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Customer interviews - unearthing brand insights

When was the last time someone from your organisation had a simple conversation with a customer - to ask them for their views and obtain feedback? And when was the last time insights from these discussions found their way into the ears of leaders in a way which would shape the future in a relevant way?

One of the biggest issues I find when working with leaders is the lack of real contact they often have with their customers. The one voice that should be heard is often lost in the noise. So - when working on a brand strategy, especially in the early stages - but also as the strategy is being delivered - I always like to get insights by analysing what *actual* customers are saying. Not what leaders think customers are saying. Setting up listening posts to get to the truth - even if that truth is hard to hear, can often be the difference between success and failure. This often means I have to roll my sleeves up and speak to real customers.





When in front of customers it’s important to establish why they see value in the brand as it is, but also listen to how they see the brand potentially helping them in the future. How the brand might position itself to ensure relevance in the future might hang on these key considerations. Understanding the problem the brand solves for (or could solve for) can create an appreciation of the value (or potential increase in value) the brand could contribute towards.

Its also important to tap into pain points or issues a customer has with a brand and the product and service it is offering. This information can be used to establish what might need to be built on, improved or removed as the brand evolves. In turn, this could improve customer churn.


Another important aspect of listening to customers is to understand the real competition to the brand’s offering. I find that often leaders think in terms of marketplace categories but it is not always the case customers think in this way.


All of these golden nuggets of information can be gleaned by simply asking. But how best to go about asking?

In this series of posts on unearthing brand insights I’m unveiling my go to questions to ask specific audiences (namely leaders, customers, staff and partners). This post is the second in this series and today we’re going to think about great questions to ask customers.


Preparing to interview Customers


Before going into a customer interview I always find it helpful to understand, from the businesses perspective, what kind of customer I’m speaking to. Are they ‘ideal’ customers? Are they one of our top ten - and if so by what criteria? Are they disgruntled? Are they loyal? Can we categorise them somehow? This allows for a good segmentation of findings and ensure we are listening to the right voices.


Assuming we have this information I tend to structure my interviews simply - around a past, present, future model. These questions are designed so that I do not “lead the witness” but get to the authentic truth. I tend to structure interviews in an informal discussion based style and tend to find if you put people at ease in a friendly manner, follow up questions with genuine curiosity and playback key responses to confirm I understand correctly, they are more likely to open up.

Questions to ask customers

Below are some of my go-to questions which I’d tailor depending on the needs of my clients. Introduction

Always frame the conversation in a way which explains why you holding it, why it will be helpful and what you will be doing with the information that’s gathered. Thank the customer for carving out the time. Be open and genuinely curious.


Past

  • Tell me a little bit about you.

  • How did you first become aware of [brand name]?

  • What was your first reaction to [brand name]?

  • Why did you choose to work with / purchase [brand name]?

  • Which competitors, if any, did you consider before choosing [brand name]?


Present

  • Why do you continue to work with / buy from [brand name]?

  • If you were to consider buying from a competitor who would it be and why?

  • When you think of [brand name] what immediately comes to mind?

  • What problem(s) does [brand name] help you to overcome?

  • What other problem solutions might you consider before buying from [brand name]?

  • How would you describe [brand name] to a friend?

  • What makes [brand name] different or distinctive to you?

  • What do your peers make of you buying from [brand name]?

  • How would you describe the experience you have when interacting with [brand name]?

  • How would you rate your last experience with [brand name] - why?

  • To support you, what values and behaviours do you really value in [brand category] offering?

  • Would you recommend [brand name] to others and if so why?

Future

  • If you were in charge [brand name] then what’s the first thing you’d change?

  • What goals do you have over the next 5 years that [brand name] could help you reach?

  • What’s the biggest challenge to you achieving your goals?

  • In what ways can our product or service improve your life?

  • How can [brand name] do better in the future?

OUTRO

To close its always important to thank the candidate and explain whats going to happen next. I usually ask for their permission to send them any follow up questions via email this is very important to increase the chances of engagement if I need to gain deeper input on key insights. I also find this final question REALLY helpful:


What should I have asked you but haven’t!


This end question allows them to go weapons free on any key issue which is on their mind. It’s often this question where they open up on whats really where their focus is.




So - I hope the above inspires you to have meaningful customer conversations. But remember the real art is taking the information gleaned and translating this into actionable and valuable action. That is how you truly build your brand.


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