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How to conduct a great customer interview [guide with questions]

How to conduct a customer interview blog post featured image

You’ve got a great new product and it’s full of top-notch features. But maybe adoption rates haven’t been what you hoped for, or you're trying to figure out what to focus on next. It’s time to set up some customer interviews — they're a great opportunity to dig deeper into how people interact with your product and your brand. 

An effective customer interview can reveal customer pain points, help you with product development, and tell you a lot about the customer experience and how you can improve it. If you want to know how to conduct a customer interview – face-to-face or virtual – this guide is for you.

Table of contents

  • How to prepare for customer interviews

  • How to conduct effective interviews in 7 steps

  • 10 great customer interview questions to ask

  • 3 common customer interview mistakes to avoid

  • Customer interview techniques and best practices

  • Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

How to prepare for customer interviews

Without proper preparation, it’s unlikely your customer interview will reveal interesting and actionable information. 

When you’re inviting your customers to an interview, remember that they’re kindly giving you their time — and that’s why you need to do your best to not waste it. Consider offering them an incentive: swag items, early access to new features, product credits, or a gift card.

Make sure to organize and get approval for these incentives so you're confident reaching out and have a system for getting the customer what you've promised them.

✅ Define the interview’s goal

You need to set a clear goal for your customer interview. It could be to get a general idea of how your customers perceive your product after signing up. Or, to find out how customers feel about a certain feature and how they use it. 

As well as a goal, your customer interview should have a success metric to help guide decision-making after the interview. What do you need to hear from your customers to decide whether a new product or feature idea is viable? 

✅ Create your interview team

Decide who’ll attend the customer interview. Typically, product managers, service leads, or other frontline personnel lead a customer interview. Ideally, you should have at least two people present – one to ask questions and one to take notes. 

Or you could simply use a meeting platform like Vowel, which has built-in live transcription and recording to save you time, effort, and resources.

Post-meeting view with transcript

Transcribing virtual meetings helps you create meeting recaps you can use to keep stakeholders informed, and it helps you search for key points from interviews after the fact — especially useful if you want to find out how many times a competitor was mentioned or find a nugget of insight about a particular feature. 

✅ Find the right customers

Customer interviews fall under qualitative research, so you don’t necessarily need many participants – the Nielsen Norman Group says five are enough. That said, if you’re going for a more quantitative statistics-driven approach, you’ll need more — and you’ll also want to do continuous customer outreach so you always have a pulse on what your target audience is looking for. 

Whatever the number of participants, you’ll want a healthy mix of customer personas – fans, people who churned, potential customers who almost bought your product but didn’t… 

When you've identified the customers to interview, send them an engaging invitation that explains what the interview will be about. And don’t forget to mention what's in for them!

✅ Prepare your interview questions and script

Here’s the most important part of your prep work for the customer interview. Figuring out what questions to ask. 

It’s best to start with a brainstorming session that throws up around 20 possible questions. Then, whittle those down to 10 good ones by cutting out any question that can be easily answered with “yes” or “no.”

The right questions are open-ended, allowing your customers to tell their stories so they give you detailed and specific responses. These are questions that begin with who, what, when, where, and why. 

If you’re stuck for questions, don’t worry. We have a great template you can use to get the creative juices flowing (don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions where appropriate). 

How to conduct effective customer interviews in 6 simple steps

You’ve done all the prep work and you’re about to start interviewing customers – it’s an exciting time! Follow some best practices, and you’ll come out ahead with valuable insights you'll be pumped to share with your team.

Step 1: Set the stage

It's important to make sure that everything is ready. Charge up that recording device, and make sure that the interview room has a nice and relaxing vibe if it’s an in-person interview.

If you’re interviewing customers through a virtual meeting platform, log in a few minutes earlier than scheduled and check that your audio and video equipment is working properly. 

Finally, your team needs to understand what roles they’re playing. Note-takers should avoid leading the interview, and if there are any observers, they should ask their questions at the very end of the interview.

 Step 2: Welcome the customer (~5 min)

This one might seem obvious, but it’s often overlooked. Before you get down to business, welcome the customer and break the ice.

Try to get to know your interviewee a little bit better at this stage. Standby questions like, "Where are you calling from?" or “Tell me a little bit about yourself” work wonders here. 

 Step 3: Warm up your guest (~5 min)

You wouldn’t start a sprint without warming up and the same goes for the customer interview. Lead off the conversation with some softball questions from your prepared list.

