How to interview a customer (properly)

October 7, 2010

Ah, I know what you’re thinking.  D’oh!  Hah! Easy!  Just go ahead and ask them the questions!

WRONG!  99% of people asked their opinion out of the blue stammered, blushed and then lied.  It’s a highly awkward social situation, and it goes roughly like this:

MARKETER: (brightly) ‘So, what do you think of our shop?’

CUSTOMER: (caught like a deer in the headlights) ‘I er what? Hm. I er. It’s ok. It’s errrm, very nice really.’

MARKETER: (writes stuff down in big notebook, is triumphant) ‘They really like it. They think it’s very nice!’

NO. No no no no no no.


  • I only came in to get out of the rain
  • I cannot wait to get out of here
  • I’m too fat for these clothes, and besides, they look cheap
  • You seem like a nice young man, I don’t want to hurt your feelings
  • You seem like a complete tosser, but I’m well brought up
  • Everything is way too expensive, but I don’t want to seem as though I have no money
  • It’s too complicated to express in a quick sentence
  • ‘It’s very nice really. *runs for the door*

What’s the problem?Well, our naive marketer has forgotten that this is a social situation, of sorts.    The customer is asked a question out of the blue.  There’s no attempt to establish some kind of rapport.  At the same time, she’s in the shop and so the convention is that you act politely. (NB Cultures may vary on this one!)

So, how can we re-run this kind of encounter in a more enjoyable and productive way?

Here are my 7 steps to happiness in feedback.

1.  Explain yourself

Give a quick introduction to what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

If you can demonstrate your personal distance from the project, all the better.

2. Frame the customer as a valuable, straight-talking expert

Say that you’re keen to understand what customers really think about Brand X, and you are talking to just a few customers today to explore their thoughts.

3. Use fuzzy words and open questions

Avoid all the judgmental words like ‘opinion’, and choose vague fuzzy words like ‘feeling.’   You get more open-minded responses, even it feels cheesy.

4. Establish an immediate relationship by getting them to talk

Ask a really simple open-ended question that establishes some personal context.

  • What brought you into the shop today?
  • Where else have you been/are you likely to go?
  • Tell me a bit about your personal style, what you like to wear…

Tell me is probably the single most useful conversational opener.  Nod and smile encouragingly.

This introduction is absolutely vital. They’ve now practised talking on a simple, safe subject; you’ve demonstrated that you’re actually interested in them; and they’ve slowed down to focus on you.

5 Ask for feedback (and give tacit permission for it to be negative)

‘We’re trying to find out how customers feel about our layout, what the strengths and weaknesses might be.’

Hopefully they’ll now go ahead and talk.

6. If they still get stuck, break it down


  • what they really like
  • what they dislike and how they’d improve it
  • marks out of 10 (ooh, why did you say 6? tell me more!)

7. Thank them profusely and go and write it down

Now you have some proper feedback, the customer is happy and engaged, and the whole thing has turned into a pleasant exchange.  Bingo! Isn’t that better! Isn’t your whole day instantly more pleasant?’

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Alison October 11, 2010 at 6:57 pm

This is just a test reply!

Hello world and new domain.


Fefe June 22, 2011 at 8:52 pm

Hopped over from B-school! I love this post! I am definitely going to try it out when I get my business idea up and running. :-)


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