The Most Valuable Customer Research Tool is Also the Most Underused.


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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

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


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.

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.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Martha Brooke
Martha Brooke, CCXP + Six Sigma Black Belt is Interaction Metrics’ Chief Customer Experience Analyst. Interaction Metrics offers workshops, customer service evaluations, and the widest range of surveys. Want some ideas for how to take your surveys to the next level? Contact us here.


  1. What you’re describing is an individual depth interview, or IDI, which researchers have been successfully and effectively using for decades.

    The method of the in-depth interview is essential if an organization needs insights into individual evaluations of specific material. This method is the right one to choose if the primary objective of research, for example is to evaluate new packaging, advertising or promotional content.. The technique can generate very precise and detailed answers as well as an exhaustive and varied knowledge about individual determined experiences, opinions and motives, which the group interview and the quantitative methods cannot because of the communication dynamics involved..

    The method of the in-depth interview is also appropriate if the respondent and/or subject are in the nature of something controversial or sensitive. One of the advantages of the in-depth interview is that there is time for the respondent to further develop and give reasons for his or hers individual points of view – without being influenced, or biased, by the opinions of other respondents.

    Apart from that the method can involve different projective research techniques which encompass spontaneous, emotional and perhaps unconscious circumstances within the respondent.

    IDI’s are a key element of the market research and analysis toolkit; so, it’s challenging to understand how you can label them “most underused.”

  2. Hi Michael, thanks for commenting!
    I think of in-depth customer interviews as underused because most companies rely on getting their customer feedback from simplistic email and IVR customer satisfaction surveys.
    Martha L Brooke


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