Any marketer responsible for strategy should be talking to customers regularly. See our article on interviewing customers for the primary reasons why you should. We can think of nine “secondary reasons” why customer interviews are useful. These are in no particular order, since their net benefit depends on your own situation.
Let’s call one of your customers Joe.
- Makes the Customer Feel Good. This has three parts. Joe speaks his mind (which is therapeutic on its own); Joe thinks complaints will get addressed and praise passed along (which appeals to his sense of fairness); Joe thinks your product is more likely to meet his future needs. Of course, you have to follow up on the last two things, but if you’re not committed to that anyhow you should have a long think about your business.
- It’s Cheaper Than You Think. If you delegate it to someone in-house, the incremental financial cost per interview is about $35, for a transcriber’s time. There are some fixed time costs associated with an interview program: generating the list itself, reviewing it for outliers, giving your callers some basic background about each account, and the phone tag typically involved with arranging a 30-minute conversation. If you outsource it to a freelancer or consultant, expect to pay $150 per interview, including transcription. This might be part of a larger package of interviews.
- Discover Hidden Opinions. (I’m cheating a little here, since this is usually possible only if you outsource the interviews.) With interviewee anonymity, you’ll learn things your customers won’t ordinarily tell you or your sales rep. Why? Under a promise of anonymity, people will open up to third parties (providing the interviewers know enough about your company and your products to sound credible). Joe is more likely to comment on personal interactions, e.g. the support staff didn’t want me on the phone any longer, the sales rep didn’t tell me when the maintenance fee kicks in. The point of gathering this kind of information isn’t to find tattletales and bust your employee for a single event, but to uncover consistent breakdowns. Joe is also more likely to comment truthfully on price to a third party interviewee, since he’s mentally out of the cat-and-mouse pricing game with your sales rep.
- Seeds for Case Studies. An interview with a happy Joe can be converted into a case study rather easily.
- Testimonials. Once you have a nice quote actually leave Joe’s lips (instead of your writing it for them, which is the way it usually goes), it’s easier to get customer approval. Even if the customer’s CorpComm department refuses permission to publish the testimonial, you can anonymize it. Anonymized testimonials are worthwhile only if the quote is specific to a product feature.
- Helps Your SEO Program. If you can take Joe’s interview (anonymous or not) and put it online, you’ll get a marginal boost with the search engines. While it’s unlikely that you’ll get a good inbound link into an interview, the addition of fresh content containing good keywords will help.
- Internal Use. Share all or part of the interview with colleagues. This is especially useful in big companies with an intranet.
- Counterbalance Salesperson Anecdotes. This may not seem as “nice” as the above reasons, but marketers can’t ignore this. In the B2B world, the salesperson is often the only one talking with customers. They pass customer comments up the ladder, especially when those comments relate to lost sales or a greater chance at account growth and retention. All good so far! However, the aggregate of all those sales “touches” gives Sales disproportionate authority on What The Customer Wants. A marketing team that aims to go beyond simple product marketing and marcomms — into marketing strategy — has to be an equal or better authority on What The Customer Wants, in the CEO’s eyes. Customer interviews give you some of that authority.
- Get New Ideas. Interviews “get your head out of the building” and make you think of new promotional/selling/content ideas. Although there are always more ideas than time or money, you’re always better off with a greater pool of ideas. So put your free thinkers on the interview team. Make them stick to the basic script, but encourage them to follow the flow of the talk and ask their own followup questions. Make them do calls offsite.