For example, ask them:

  • How long have you been using our product?

  • What product/service did you use before you started using ours?

  • What were the pain points that made you switch to this product/service?

During this part of the interview, pay attention to body language and tone of voice. Gauge if your customer is feeling at ease. Are they giving you the full story or are they holding something back?

Remember: interviews are a way to get qualitative data, so your interview subject must be open and honest.  

Step 4: Dig in (~20 min)

Now that the customer is warmed up, it’s time to dive into the detailed specifics that you want to explore. 

Use your script as a guide, but don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions and veer off the roadmap if you consider it necessary. It’s okay to spend most of the time having a loose conversation. You never know when you might uncover wisdom that reveals a customer pain point that might never have occurred to you.  

Avoid asking loaded and leading questions like, “Would you like it if we added X feature? – your objective is to hear what the customer needs from their perspective. 

Instead, ask the customer broad questions that encourage reflection and sharing of their experience. For example: “What do you feel is missing from our product right now?” If you’re not satisfied with an answer, dig deeper with follow-up questions. 

Regardless of the specifics you want to uncover, it’s important to be a good listener and let the customer do most of the talking. Remember: Your customer is the star of this show, not you. 

Step 5: Pass it to the customer (~5 min)

Every good conversation is a two-way street. When you’re done asking your questions, turn it over to the customer. Let them ask you questions or just share more comments and observations. 

Doing this can open the door to new issues and questions that wouldn’t have occurred to you otherwise. 

After you’ve answered their questions, thank the customer for their time and let them know that you appreciate their feedback and insight. You can also follow up on the incentives you offered and how you’ll send them (e.g. gift card, product credits, etc.) 

Step 6: Gather findings

You should ideally block out 10 to 15 minutes between each customer interview if you’re holding more than one on the same day. This gives you wiggle room should an interview run over time, and it also lets you reflect on and summarize the feedback you’ve just received. 

Between interviews, jot down notes with the main takeaways from each session. These can help you put your thoughts together at the end of the day. 

If you’re using Vowel, you can take smart notes that are time-stamped to the recording and transcript, so it’s easy to go back to the meeting recording for more context.

A screenshot of a recorded meeting summary in Vowel

And keep in mind that with the live transcription feature mentioned earlier, you’ll always have a complete record to go back to.

After you’re done with all the interviews for the day, allow yourself some time to let everything settle. Use what you heard to identify problems and try to connect those problems with opportunities.

This means finding patterns that emerge from multiple interviews and trying to connect them with what others in your target demographic are saying on user forums, social media, and in customer support tickets.

10 great customer interview questions to ask

The questions you ask during customer interviews will depend on many factors, including company size and target audience. 

Still, some questions work better than others, and these are 10 really good ones that you can work into your interview or  use as inspiration for your own questions. 

1. Why do you use our product?

Why it’s a great question:  It gets right to the point. It can help you understand what your product does better than the competition and what pain points it addresses for the customer.

2. What did you wish you could do (but couldn't) with solutions you tried in the past?

Why it’s a great question: It helps you uncover what kind of specific features your customers wished they had and what motivated them to switch to your product. Don’t ask it in a general way but use it when discussing specific use cases and functionalities. 

3. What other solutions have you considered to overcome pain points?

Why it’s a great question: It reveals your competition is and how they stack up. You may be pleasantly surprised to learn how your product has helped people when others couldn’t.

4. How do you feel about your current solution/our product?

Why it’s a great question: Whether the customer is using your solution or a competitor’s, this question will help you to differentiate your offer. It’s a good question to ask during win-loss interviews (finding out why a customer chose or didn’t choose your product).

5. Now that you’re using our solution, what's the first thing you were able to do that you weren’t before?

Why it’s a great question: It helps you confirm or challenge your perception that your product is helping with the issues it set out to solve. It’s also a great question to use early in the interview to help the customer open up.

6. Can you please give us an example of an issue our product helped you solve?

Why it’s a great question: It’s perfect for early-stage market validation. It will deliver a wealth of information about the value proposition of your new product or feature. Ask for examples as a follow-up question whenever you can because it will yield more useful information than any high-level in-house discussion. 

7. How would you feel if you could no longer use our product?

Why it’s a great question: It encourages the customer to open up by appealing to their emotions. Users and customers are more likely to contribute feedback when there’s an emotional or situational driver.

