Great Customer & Client Interviews: Dos and Don’ts

Client and customer interviews are the basis for testimonials, case studies, insight papers, and videos but getting valuable content from customers or clients is not easy. All too often, you’re struggling to find that one accurate, clear, well-phrased, and interesting quote. So here are a few dos and don’ts of interviewing based on my 20 years of experience working for businesses across industries and borders.

  1. Let go of your preconceptions. What you delivered for your customers or clients may not be the part of the project that they remember most fondly. Maybe you thought you built a great deck suitable for family gatherings or lounging in the sun; the interviewee remembers how you took their idea for the railing design and made it work. A testimonial about a specific benefit to the interviewee has major long-term value because it sets you apart.
  2. Be prepared but have fun. Start by letting your interviewee know that they will have the chance to review and change the final case study, insight paper, or testimonial. Then, ask a few prepared questions. But let the interviewee lead; if an interesting insight comes up, follow it. Skip around in your prepared list of questions if the interviewee mentions a topic earlier than expected. Relax and your interviewee will relax with you.
  3. Ask the questions you don’t want to ask. It’s easy to ask, “What did you enjoy most about this project?” But sometimes the most complimentary responses come from more open questions: “What would you do differently next time?” “What would you advise someone else looking for a deck builder?” “How can we improve our services?”
  4. Choose your interviewee wisely. Sometimes an interviewee will offer platitudes and jargon in the mistaken belief that a business owner wants to hear “all’s right in the world and proactive, too.”  Sometimes talkative interviewees use a lot of words to say very little. I know how to politely interrupt, seek out deeper answers, and keep an interviewee on track. The rustier your interview skills, the more you need to make sure your interviewee is absolutely right.
  5. Be careful when editing. In 15 minutes, I can draw out many fine testimonials from an interviewee. Then it’s a matter of weaving those testimonials and insights into a narrative. Conversations tend to ramble, so no one complains if I rework quotes to make them flow and to emphasize a point–but I never ever put words into the interviewee’s mouth. You want to respect the identity and honesty of the interviewee; the surrounding narrative is your chance to expand on what they say.

If you haven’t interviewed any of your customers or clients, you’re missing a great chance to build rapport, marketing content, and differentiators. Contact me through LinkedIn or TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. I can help.

My Customers Won’t Talk to Me!

Q. My customers must love my products and services because they keep returning. But they don’t send thank you letters, they don’t compliment me or my staff, and if I ask them how we did, they say “Great!” That doesn’t tell potential new customers anything. What’s with them?

A. Customers are only human. They know they are talking to the head of a business they like, so they want to give you what you want. But they aren’t sure exactly what to say (they expect you want marketing jargon and they don’t know how to speak jargon); are shy about revealing their ignorance of the specifics of what you did; and feel resentful about having to invent something right now or about confronting endless surveys. The wise approach is to put a third party into the mix.

Strong Interviews Lead to Strong Testimonials

Here’s how I handle customer interviews to make sure they deliver testimonials and information you can use to market, align, and improve your business.

  • First, I interview you to find out what you think you accomplished for that customer and how how that particular job reflects your overall business and its goals.
  • Then, I contact your customer (after you’ve prepared the way with a brief email or phone call) to ask for a 15-minute interview at the customer’s convenience. That time limit is most important.

I ask the customer leading questions, listen to the answers, and base my next question(s) on those answers. We take a journey together through the customer’s experience, with no previous expectations. I ask the hard questions, too; for example, what would you do differently next time to solve your problem? What should the company do differently? I can ask those questions because I am not the business owner, and I can negotiate confidentiality if that’s necessary. I keep the interview on target and deep dive for differentiators.

Finally, I create one or more strong testimonials, which I then submit to the customer for the customer’s approval. Or I create an entire case study, which I submit to you first (to make sure the content matches your goals) and then to the customer for approval. Because I listen well and ask insightful, respectful questions, most testimonials and case studies return from the customer with minor if any changes.

Strong Testimonials Connect with Potential Customers

The result: You have testimonials that actually say something in clear, everyday language that speaks to potential customers. You learn facts about your business and the customer experience that you may never have expected. You have the basis for or a complete case study that explains exactly what you do and how you do it.

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications has over a decade of experience in interviewing business owners and their customers. If you want testimonials that work hard for your business in the marketplace, contact us today.

The Marketing Power of Social Cognition

One of my clients recently published an article about social cognition–our ability to learn from other humans rather than through direct experience. For example, if we see everyone outside bundled up in scarfs and coats, we make the intellectual leap that it is cold out while never leaving the comforts of a warm house ourselves.

We learn a lot of information through social cognition, which is why testimonials and case studies (success stories) are such an important tool for marketing. Whether they are presented in writing, video or photographs, information about how current customers experience your business is an important incentive for new customers.

The best testimonials and case studies deliver specific facts about what you do and how you do it in plain, every day language. Let your customers speak for themselves; marketing jargon or vague comments like “he’s great to work with” will not convince anyone. If possible, ask a third party to interview your customers because customers are likely to be more open and because you are likely to prejudge what they have to say, losing a great opportunity to find out how your business really affects customers. Social cognition works both ways: if your customers feel an expectation from you for certain words, they are likely to provide them whether or not they truly believe them.

When I interview your customers, I begin by interviewing you, the business owner. I want to be an informed interviewer, and I want to know why this particular project or customer relationship stood out in your mind. Then I ask your customers about their experience and often find that they are grateful for benefits of your work that you didn’t even consider. But those benefits are the same ones that will make you appealing to future customers and set you aside from the competition.

Social cognition is a powerful tool. Let me help you make use of it with testimonials and case studies.


Four Truths about Testimonials

The first truth about testimonials is that one great testimonial from a customer is worth 10,000 of your own words. You can tell people and tell them about your fantastic products and services; but a single testimonial has the power to convince them.

The second truth about testimonials is that great testimonials (specific, accurate, positive, believable) don’t simply fall into your lap. You must ask for them, and sometimes you have to interview people to elicit great testimonials. A dozen “great jobs!” have less pizzazz than one testimonial that describes exactly what you did to cause that enthusiastic response and why your company turned out to be the perfect choice.

The third truth is that no one speaks or writes grammatical and clear English all the time. You owe it to the people who give you testimonials to make sure that they come across as well as you do. Before you post their testimonial, fix any small grammatical or spelling problems. If they said or wrote something that makes no sense, either leave it out or ask their approval for an alternative. You should never change a testimonial except to fix mistakes in grammar, spelling or logic; but you should fix the mistakes.

The fourth truth is that testimonials have more than one use. They might expand into a case study or a white paper. They add sparkle to brochures as well as websites. They may inspire a blog post. Let great testimonials work for you and work hard.

In one of my earlier blog posts, I described how to elicit testimonials from customers and explained that some customers may feel inhibited about speaking to a business owner directly. Also some business owners may feel reluctant to ask for praise. Shyness on either side prevents great testimonials from happening. TWP Marketing & Technical Communications has helped companies in service, construction, manufacturing, IT and many other industries ask for and receive the great testimonials they deserve. Contact us today.