Talk to Your Customers

tips for successfully interviewing your customersSurveys are great tools for learning more about your customers statistically. But to really get into their hearts and heads, you’ve got to talk to them directly, according to Allan Hauptfeld, president of Vantage Research + Consulting, Inc. Pay close attention to what they’re saying and, importantly, how they’re saying it. According to a UCLA study, a whopping 93% of communication effectiveness is based on what’s non-verbal, so watch for smiles, grimaces, blank looks, posture and other body-language cues. Doing this successfully helps unearth those deep emotional insights that are tied to overall product, service or brand loyalty.

It will also enable a greater understanding of your customers’ emotions, which is so valuable today because at least 50% of all business loyalty decisions are based in or fueled by emotions, according to Hauptfeld. With so many look-alike products and services today, people ultimately make many final decisions because of something other than features, components, characteristics and even discounts.

“To discover those drivers requires understanding of your clients’ mindset and needs, and only that can be unveiled through savvy, well-trained, personal interview techniques,” he says. “However, many companies rely only on online and paper surveys to define their customers’ wishes and then make major company decisions. That’s really very risky behavior.”

When it comes to successful interviewing, Hauptfeld offers a few key pointers:

Set the stage for success. When interviewees are comfortable, their entire demeanor and communication cues will be less guarded, more honest. From the venue to the interviewer you choose, everything should contribute to a positive, productive process and experience that’s free of pressure and bias-building incentives. A cold bottle of water, tea, coffee and some snacks is appropriate, while a full-on lunch buffet might be a little over the top, for example. Also, think about what kind of interview is best — e.g., a focus group or a one-on-one interview? Some companies find that paired interviews, where there are two friends interviewed together, does wonders for inspiring and cultivating honesty and helpful feedback.

Inquire skillfully. Whether doing the interviewing yourself or hiring a professional firm, the goal should be to use a less-direct Q&A approach. If you do it yourself, research the proper interviewing techniques prior to conducting the interviews. For instance, work with open-ended questions that foster reflection and discussion, as opposed to close-ended questions that illicit limiting yes-or-no responses. Also, don’t rush these meetings. Let the interviewees determine the pace, and when someone says one thing, but her body language (e.g., avoiding eye contact) contradicts it, dig deeper: “I noticed you struggled a bit with that answer. Can you tell me a little more about what happened when you bought it?”

Not doing anything is worse than doing it yourself. Some budget-conscious companies sometimes conduct these meetings without third-party help, but while this can help save money, it can also get expensive if done incorrectly (because the wrong conclusions are drawn). Hiring a professional company to guide the process can be an investment well-spent. Explore and weigh your options, always remembering that it will likely cost your business more if you don’t do anything at all. Done right, personal interviews help you understand customers’ needs and the “why” behind loyalty behaviors, unlocking closed doors to business potential and profitability. That’s something that no paper or online survey can really get!

What are some of the most surprising and impactful things you’ve discovered after talking to your customers?

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