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The Client Interview Process: A Checklist and Questions Not to Ask

At Bold Entity, insights are what drives the success we build for our clients. It all starts with our proprietary branding process that includes surveys. During the survey phase, we sit down and talk to our customers’ customers, their team, vendors and partners. 

By interviewing our clients’ most important stakeholders, we begin to better understand what makes them great, what helps them stand out and what they stand for. 

These marketing insights allow us to develop powerful messaging that better connects to their target audience. Because better messaging nearly always leads to better conversion rates, we feel that this upfront investment has a strong return on investment. 

As the country continues to be quarantined and the world slows down for a bit, this time provides you with a great opportunity to get to know your clients better, as well as their pain points and aspirations.

By asking them to reflect and provide you with feedback, you show that you continue to be invested in their business. This is also a wonderful opportunity to mine the marketing insights that are so critical to developing effective campaigns.

Here are some tips that Bold Entity has learned as we’ve refined our interview process: 

Establish what you want to learn. What do you need to learn more information about? Determine whether it’s learning more about the company’s services, their external and internal perception, customer satisfaction or their customer knowledge.

Ask for their participation. This is your opportunity to show your clients how much you care about their business. Send a relaxed email that basically states: We are conducting research around TOPIC and would love to schedule you for an TIME interview. Can we count on you to participate?

Avoid leading questions. Instead, go with the information you already know. Leading questions are based on an assumption or are biased questions. Examples include, “What social media do you use” or “Would you agree that our services are great?” By asking neutral questions, you allow for negative responses, thus answers will be more accurate and you’ll get more actionable intel. 

NOTE: If you’ve worked closely with this client and know them well, this is the exception to the rule. You can draw on their honest answers to questions such as “What does ____________ do well?” and “What could ____________ improve on?”

Ask questions from their colleagues. If you have the opportunity to meet with multiple divisions within a company, this could be an opportunity to gut-check how each department feels about a product or service. The answers that you get could provide invaluable information.

Go with the flow. Make sure that early questions build a dialog, much like the conversation on a date. Sometimes, an interview starts with short answers and hesitation. Start with the standard questions, then as the conversation starts to flow, you can get into the more impactful ones. Some of your ad-lib questions may end up being asked of other interview subjects.

Be open. You may have a set list of questions, but be open to the ebb and flow of a conversation. The questions that you ask need to build off of each other. Often, you may come up with a question off the cuff that gets you even more data than the ones that you prepared.

The tables may turn. If your interview subject has questions for you, answer them to the best of your ability. The more honest and open you are, the more likely their answers will be honest as well. If an interview starts to feel like a conversation, you’re doing a great job. Just remember to always come back to your questions.

Questions to never ask. Never ask questions that can be misinterpreted in any way. Additionally, don’t ask multiple questions at the same time or vague questions.

Don’t interrupt the flow. If your interviewee is on a roll and really giving you a valuable answer, don’t cut them off with another question. Allow them to continue and simply listen.

Address frustration. Even when you’re asking different questions, some people may give you the same answer. They may even grow frustrated because they feel they are being asked the same question over and over. Acknowledge their response, apologize and inform them that you are going off your designated list of questions to make sure you don’t miss anything. Assure them that their input is essential.

We’ve put together a checklist to help you with interviewing. To download it and start the process of understanding your clients better, click here.

Client Interview Checklist 

  • Establish what you are trying to learn more information about
  • Create a list of the contacts you’d like to interview
    • Always ask more people than you intend to speak with, as not everyone will be willing to be interviewed or have time
  • Establish a time length for the interview
    • For multiple details, 30-60 minutes is good
    • For one topic, 15-20 minutes is all you need
    • HINT: It’s better to end early than to go on too long
  • Schedule Participants
    • Offer interview subjects at least three potential times
    • Adapt to their schedules, not yours
    • Finalize your questions before the first meeting option
    • Some clients may want to see the questions first; we don’t recommend that you send them in advance. When you send questions in advance, you are giving your interviewees the opportunity to filter their answers and skew the data. 
      • If any of your interviewees request to see questions up front, one can respond by sharing the general question topics. For example, “We will be asking questions regarding your opinion of our service department and our company’s customer service”
  • Conduct the interview
  • Analyze the results
    • Transcribe the interviews
    • Look back at the notes you took and any statements you felt were important
    • Do a second transcription of just the insights
  • Create an insight report
  • Share how this will inform the work you do with your client or share this report

General Qualitative Survey Question Outline

  • Introduction and disclaimer
  • Main questions
    • Branched questions
  • Thank you message
  • Testimonial request
  • Interviewee permissions
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