Actively Listening To Customers (Like Grandma Used To)


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Creativity is new combinations of existing things. So it’s worthwhile to compare and contrast the old way of doing things with the new. That got me thinking about probing.

A grandmother taught me how to probe. New to customer experience measurement, we were interviewing cardiovascular surgeons on the phone. We had eight minutes to get as much insight from them as possible about their experience with our medical device clients’ products. Interviews don’t come more expensive than this, so it was all about maximizing insights-per-minute.

The secret was active listening. Our best interviewers were the best listeners, and they put that to work with probing and clarifying skills. Our best was an interviewer who had photos of her grandchildren plastered all over her interviewing station. She was the Grand Pooh-Bah of Probers. Taught me everything I know about probing. She’d squeeze more insight out of one short interview than anyone I’d ever seen. My best clients realized this value, insisting that we include her on all their studies.

Questionnaires in those days would include the instruction “probe & clarify” which meant probe once (“anything else?”) and then pick a key word and clarify (“what do you mean by quality?”). It was actually a cost specification, and clients would pay for more probing and more clarifying. With expensive-to-reach customers like surgeons, we would probe twice and clarify three times. We would deliver a lot of insight out of a short time on the phone while the tired surgeon was in-between procedures.

Then one day the Internet came along and we could do many more interviews for the same price as one. More-for-less is always is cool. But we traded off something in the process; the granularity that comes from great active listening, probing and clarifying by great interviewers. Clients loved the lower cost-per-interview, and were willing to trade off “insight-per-interview.” The Grand Pooh-Bah of Probers retired, and along with her, the lost art of “probing and clarifying.”

Until now. We’ve been searching for a way to return that lost art to online interviews. It didn’t exist, so we developed it. We call it SmartProbe™. Because we were afraid trademark officials would frown on “Grandma’s Probe” and frankly, “Grand Pooh-Bah” was just too many syllables.

It’s rare in life to find more value for little incremental cost. We call such things “no brainers.” And SmartProbe™ is just that. For little incremental spend we get far more information, and more granular information, out of each online interview. Not just more words, but more granular words. More meaning. More insight.

It’s like having the Grand Pooh-Bah of Probers come out of retirement and conduct every interview, for less money. They say you can’t have your cake and eat it too, but Smartprobe™ gets us close to that. We’re reviving the lost art of probing and clarifying to the new world; taking the best of the old and applying it to the new.

What other “lost arts” do you think are ripe for reviving? I’d love your thoughts!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Ed Stalling
Ed Stalling is Chief storyteller, aka Sr. Director of Business Management, at MaritzCX. For the past 24 years Ed has been a Research Manager discovering and delivering insights to Fortune 100 clients, retaining and growing major accounts, building business with global clients in the technology sector, improving company ability to discover and communicate insights globally, designing and delivering an extensive training program around the ingredients of insight, coaching a sales force, and aligning marketing and sales. He is passionate about advancing the art involved in insight discovery and communications, and is utterly convinced that market research and customer experience can be creative and fun.


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