part where you use your script. But remember that your script is only a guide. Feel free to skip a question or add another good one that comes to your mind on the spot. Whatever seems relevant to you could actually improve the feedback you get. Asking the right questions makes all the difference. Take interview notes while the customer is speaking. Later on, you will find some hidden details that you wouldn’t have remembered at all if it wasn’t for your notebook – guaranteed!

4. Communication works both ways

Encourage the customer to ask questions and maintain an open conversation with them.

5. Wrap-up & Follow-up

Thank the customer for taking the time to participate in your study. Let them know you appreciate their efforts. Ask them if they would like to be contacted in the future for further questions or interviews. A follow-up is important for testing if certain changes or improvements on a product are viable.

6. Summarize

Gather your data and start analyzing it. Prioritize common issues, as these affect most of the customers. The insights you will get out of your analysis will guide you to creating better designs and solutions. Better, of course, meaning ones that will solve your customers’ problems. It is recommended that you let in a few team members at this point, analyze and come up with great ideas together.

Post-Interview

Gather Your Thoughts

Give yourself at least 7-10 minute breaks between interviews. This will let you gather your thoughts and reflect on your previous session, as during a full interview day, customers’ statements can blend together. Another plus side of this brief break is that it allows a buffer in case you go overtime or you started the interview late.

Share your results

It’s time to share your insights with your team. Bring all of your notes with you and tell the story of your customer’s experience with the product. If needed (and agreed with the customer), play the interview recording in front of your team. If not, use quotes from your interviewee. This way your team will be able to empathize with your customer, even though they were not present during the interview. From here, you can analyze those insights and come up with creative solutions together.

Wrapping Up

Customer interviews do not provide enough feedback for a product or service to reach its peak. But, with very limited resources, you gather customer insight that will for sure be worthwhile in the end.

Some further resources to help you build better products and services:

By Aleksandra Lazevska

I am an architect, designer and a writing enthusiast. I love creating intuitive and engaging products. I like helping people and finding viable solutions to their problems. I enjoy speaking to customers on a daily basis, understanding their needs and brainstorming new ideas. Being experienced in both UX and CX, I find customer interviews to be a topic I am deeply familiar with, and I believe that with this article I can greatly impact whoever is interested in learning more about customer interviews.

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