Stop Guessing, Start Asking

Psychology-backed tips on how to talk to your customer and write more persuasive copy

Stop Guessing, Start Asking

Psychology-backed tips on how to talk to your customer and write more persuasive copy

Talking to customers IRL and in real-time is hard. For one, customer interviews are a giant and agonizing time-suck. You need at least 8 (sometimes up to 20) interviews to generate data you can trust. But also, most of us who run customer interviews tend to find little pay-off.

Instead, we know them to be awkward or uncomfortable–scary, even. I mean, you only have a short window of time to work with, and what if you don’t get the insight you need? Or, your customer rambles on and on and you can’t reel them back in? Worse still, you ask all the “right” questions but you know you’re not quite getting to the gold.

That’s what this post is about. Well, changing that.

In the next few paragraphs, I’m going to arm you with the know-how to run effective, masterful customer interviews – the kind you’ll leave knowing you got the goods. And, knowing you can get them again, in every interview you run.

Because as it turns out, most of us are unknowingly (and unintentionally) doing customer interviews wrong–but only because it’s easy to think of them as simply “asking a customer questions” and not give them the rigour of qualitative research they’re due.

In reality, the correct how-to of customer interviews is a research-informed process. There’s a whole field of study devoted to proper interviewing technique and interview question design. Let’s dig in.

Your First Lesson: Don’t trust your feelings

Most of us give significant weight to how we feel about an interview. If we felt good about how it went, we take that to mean the interview went well. This could not be farther from the truth. How you feel is not an accurate measure of how good or reliable your data.

In fact, bad (or biased) conversations–specifically, bad interview questions–tend to elicit feel-good answers. When that happens, you’re momentarily convinced you’re receiving promising insight, when in fact you’re collecting biased, bad data.

Recognizing the futility of feelings in research is the fundamental difference between casually assuming the role of interviewer and donning a qualitative researcher hat. The former is fine, but won’t get you the depth of insight you’re looking for.

When to talk to your customer (and when to STFU)

Talk to your customer when you want to improve or create something in your (or your client’s) business. Don’t talk to your customer when you don’t have clear research questions in place.

Research questions are not interview questions. Research questions are more high-level and stem from project goals, so let’s start there.

Coming up with your project goals is step one. They’re the 1 or 2 things you want to make (or make better) by way of customer interviews.

Do you want to optimize your sales page? Do you want to write a homepage or email sequence from scratch? Maybe you want to hone your value proposition or increase sales and opt-ins.

Once you nail your goals, then craft your research questions. Your research questions point to what you want to find out from your market, in order to meet your goal i.e., to optimize your sales page or to hone your value proposition. They’re specific and actionable, not general and vague.

Coming up with research questions is a step that most copywriters miss. Don’t be that copywriter. Research questions are your headlights. They help you stay on-topic, reroute tangents and spot unexpected gold or conversational segues.

If all you have is a list of 15 untethered interview questions and a loose project goal, you’re interviewing blind. You can’t expect to pivot or dig deeper when your questions don’t work, because you have little idea of where else to take the conversation. (Good customer interviews are more about pre-work than skilled conversation.)

Here are a few examples of good research questions:

  • How do customers decide when and why to buy my course?
  • What type of person most frequently buys my service?
  • What other programs are my customers considering, before choosing mine?

With your research questions in place, you can now write your interview questions. The difference between the two (research versus interview questions) is that you can’t ask a customer your research question and expect a viable answer. Research questions are designed to guide and organize your research; interview questions are how you conversationally tease out the insights you need as part of your research.

It’s the difference between “How did you decide when and why to buy my course?” (a research question) and “Walk me through how you decided to buy my course, over the others you were considering” (an interview question).

What to talk to your customer about (and what topics to avoid at all costs!)

People are inherently contradictory. We say one thing and do another. She says she loves yoga, but she hardly ever goes to a class. He says he’s into meditation but rarely takes the time to do it.

This distinction is crucial to running effective interviews. Your goal is not to get caught up in what people think of things (opinions), but to clarify their actual experience (facts).

Instead of: “What did you think of the course?”
Ask: “Did you use the Facebook group or was it too much?”

What do I mean by ‘actual experience’? Your customer’s actual experience refers to what they’ve done in their past. The flip side of this is that questions about their future – though common practice – are off-limits.

Here’s why: Humans are bad at predicting the future. We make goals and plans, but don’t always follow through (new year resolutions, anyone?).

That dissonance – between what we say or think/feel and how we act – is important for a copywriter to notice and understand. Because it’s that gap that we need to fill with our copy. Future-paced questions ignore this gap and brush over it with a hypothetical; past or present questions close in on it.

Check out the interview questions below. In the former, it’s easy to embellish a false (positive) response because I don’t need to prove it. I can say I’d recommend a product, without actually having to do it.

Instead of: “Would you recommend this to a friend?”
Ask: “Have you ever recommended this to a friend?”

In the latter, the focus shifts from collecting feedback about a product, to understanding the customer. If you have recommended the product, what about the product was worthy of recommendation? If not, what’s happening that makes you like the thing, but not enough to spread the word? Is it a matter of personality, or is something else at play?

How to talk to your customer (so they spit out unbiased, sales-page-ready insights!)

There are 2 mistakes I see most copywriters make when running interviews. The first has to do with how we speak to our customers.

When we’re deep in research mode, it’s hard to snap out of it and engage in a regular conversation – especially when the focus of that conversation is tied to our research. But making this switch is key to helping a customer open up.

If you talk to your customer about your “sales page” or their “objections” and “benefits”, you’ll get stiff answers. Not because they don’t have objections or experience benefits, but because people don’t think in marketing lingo. Even marketers won’t make buying decisions because of “risk reversal”. They’ll call it something else.

Instead of: “How did my course make your life better?”
Ask: “What made you decide to join my course? What did you want to get out of it?”

I won’t belabour this point, but I raise it for two reasons. One: It’s easy to forget. And two: How you talk to your customer is way more impactful than you think. How you talk to someone affects how they feel, and how they feel affects how willing they are to open up. In fact, you can ask a bad interview question and still glean valuable insight – if you ask it the right way. Because tone and manner of speaking are super forgiving.

The second mistake I’ve seen a bunch of copywriters make has to do with confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is when we seek to confirm our way of thinking, instead of to learn what’s actually happening for a customer.

Instead of: “Did you like my workshop?”
Ask: “Did you make use of the Live Q&A or were you ok without it?”

When you’ve run a number of interviews already, it’s hard to peel away from the data and enter each customer conversation afresh. But, this is where the value of research questions come in. They help you prioritize understanding your customer over validating your viewpoint.

Want more customer interview tips, like this?

Click here for Hannah’s Customer Interview “Cheat Sheet”.

 

Did you miss the workshop? Catch the replay below!

Tarzan Kay

I’m a launch strategist, copywriter and educator on all things money—earning it, growing it, and helping others get more of it.

How We Built It: The Making of A $26,650 Website

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