8. Would you recommend our product/service to others? If so, why?

Why it’s a great question: It susses out customer satisfaction. If a customer likes your product, they’ll probably recommend it. Always follow up to find out why a customer would or wouldn’t recommend your solution.

9. Is there anything we should stop doing?

Why it’s a great question: Because there’s always room for improvement (that’s why you’re doing customer interviews in the first place). Customers might get skittish around this question and not offer any suggestions, so be prepared to follow up and dig a bit deeper – perhaps by asking the customer what annoys them about your product.

10. Do you have recommendations on how we can improve our product?

Why it’s a great question: It encourages your customers to think about the parts of the product they wish they had or how it could be better. With follow-up questions, you can dig deeper and find the root of the challenges they’re having with your product or what other potential gaps it could fill.

3 common customer interview mistakes to avoid

A customer interview can be a bit overwhelming. You have to talk to a person you may haven’t met before and ask them probing questions about your product. Here are some common pitfalls and how to avoid them.

❌ Neglecting to ask follow-up questions

Even if you’re careful to ask open-ended questions, your interviewee might still hit you with a one-word answer. That can be frustrating but don’t lose focus; just ask follow-up questions.

Simply asking “Why?” is a very powerful follow-up. It helps you uncover the motivation behind the initial answer which, in turn, helps you build a better case for the value proposition of your product or service.

You’ll often get your best information when you ask the customer for more detail and to elaborate on things they’ve already said. Don’t be afraid to go down the proverbial rabbit hole — that’s where all the good stuff is.

❌ Asking more than one question at a time 

People are famously bad at remembering more than one thing at a time. If you ask two or three questions at the same time, your customers may well forget one of them or else be so focused on answering them all that their responses lack depth.

Bombarding people with too many questions will also make them feel uncomfortable, or like they’re only there to help you tick boxes. Customers should be made to feel like they’re in a relaxed environment where they can tell their stories without feeling rushed.

As a non-user interview example, the question, “Where did you get sushi last week? What did you order? Did you get it to go?” is overwhelming. Don’t waste your follow-up questions; ask the main question first and then ask more questions as needed.

❌ Being biased about the output

Try to go into the interview with an objective mindset. Of course, you hope to hear that your new product or feature is excellent but the objective of the customer interview is to find out what the customer thinks. 

The feedback you gather is only effective if you report and analyze it objectively and remove bias from your questions as much as you can. 

Customer interview techniques and best practices

Effective interviewing takes practice. These tips will help you get all the juicy and actionable feedback you need.

  • Go easy at first: Ask the easy questions so that your interviewee can relax and warm up. Don’t forget; this is not an everyday experience for them. 

  • Ask open-ended questions: They invite the customer to tell their story and they also create a space that is often filled with unanticipated insights.

  • Be a good listener: You’re not trying to sell anything here, so your focus should be on listening and guiding the conversation so that you gather the most useful feedback possible. 

  • Be agile: Stay sharp during the interview and be ready to pivot the conversation as new information arises. 

  • Follow up after the interview: It’s just good etiquette to follow up a bit after the interview, thank the customer again for their time and feedback, and maybe even ask another question if necessary.

Level up your customer interviews with the right tool

A customer interview is an invaluable tool to get feedback, identify issues and challenges in your product or service, and workshop potential new features. 

Most customer interviews are done remotely these days, so having the right video conferencing app at your side is essential. 

With Vowel, you can share secure meeting links with interviewees and have them join right from their browsers — no need to sign up or download anything! 🥳 With recording and live transcription features, as well as bookmarks that let you mark key meeting moments, you can be sure that no actionable insight will ever be forgotten.

A screenshot of the Vowel bookmark feature

Ready to get started? Sign up for Vowel for free!

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What’s a customer interview?

A customer interview is a meeting with a customer (or potential customer) to ask questions about how they use your product or service. It’s an opportunity to receive feedback and get a glimpse into how your users interact with your product and brand.

Why is it important to have customer interviews?

Customer interviews allow you to get qualitative data that can help guide business decisions. Unlike impersonal surveys, interviews allow you to get detailed feedback and get to know your customers better than your competitors do. 

How can a business use customer interviews?

You can use customer interviews to get a better idea of your customer base, solve specific usability problems, gauge interest in a new product/feature, find out why users love your product, find out what users leave your product – and more!