How to interview your customers in order to create better products and services?

By February 14, 2019 September 6th, 2019 Branding

In my previous post, I showed you how to define your Ideal Customer Avatar (ICA) when you’ve just started your business and you haven’t had any clients yet. 

But after a while, you’ll start working with customers and gain real-life insight onto their life, their struggles and dreams. These are invaluable information that you can benefit from so you shouldn’t ignore them. 

Let’s see how you can learn from your customers and develop better products or services based on their input.

Why You Must REach out to real-life customers

In the previous episode of your journey to discover your ICAyou could make up a person based on yourself. This was a good start to define an ICA who you can relate to, who you can honestly support with your content and products.  

But you shouldn’t stop there! As soon as you had clients who you loved working with, you must start refining your ICA to make her more realistic. 

By reaching out, you’ll get the exact words and phrases that your customers use to describe their frustration. You’ll see the exact outcome that they are hoping for and you’ll be able to build these into your new products, services and sales copy. You’ll also make better decisions and avoid creating products that won’t sell. 

Don’t make decisions in a vacuum

During the first part of 2018 I developed illustration packages that I thought my customers will love. However, I didn’t consult them beforehand. I made strategic decisions in a vacuum. 

The result: poor sales… the “digital tumble weed passing through my sad web shop” type of sales numbers.  

It turned out, that my customers felt intimidated by all the personalization options that I offered in my products. I only realized this after talking to a friend and a few past customers. These conversations lead me to understand what my ideal customer really needed.

HOW TO INTERVIEW YOUR CUSTOMERS

The best way to learn from your customers is to interview them.

WHICH CUSTOMERS TO INTERVIEW?

Pick the customers that you absolutely loved working with. Your ICA is your IDEAL customer, the one person who you really want to help so it’s important to base her on positive experiences. 

If you base your ICA on problematic former clients, you’ll set yourself up for failure. You won’t enjoy building your company when you try to satisfy someone who doesn’t appreciate your efforts. 

Choose former clients who respected you, paid you in time, trusted your expertise and who were satisfied with your work. She doesn’t have to be your new bestie though. It’s ok if she has a different personality than yoursBut you must have a good professional relationship.

WHAT INTERVIEW METHOD TO CHOOSE?

You can conduct the interview in person, on the phone or in email.

In person

In person interview can give lots of extra input because beside getting answers, you’ll also get visual clues. You’ll be able to see how your customers face brightens up when talking about a dream solution for her problemsYou’ll see her physical reaction when she shares her frustrations. 

had a childhood friend who always bit her lips when she felt uncomfortable in a situation. I learned this over the years so I could tell when something bothered her (and knew when to stop nagging her to lend me her favorite Bon Jovi CD). 

In person interviews are the most time-consuming for both you, and your customer, so don’t forget to calculate this in. Value your customer’s time with a little gift and if you meet at a coffee shop or restaurant, pay for her order. 

ON THE PHONE

A phone call is also a great way to reach out to customers and interview them. If their answer isn’t clear you have the opportunity to clarify them.  

A FaceTime, Skype or Zoom call can also be a great way to interview your customers if they are comfortable with these tools. Don’t force them if they are not, because they won’t feel at ease during the interview. 

In Email

This third method is great if you can phrase your questions very clearly and you only have a few (no one has time to answer a 25-question-long mini-essay). Try to minimize your questions to 5. 

The advantage of email is that your customers have more time to think through your questions. In addition, you get the answers in a written form, so you won’t have much work with documentation. 

What questions to ask?

FOCUS YOUR QUESTIONS AROUND THE PRODUCTS OR SERVICES YOU WANT TO IMPROVE

In my previous ICA post, you had time to brainstorm all kind of aspects of your ideal customer’s life. In fact, I provided you a Free Workbook with 50 Questions to Answer in Order to Define a Realistic & Useful ICA.  

However, in the interview with your former clients, you need to be more focusedYou ask for their input so that you can create better products or offer better services. Phrase your questions around these areas. 

In my example in this post, Julie is a personal fitness coach who wants to improve her one on one fitness training service. She calls her favorite former client, Amanda to figure this out. 

