The Art of the Customer Interview

9 min read Erin May

Customer interviews are the lifeblood of SaaS businesses. If you’re not investing in them, you’re missing out on one of the most impactful tools you can use to grow your business and improve your product.

Today, I want to share with you some tips that will help you make customer interviews a high-value habit.

We’re going to go over exactly why customer interviews are important, how automation can make the whole process easier, and what great customer interviews look like.

Ready? Let’s get started!

Why regular customer interviews are important

Feedback from your users is vital if you have a SaaS product. It’s how you understand your customers, the way your product is used, and how you can grow your businesses.

Great customer interviews are like a cheat code for product-led growth!

But it’s not just that customer feedback is vital for growing SaaS businesses, it’s actually vital for keeping SaaS businesses alive. SaaS customers have a great deal more power than in almost any other business.

You make your product for your customers. If you know what your customers want from it, and know how to put that feedback into action, you start a positive feedback loop.

Customer success is impossible to ignore if we want to grow revenue and stay ahead.So, if you want to achieve great levels of customer success, customer interviews are the way to go. Regularly interviewing your customers, tapping into that feedback, means you can grow your business, develop your product, and make your customers love you.

Investing in your UX is exactly that – an investment. It’s going to cost you upfront, but you’re spending that money in a guaranteed bull market.

You can’t control the macroclimate of your industry or what your competitors are doing, but you can get to know your customers easily – and consistently – over time. That knowledge will yield insights that result in real innovations, because it digs into what your customers really want.

How to automate your customer interview process

Customer interviews are worth their weight in gold, but like any task, if they aren’t well-structured or managed, you’re going to find it hard to keep them up.

Automation can really help you out here, but it’s important to make it clear from the start that any systems you create have to be sustainable and thought-through. Putting thought into the system upfront means you don’t have to think about it too much afterwards.

Your first step is to establish where your customers are – find out where you can find the most customers right now. Digital spaces are going to be the most scalable, and the easiest to start with.

Wherever you choose – in-app, on your website, through targeted ads – you need to lead with a call to action that requests some feedback. Be as clear as you can that this is going to be through a conversation with you.

Depending on the location you choose, your method is going to vary. You could make this initial request through a chatbot, a customer panel or opt-in page, an on-site/in-app intercept, or through in-context links on website pages and posts.

Alternatively, you can set up some email automations at different stages in your customer lifecycle.

Check out the table above for some more ideas on this.

Once you’ve got an automation for approaching your users, it’s time to actually invite them to participate in interviews! Incentives and extras always work a treat here.

Check out an example of one of the invitations we send above. This is an automated email that users receive after 45 days of not using our product.

Some folks will just reply to the questions, and others will click the link at the bottom to book a conversation with me. You’d be surprised at how many people willingly and excitedly respond.

Now it’s worth noting here that you aren’t often going to be interviewing your best customer. But why would you want to? Interviewing the people who aren’t there with your product (yet) is going to be infinitely more valuable and, ironically, will likely provide you with a clearer image of what your best customer does actually look like.

The whole point of this initial automation setup is that you’re thinking about it now, so you don’t need to think about it later.

To that end, picking a consistent interview time is key. If you’re fiddling around each week trying to carve out some time to do customer interviews, it’s going to get messy and you’re not going to enjoy it or consider it valuable.

Clear some time from your calendar and automatically block out when you conduct your interviews.

We recommend weekly but, if you can, twice a week is even better. Ultimately, it has to be sustainable and suitable for you. If it’s once a fortnight, so be it.

Just as important as scheduling your time for customer interviews is making sure your customers can schedule their time for interviews!

Going back and forth deciding different half hour slots is an awful use of everyone’s time.

You’ve blocked out your customer interview times each week, so you can give them to your customers, and they can book out whenever is best for them well in advance.

User Interviews makes this really simple, but you can also use services like Calendly.

Whatever the case, you need to have a system that takes your customers from that initial CTA of “let’s talk about your experience” through to them signing up to your automated system.

