You know how there are “extroverted introverts” out there?
The people who are neither “party animals or wallflowers, but have shades of both”…
I’m not one of those. I’m quite firmly an “introverted introvert”.
The fewer people (but more dogs) I have to deal with during my day, the happier I am. Even responding to emails can give me an introvert hangover.
So the thought of spending a week interviewing a series of complete strangers over Zoom made me quake.
But recently, I happily volunteered myself to do just that… well, maybe “happily” is the wrong word. I determinedly volunteered myself to go through with these interviews.
During the week, I learned several lessons that will make me a better interviewer. I’ve included them below so they can help you strengthen your interview process.
And I will front-load this by telling you… these lessons worked.
Not only did time-on-page increase by 918%, both bounce rate and exit rate also decreased significantly. More on that later.
But before we get to those lessons…
An introvert’s POV of VOC interviews.
Why put myself through the torture of talking to strangers?
It was all in the name of Voice of Customer (VoC) research.
The research was for a client who planned to change her offer. She wanted to go from booking corporate clients at under $1K for a speaking engagement to over $10K for a months-long program.
My job was to get the messaging right for her new high-ticket offer. And that’s not something you can accomplish through guesswork.
Deep within my bones, I knew interviews would be needed for this project.
Why interviews? Why not stick with a VoC method that was more introvert-friendly, like surveys?
Because I knew surveys wouldn’t give me the deep insights I wanted.
Yes, it had to be interviews, not surveys.
Want quantitative data? Go with surveys. Want feedback from a gigantic number of people? Surveys again.
Want to dig deep into how your customers see the world? It’s a job that calls for interviews.
“The best insights… come from deep but loosely structured interviews with a small number of highly targeted individuals,” says Bob Leonard, Managing Consultant at acSellerant.
Surveys can give you a pretty good sense of who your customers are. But they’ll never be as flexible as interviews. You’ll never be able to respond to surprising answers and dig in with open-ended questions, as Robert G. Cooper and Angelika Dreher point out in Marketing Management Magazine.
When SaaS company Groove based their website’s new copy on VoC data gleaned from in-depth customer interviews, their conversion rate increased by 100%.
“We didn’t send out surveys, we didn’t email them questions, and we didn’t ask anything that could be answered with a “yes” or “no,” says Alex Turnbull, CEO and founder of Groove.
“We knew that if we really wanted to get the insight we needed – not data, but words – the best way to do that would be through having actual conversations with our customers.”
Interviewing with no interview skills.
So interviews it would be.
At this point, you might expect this diligent introvert to go off and do all the research to beef up her interview skills.
I was afraid it would launch me into “performance mentality“, or the need to come across as an expert. I’d get stuck inside my head, fretting over how well I was doing. Judging my ability to follow best practices.
Life coach Helen McLaughlin says it’s better to “accept that you are a beginner and be willing to be seen as such.” I thought of it this way: I’d throw myself into the deep end and see if I could swim.
Which isn’t to say I didn’t prep at all.
I spent an entire afternoon scripting my questions (relying heavily on the Obstacle Interview trainings in Copy School). Once I was happy with my questions, I did a few practice runs over Zoom with my husband.
But as far as customer interview best practices? It wasn’t until the interviews were behind me that I looked up the top advice going.
That’s when the self-judgement kicked in.
So how did I do?
I decided to score myself on how well I ran my first VoC interviews.
To determine my score, I referred to Dustin Walker’s article Start Talking! How To Do Customer Interviews That Reveal Priceless Insights.
Why Walker’s article?
There’s a lot of advice online about how to run customer interviews. Walker’s article hits most of the main points you’ll come across anywhere. But I like how he isn’t excessively regimented. He encourages you to develop your own style rather than follow a rigid structure.
Plus, Walker is a marketer and copywriter, like me. So I knew he and I would be after similar outcomes from our interviews.
We’d both want highly detailed descriptions of customers’ struggles and motivations. We’d want to know the obstacles getting in the way of a decision to purchase. We’d also have in mind messaging hierarchy and sticky language that could be turned into copy.
I thought VoC interviews would be an introvert’s worst nightmare. I was wrong.
I’ll let you in on the key lessons I learned about running VoC interviews.
But the most surprising lesson? It was that there’s no reason for interviews to be an introvert’s worst nightmare.
No, conversations aren’t our forte – especially ones we have to lead. But it’s helpful to remember that in most cases, the interviewee is on your side. They want to do their part to make the interview a success.
Most of my interviewees made a point to ask me if they had provided everything I needed. If anything, they were concerned about how they’d done.
So you shouldn’t worry that your interviewees are judging your performance. They’re not.
