Satisfaction surveys (done well) are a great way to collect facts about your customers. The problem is, no matter how good they are, they don’t capture your customers’ complex thoughts and feelings—about you, your marketplace and your industry. To get a detailed picture of your customers’ experiences, you need the most effective research tool: customer interviews.
Customer interviews are an underused research tool, perhaps because they tend to be more expensive than surveys (though they are not as costly as focus groups or usability studies). However, the expense is completely offset by how much you learn.
First, let’s be clear about what a customer interview is and isn’t. A phone survey isn’t an interview, because there’s no way to deviate from the script and dig deeper. And a conversation between a sales rep and a customer over lunch isn’t an interview, because it’s not adequately focused.
So what makes a customer interview? Customer interviews:
- Are almost always one-to-one
- Treat subjects as experts
- Consist of mostly open-ended questions and allow subjects to tell their story
- Are recorded whenever possible to capture the customer’s exact words
- Provide a structure, but allow for deviations; interviewers can go off-script to probe deeper into emerging themes
THE SPECIFIC ADVANTAGES OF INTERVIEWS OVER SURVEYS:
Customer interviews are more complete than surveys because they give you answers to questions you didn’t think to ask. When customers share their stories, you get insights about their perceptions and expectations that provide ideas for how to grow your business or improve it in some other way.
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In addition, interviews are beneficial because they enable you to reach customers and prospects who don’t take surveys. With a survey, you’re probably only hearing from a tiny fraction of your customer base. With interviews, you can select a truly random sample of your customers and incentivize participation. Given enough interviews, you’ll have true, statistically-valid customer experience metrics.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, customer interviews get your team to take action. Nothing motivates a team like hearing directly from customers themselves. Sometimes it’s grueling, sometimes entertaining, but it’s always interesting.