Let them know why you need their input

People are more willing to collaborate if they know the reasons behind a project. Express respect and trust toward your favorite customers by sharing the reasons behind your call. Don’t ramble for hours, summarize the goal of the interview in a few sentences. 

Hi Amanda, this is Julie. I’m so grateful that we can make this quick phone interview. As you know, I’m growing my fitness coach business and I want to improve my services. You are one of my favorite former customers who I really loved working with. I’d like to get your input so that I can understand my target market better. 

ASK THEM ABOUT THEIR frustrations

You can start by asking your former customer about her frustrations when it comes to the problems you want to solve. 

This information helps you develop the right products or services and write better sales copy. You’ll be able to use the exact words your customers use to express their frustrationThis will make your message more relatable. 

Julie can ask: 

  • What are your main frustrations when it comes to staying fit and healthy? What are the obstacles you have to tackle to stay fit?
  • What do these obstacles cost you (in terms of time, money, opportunities)? 
  • What motivates you to solve this problem and find the right solution? 
  • What frustrates you about personal fitness training services?

ASK THEM ABOUT THEIR CURRENT SOLUTIONS

Your former customer might have already obtained tools that she uses to solve her problems. These tools can be the ones you previously provided her or even the ones she has purchased from competitor. 

Don’t stress out if your interviewed customer uses a competitor’s product or service. Don’t even talk against them (that’s like questioning your customer’s personal decision).  

Instead, try to understand why she picked that solution, what does she love about it and what would she want to improve. 

This valuable information will help you develop better products or services than the competitors. 

Julie can ask: 

  • What tools, products or services do you currently use for maintaining an optimal fitness level? 
  • What do you like about these solutions? What makes them right for you? 
  • What’s not working? Can you tell me 3 things that could be improved?
  • Approximately how much did you pay for these tools?

ASK THEM ABOUT THEIR FAVOURED OUTCOME 

Everyone has a dream picture in her mind about a better life: how would it feel if the frustration could go away?  

Julie can ask: 

  • How important is it for you to solve your fitness related frustrations right now? 
  • What would be a dream solution for your fitness problems? 
  • What else would get better in your life if you could find the right solution? 

ASK THEM WHAT INFLUENCES THEIR PURCHASING DECISIONS

After developing your product or service you’ll get to a point when you jump 100% into the marketer role. You want to know what the effective ways are to inform your ideal customers about your new offer. Who influences your costumers, where do they hang out online, who and what brands are they following? 

Julie can ask: 

  • What social media sites do you use most frequently?  
  • What are your favorite websites, magazines, brands related to fitness? 
  • If money wouldn’t matter, what brands would you choose, what type of product or service would you purchase? 
  • What are the 3 key features that help you choose between 2 fitness services? 
  • How do you research fitness services? Do you use Google, social media, ask friends or something else?

What to do during the interview?

Don’t forget to take notes during the interview. If your customer agrees to it, you can even record it but ask permission first. 

Stay focused. Don’t start a mini-presentation about your planned new product or service. Don’t turn into a salesman. Your goal with this interview is to understand your customer better, so let her be in the spotlight. 

Show genuine compassion towards her struggles and if something isn’t clear ask her to explain it in a bit more details.

WHAT TO DO AFTER THE INTERVIEW?

As soon as you’re done with the interview, document it. Preferably the same day as the interview because you’ll forget a lot by the next day. 

Show your gratitude toward your customer by sending her a tank you card or thank you e-mail. You can even offer a free sample, free trial or discount on your upcoming new product. 

Many customers are interested in the outcome of the interview so when you are ready to launch, call them again and let them know how your product benefited from their efforts. 

Last but not least, if you came to a new realization about your ICA during the interview, don’t forget to update your ICA profile (or your free workbook that I provided in the previous post). 

3 steps to follow when you want to define your ideal customer avatar plus a helpful freebie

A few final words

The above methods also work great for potential customers, people who you feel could be your ideal clients, but they haven’t purchased from you yet. 

Reaching out to your former or potential customers can feel strange at first, but the more frequently you do it, the better you’ll become.  

I’d like to help you to feel more at ease, so let me know what’s your biggest fear about interviewing your former clients. Share your thoughts in the comments. 

Next week I’ll talk about how to learn from your competitors without turning into a copycat.

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