But still, that didn’t stop me from judging mine. Speaking of which…
Assessing my performance against Walker’s main interviewing advice, here’s how I scored…
“Your interview should not feel like an interview at all. It should feel like a conversation.”
My score: 4/10.
I’m not good at small talk. (Have I mentioned I’m an introvert?)
So I knew it wasn’t just my questions that I’d have to script, but also the first few lines of what I’d say immediately after the call started.
I went with:
“Thanks so much for taking the time to help out with this. I’m going to ask you a few questions about the period of time when you made the decision to bring [client’s name] in. It’s going to be a very informal chat. And the more candid you can be, the more helpful that’d be. Sound good?”
For my first interview, I managed to deliver this (well-rehearsed) intro in a chatty, casual way. But when I launched into my first question, I heard myself switch over to professional-robot voice.
Pretty sure the interviewee noticed too. I saw her smile falter, just a little.
I got better at the transition as the week of interviews went on. But I never quite nailed making my scripted questions sound conversational.
What definitely helped was practicing a couple of “dry runs”.
Before my first interview, I Zoomed my husband from downstairs and ran the call like an interview. I got a feel for what it’d be like to greet them, take them through the questions, and improvise as needed.
I suggest you do the same, with a willing volunteer.
I think if I hadn’t done this, that first interview would’ve stood in for a dry run. And it would’ve been a lot bumpier.
“Record the talk – don’t go crazy with notes.”
My score: 6/10.
If you don’t listen to any other advice, listen to this.
There’s no way I could’ve juggled absorbing the interviewee’s words, following up with questions, and taking notes all at the same time.
To make sure I didn’t forget to hit record, I typed myself a reminder at the top of my interview script: (“RECORDING???“).
Even though Zoom is reliable, in the future I’ll use a backup recording device, thanks to advice from content strategist and copywriter Greg Reid. He recommends using your phone’s voice memo app and placing your phone, with the app running, next to your computer’s speaker to record a backup.
Or you could go with a phone-call recording app, like TapeACall, which also works with Zoom.
Either way, you’ll need that recording. So it’s worth being extra cautious to make sure you have it.
Ethan Keyserling, director of research at Hinge, says that experienced interviewers are able to “recall answers earlier in the interview that might be applicable to questions further down the line, and take detailed notes for subsequent data processing and coding.”
I’m definitely not an experienced interviewer, but I did keep a pen and journal by my side. I was ready if an interviewee said something that I wanted to circle back to.
In the end, I took 0 notes.
That’s why I gave myself a 6/10. Because my total lack of notes probably showed I relied too much on the call being recorded. I wasn’t connecting as many dots as I could have.
“Shoot for about 5 people per customer category or persona – but no more than a dozen.”
My score: 9/10.
Too many interviews and you’ll be overwhelmed. Too few, and you won’t see any patterns or themes.
To explain the importance of capturing enough VoC data to spot patterns, messaging strategist Jennifer Havice offers an example:
Let’s say you find over and over again… that respondents almost didn’t purchase your product because they couldn’t see how it would positively impact their business. Since that concern loomed large in recent customers’ minds, you can bet it’s a concern for visitors who left without buying. Make sure you address it on your site.”
My goal was 3-5 interviews and I ended up with 4 (hence the high score).
I had about 10 of my client’s clients agree to an interview, 6 to book a slot with me through Calendly, and 4 to actually show up.
The lesson? Always ask at least double the number of people you actually want to interview.
The next time, I’ll plan to give myself an extra “grace period” week in the schedule. As in, the deadline I share in my introductory email to potential interviewees will actually be a week earlier than my official deadline.
This is to accommodate interviewees with tech problems and those who ignore the booking deadline and get in touch later to see if there’s any chance I can “squeeze them in”.
As for spotting patterns that could be turned into hypotheses for the project, my 4 interviews really came through for me.
For example, each interviewee mentioned that prior to my client’s talk, they assumed there wouldn’t be widespread interest in the topic. But each was surprised by the talk’s popularity and the enthusiastic response it inspired.
After the interviews, I categorized this pattern of an “assumed lack of interest” as a potential objection. Something the new messaging would need to address.
“Focus on listening, not questioning.”
My score: 9/10.
As an introverted introvert, I’m not a great talker, but I’m a damn good listener. So I had this one down pat.
As email copywriter Nikki Elbaz teaches about VoC research, it’s not as simple as directly asking your customers what they want. You have to dig for those answers yourself.
To dig for those answers in an interview, you have to deeply listen to what your customers are saying.
