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Customer Interviews

Customer Interviews
by Ken Crow, DRM Associates

Customer interviews are a common mechanism for gathering the voice of the customer. Customer interviews are usually conducted one-on-one with an individual customer or with a small number of people from the same business or family unit. They provide an opportunity to get in-depth information from a single customer. The interviews are used to understand:

  1. What are the customer?s business issues (if applicable)?
  2. What is the customer?s problem / need?
  3. How will the product solve the customer?s problem/need?
  4. What are the specific customer needs that must be satisfied to address the customer?s problem?
  5. What are the priorities of these needs? What?s most important to the customer in making a buying decision?
  6. What are the strengths and weaknesses of our product(s) vs. the competition?

The first step in the process is to identify customers to interview. Based on market segment characteristics/dimensions, work with Marketing and Sales to identify potential customers. Consider current customers, competitor?s customers, and potential customers. Use a variety of company contacts, channels and mechanisms to aggressively pursue a customer visits and interviews. If the interviews are with a business, schedule meetings with individuals in different functions that interact with the product. This would include direct users, purchase decision-makers, support, data centers, etc.

There are two types of customer interviews: planned and ad-hoc. Planned interviews are scheduled ahead of time and typically longer in duration (e.g., one-half to two hours. Ad-hoc interviews are requested on the spot (e.g., in a shopping mall or store) and are shorter in duration (e.g., five to fifteen minutes)

It is important to prepare for the interview in advance. Often it is necessary to schedule planned interviews at least one to three weeks in advance, so plan adequate leadtime. Create a benefits message, e.g., key role in defining next generation product, define a product that best meets their needs. Set expectations on the amount of time required (e.g., it will take 30 minutes or 60 minutes for the interview), the purpose (e.g., we're here to listen to your issues and needs; this is not a sales call), preparation (e.g., no preparation is required), and other considerations (e.g., no proprietary information will be asked about). Develop a script or list of questions to guide the interview and assure that the necessary information is obtained.

When conducting the interviews, one person ask the questions and one person should take notes. Consider audio or video recording the interview, but obtain permission first. A Marketing or Sales representative to the company being interviewed may play the host. During the interview, make sure to cover the script discussion areas, but allow for open-ended discussion. It may be necessary to schedule a follow-up interview to review needs that were determined, their priorities, and obtain a further competitive evaluation.

After the interview, the interview notes and any recordings will need to be summarized and distilled into a set of distinct customer needs.

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