Proto conducting a customer interview on the phone

How to Interview Customers

What do you enjoy more?

  1. Talking to a complete stranger
  2. Trying to talk to someone who is sure busy and doesn't really want to talk to you
  3. Talking to a complete stranger that has the potential to impact your bonus and hitting your KPI’s
I’m guessing No. 3 will pop up as the least favourite option for nearly everyone. What is it about making customer calls? Why would most people rather have an annual HR review after missing their sales target than pick up the phone and listen to what their customers have to say and listen to some suggestions of how they might go about solving them?

It’s most likely because they don't have a structured way of conducting the interview and/or, they haven’t had the training to really know how to sit back and listen. And I mean really listen to customers, not just to what they are saying to you, but what they are trying to signal to you, but maybe don't know how to say.

The tendency when “talking to customers” is to make a beeline for the solution. What did you like about our product, what didn't you like, was it too expensive? Less experienced interviewers ask a lot of “what” questions of customers and as a result, they get a lot of factual, logical reasons why customers say that they do what they do.

As it turns out, those aren’t the most important questions at all…they’re the most misleading. Recently while with one of our clients, their CEO asked their senior managers to start making calls to customers to find out why customers were leaving them. The Senior Managers were asked to make 15 calls each and report back to the CEO what they found. No training, no real interview guides, just a firm belief that talking to customers will solve the problem.

And he is partially correct, at least his intent is. Getting out of the building or making calls to customers can be a powerful tool to more deeply understand why customers are doing what they are doing. And what you can do to improve their experience.

How can you make Customer Interviews a powerful tool rather than a superficial one?

The key is that it is not about your product or service at all, it's actually all about the customer and the good news is that we don't have to defend our product or why we did what we did. We just have to listen. And we have to listen deeply. Our goal when interviewing is to learn and learn as much as we can. When it comes to improving the Service Experience and Service Innovation, the answers lie in solving our customers biggest problems. When we do that and we help them understand how our product or service will deliver relief to that problem, sales naturally grow, customers stay longer and complain less.

Service designers interview customers at a Virgin mobile retail store outlet

Getting Started

Before picking up the phone, brief yourself on the customer and what you want to find out. It helps to write out what you are going to ask including. Be prepared for a long interview, customers love to talk/rant and you are there to listen! Let them tell their stories and do not worry about the time because we want to get the most value out of the call as possible. There will be customers who are not interested and that’s ok.

Here are some tips for Customer Interviews via phone call:

  • Ask open questions rather than closed questions: i.e. Instead of asking “Was it frustrating to use the website?” (yes/no answer), ask “What was it like using the website?” (long-ended question)
  • Sit back (this helps you to relax a bit and talk calmly)
  • Smile! It will come through your voice.
  • Talk to them like a friend, don’t sound like a robot!
  • Really listen to them, follow up on bits in their story to find out more and show that you’re interested.
  • Do not interrupt a story
  • Use their language and relate to them, i.e. If they are older, speak up and slowly (but do not patronise them!)
  • Ask WHY?! HOW?!?
  • Be neutral! You are not there on this phone call to represent the product so you do not need to be apologetic, but be sympathetic. Tell the customer that you will assure that their voice is heard, that they matter and that you are there for that very reason.
  • Don’t make assumptions.
  • Take note of when you call someone and how many times (eg. missed calls)
  • Leave a message if you need the call urgently (optional)
  • If you are going to be calling them back, make sure you have the right time and day to call and the correct/preferred number.
  • If you can get their permission to record it, that's even better. It gives you the opportunity to have a real conversation and type up your notes later, rather than writing and missing what they have to say.
If you would like to use our guide on How to Interview Customers, click here to access it.

One more thing

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Access to over 50 Service Design and CX tools and guides and examples of how to use them

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Your own full-time coach and trainer who will actively build the capability of your entire team in how to understand, design and build product and services that will solve your customers biggest problems

All of this is supported by 10 years of experience in designing and delivering Customer-Centric outcomes for major Australian organisations such as Optus, AMP, Westpac, News Limited and Virgin Mobile.

If you would like to find out more, email to receive more detailed information and pricing.

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