Laura Lupoch, cold email and pitch expert, says that throughout the conversation, you should recap what you hear. This does a few things: It “quiets a restless mind”, or in my case, a nervous mind. It helps you make sure you’ve correctly understood what the person has told you. And it helps the person you’re interviewing feel heard, which makes it easier for them to open up to you.
Forming an emotional connection with an interviewee can make or break an interview, says content strategist and copywriter Greg Reid.
“It invites the interviewee to share the emotions involved in the experience you’re discussing. Then you can flesh out insightful answers to questions like: What was life like before they used the product? How did that problem make them feel? Why was that? How did the product solve that problem? How did they react to the new outcome? Why was that?”
“Asking how people feel about an experience makes the interview itself more personal,” Reid says.
“Tap into the emotions involved and you’ll tap into marketing gold.”
As you explore your interviewee’s emotions, recap what they say to keep the rapport going.
I found that I didn’t have to recap in full sentences, which probably would’ve felt forced to me anyway. Instead, I could repeat the first few words of one of their sentences:
Interviewee: “A few of our members needed a little more convincing before we made the decision.”
Me: “So a few of your members needed a little more convincing…” (I trail off.)
Interviewee: “Yes, but all it took was a short conversation about the potential benefits, such as (names benefits).”
A short recap followed by my natural introvert trail-off was enough to get the interviewees talking again, expanding upon their last point to me.
Awkward introvert traits for the win!
“Probe to get deeper insights.”
My score: 7/10.
According to Keyserling, “A talented interviewer can dive deep into specific topics and adjust their line of questioning based on the direction of the interview. When done correctly, this sort of probing can uncover perspectives that may have never been considered or addressed by your firm.”
I know I’ve yet to master “deep diving” into specific topics, but I did find that following-up with a gentle probing question was essential for getting meaty responses.
That’s because people don’t mind getting specific when they give you fact-based details: “I’ve been in this position since 2017.”
But otherwise, their answers tend to stay general and surface-level. For example…
Me: “What was going on that caused you to book this talk?”
Interviewee: “It was a topic we hadn’t covered before and we felt the timing was right.”
Me (gently probing): “What about the timing felt right?”
Interviewee: “A few people had spoken up to say they’d like to hear about this topic.”
Me (more gentle probing): “What did those people say when they spoke up?” (And so on…)
Eventually, my interviewee’s answer would reveal a specific motivator. Such as they were trying to keep up with a counterpart branch in another country. Or they wanted to be the first to bring this topic to the company.
And with those answers, I gained useful insights into the minds of my client’s clients. Insights I’m pretty sure my client’s competitors don’t have.
Always end the interview with this question…
This tip isn’t from Walker’s article. It’s completely my own.
Once I’d gone through my main questions, I’d ask “Is there anything else you’d like to add before we wrap up?”
I got some really valuable responses.
For instance, one interviewee said that she liked how my client addressed her group while standing in front of a whiteboard. It elevated the energy and made my client stand out from other speakers they’d booked.
I made a note to represent the whiteboard in an image on the client’s new website.
In another instance, the interviewee and I talked for a further 5 minutes after I asked my “wrap-up question”. Without any specific prompts from me, she started describing the elements of a program she’d like to see my client offer. I came away with several specific ideas for how to optimize the new offer.
Going forward, I plan to always end my interviews with this question. You never know what will come out of it.
Since this is my own tip, I’ll unabashedly give myself 10/10.
The client got 918% increased time on page. I got a new introvert superpower.
This is the part where I’m supposed to reveal the big sexy results.
Something along the lines of: “I was able to centuplicate my client’s business in the first day!!!!”
Truth is, it’s too early to report any results like that. We haven’t even reached the 30-day mark with the new messaging. But early data is showing promise.
Since the page with the new messaging has gone live…
- Bounce rate has decreased by 21%
- Exit rate has decreased by 37%
- Time on page has increased by 918%
But the most surprising thing to come out of all this? My husband’s remark on how energized I was after each interview.
Can you imagine that? An introvert, energized after a chat with a stranger!
I’m proof that introverts can make great interviewers. (Even though we’d rather not talk to people.)
As it turned out, interviewing was nowhere near as scary as I thought it’d be.
In many ways, being an introvert played in my favor. I was naturally inclined to let the interviewee do most of the talking. And because I listened closely, I followed up with probing questions at the appropriate times.
I’ll probably never feel I deserve straight 10/10’s, but I do think my skills took leaps forward with each interview.
Believe it or not, this introvert is looking forward to the next round of VoC interviews.
If an introverted introvert can successfully run customer interviews – and even feel energized by them – you should have no doubt you can too.
After this, do you feel better about running your own VoC interviews?