A note on screener surveys: You can add a screener survey so that you can really hone in on certain types of people you want to speak to, but your focus is best placed on trying to build a habit of a constant flow of interviews. For this, you really want to access a broad swathe of customers. Don’t niche your way into silence.

How to conduct customer interviews

So, you’ve got your customers agreeing to interviews and your process is beautifully automated… Now how do you actually do the darn things?!

Comfort is key

You are not interrogating your customers! Hammering people with questions is not the way to go and will make people super uncomfortable.

You want them to be speaking naturally, honestly, and openly with you. You’re not trying to trick or trap them into revealing something they don’t want to. You just want their honest feedback.

Creating this sense of comfort can come in many different forms and depends on you, them, and myriad other factors.

It could be:

  • Small talk
  • Explaining the purpose of the interview·
  • Anything that helps you get to know the person, set them at ease, and answers their questions

Don’t forget to ask their permission to record the call. Get all those logistics out the way early on.

Focus on one question

This is a great place to start with your customer interviews – tapping into a recent and specific memory that relates to their experience of your product or the ecosystem it sits within.

You could ask the last time they used your product or the last time they had a problem that your product could have solved.

Alternatively, you could go for more of a vitamins over painkillers approach. You could ask the last time they felt motivated/inspired to do something your product could help with.

They key here is to be super-focused, super-simple, and not overcomplicating the process straight away. Get them talking and see how things progress naturally from there.

Best practice once the conversation has started

Repeat back what someone has said and dig deeper – not editorializing, but clarifying and repeating back, with a “why?” or “then what happened?” tacked on. You’d be surprised how quickly half an hour can go when you dig like this.

Avoid asking leading questions – everyone does this at some point, just walk it back if you do. Ask open-ended questions “How do you find using our product?” not “Why do you like using our product?”. And try to avoid yes/no questions. You’re looking for substantive, qualitative answers.

Ask about past behaviors, as opposed to hypotheticals. Not “what would you pay for this?” or “would you buy this?”, but rather “have you used this thing in the past?” “what did you pay for it?”. Ask about the emotions and the “whys” behind things to really get those deep insights.

Embrace the awkward silence! We love silence – it’s the best way to reveal that last kernel of insight. Someone might talk for a few minutes, building up to something they don’t even necessarily know, and just before they reach it, they might tail off. If you can just let that hang, they’ll get there. Your goal should not be to talk, but to listen and guide.

Finding the balance of talking just enough to keep them going is the name of the game.

You have to record your insights

Unless you are an amazing memorizer and note taker, recording your interviews is a must. In fact, even if you are an amazing memorizer and note taker, you need to record your interviews.

Your only job is to listen and be present with the person you are interviewing. To achieve this, it’s best to have someone who can take notes for you on the call. Don’t take them yourself, as it’s distracting for your and your participant. Try to get these notes as close to verbatim as possible, not just the highlights.If you can’t get a note taker, use otter.ai or rev.com to get a transcription at a decent price.

Use those insights

So, now that you’ve got a recording of what is essentially loose, unstructured data, how do you refine it and use it?

At User Interviews, we use a tool called Product Board that helps us storyboard, tag, and organize our transcripts. This system of categorization and tagging is so useful for identifying pain points and new trends alike.

We also love opportunity maps. One of the best benefits of customer interviews is that they broaden your understanding of what the opportunities are with both your product and your customers. As you add these rich insights from customer interviews to this kind of structure, one that is constantly evolving, you really get to see and achieve a deeper understanding of the problem/solution space that is in your domain.

Summing it up

Let’s try to get this as simple as possible as we wrap up:

  • Customer interviews are important
  • They can be easy to do with a repeatable, automated process
  • Review your notes and use those insights

So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to tap into a goldmine of potential product growth and customer success!If you want to learn more about how to understand your customer, make sure to check out the free Product-Led Growth Hub.

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