While “interview” may conjure up images of nervous job applicants or celebrity profiles in your favorite magazine (do people still read those?), I want to talk about a different type of interview: the kind you have with your clients.

If you haven’t interviewed your clients lately (or ever — it’s ok, you can be honest; we’re all friends here), you’re missing out on monumentally useful feedback that can be used to improve not just your marketing, but your operations as a whole.

Why you should interview your clients

If you’ve read anything I’ve written here on the Marketing Simplified blog (hi fans!), you’ll know that I strongly believe one of the biggest roadblocks to marketing success involves making assumptions about what your target audience wants. In short, you need to base your marketing decisions on real data you’ve collected about your potential and current clients, not on guesses, gut feelings or stereotypes.

Interviewing your clients is a fantastic way to learn more about why they chose to work with your company, what they like about it and what you can do better. The process will arm you with real data to help you make smarter decisions about how you communicate your brand’s message.

Setting up the interview

You should start by developing a list of 10 to 15 clients you’d like to speak to, with a goal of interviewing three to five clients. 

When you’re figuring out who you’d like to talk to, fight the temptation to only contact people you know have had overwhelmingly positive experiences with your company. While we all love hearing people gush about our organizations, the intel you gather from clients who’ve had mishaps or disappointments with your company is often more enlightening. You should aim to balance the number of “happy customers” and “not always happy customers” you speak with. This will paint a more accurate picture of the experiences customers are having.

How you propose the interview depends on how you naturally interact with the client. If the person is someone you frequently communicate with, simply ask them during your next phone call or meeting. If it is a low-touch client, I recommend emailing them. Feel free to use this script that I use when reaching out:

Hi [first name],

[Company name] is in the process of improving our marketing and customer experience, and we’re looking to get honest feedback from our clients about their experience working with us. I’d love to learn more about your decision to became a client of ours, how we’ve been able to help you and areas you think we could improve upon.

If you’d be open sharing your feedback, could you let me know when you’d be able to have a short 15-minute call with me this week?  

No matter your channel of communication, you should emphasize that their honest feedback is important to you and that it well help you serve them better in the future.

Be sure to set clear expectations about what will be required of them. I try to limit my client conversations to 15 minutes in length; that way, the client knows they won’t need to give up a big chunk of their day to do a favor for me (never forget that anyone who agrees to talk to you is doing you a huge favor) and the short time frame keeps the conversation on-track. However, if you’re lucky enough to get on the line with someone who wants to have a longer, in-depth conversation, take as much time as you can to hear out everything they’re willing to share with you.

What to ask

You’ll want to prepare questions to ask your interviewees in advance. While the goal should be to use these questions as a starting point for deeper conversation, the truth is that some people won’t give in-depth answers. Avoid “yes” or “no” questions as much as possible, instead asking questions that are open-ended and require detailed answers.

While every company will have different questions they want to ask, here are some I like to use when talking to clients. Keep in mind that these questions are tailored to the B2B sphere; if you’re at a B2C business, you’ll want to tailor your questions to be more lifestyle-oriented. For example, if a shoe retailer were to ask these questions, they’d want to ask how active a person’s life is, why and how often they choose to buy new shoes and how they learn about new shoe styles and trends.

Some potential interviewee-focused research questions (questions that pertain specifically to how your client feels and functions about their job) include: 

  • Could you tell me more about your job — what are your typical daily responsibilities and what goals do you work toward?
  • What are your biggest frustrations with your job?
  • Where do you go to get industry news?

Experience with your company questions:

  • How did you end up working with our company?
  • What has been the biggest benefit you’ve experienced as a result of working with us?
  • What do you think our company’s strengths are?
  • What do you think our company’s weaknesses are?
  • Is there anything you wish you knew, good or bad, about our company before we began working together?
  • Would you recommend our business to a colleague? If yes, why? If no, why not?
  • If you could describe your experience with our company in one word, what would it be and why?

Before ending the interview, I like to give clients an opportunity to share any other feedback they may think would be useful for me to consider. This is a good way to grab some additional information that may not have been directly applicable to the other questions you asked.

After the interview

After you’ve completed your interviews, take some time to review your notes from each conversation. You’ll want to keep an eye out for trends in responses; did you receive a lot of praise or criticism for a particular aspect of your organization?

Once you’re able to pull out the key takeaways from your interviews, you’ll want to share your findings with your leadership and marketing teams. From there, you can work together to determine what organizational changes can be made to respond to criticism or opportunities identified by your clients and how to better market to prospects.

For example, if your clients routinely praised how thorough your work is, you may want to incorporate that as a messaging theme in updated marketing collateral. If you’ve received criticism about slow response times, you should work to improve your internal processes to speed that time up. Once this has been addressed, you can notify clients via email that you’ve heard their complaints and made adjustments to better meet their expectations.

Looking forward

You should conduct client interviews every time you are looking to pivot your marketing message to ensure the new copy will resonate with your target audience. If you don’t have plans to pivot your marketing message anytime soon, I recommend interviewing clients at least once a year. Because experiences and perceptions may change over time, you should never go too long without having meaningful conversations with clients to understand their relationship with your organization.

The better you understand your clients, the easier it will be to retain current ones and attract new ones.