Market Research Interviews That Make You Better, Faster, Stronger…And Nicer



The voice on the other end of the line was emotional yet authoritative. ‘You want to know why I hire her? She is an honestly a good person. And those are few and far in between.’

‘Wow,’ I said. ‘Fair enough.’

If you want to fall more deeply in love with your client, there is one failsafe method I’ve found: interview her clients. And believe me, it will serve you to fall more deeply in love with your client, no matter what kind of work you do.

Personally, as a writer of various marketing communications, I conduct this kind of interview when I need to understand the emotional core of my client’s services or products. Which, by the way, is ‘always’, no matter how straightforward and prosaic the service of product appears to be. (The same crazy fireworks-display emotion-driven regions of the brain will help us to decide both which toothbrush to buy and which mate to marry.) By interviewing people about their feelings, ideas, and experiences, I can start to crack the code of what ‘solution’ my client’s services or products represent. Personally, I prefer over-the-phone or in-person interviews over any other method of research, because the voice itself is a rich source of information, conveying meaning in a way that written answers or a survey results cannot.

But beyond providing oodles of information, these interviews also help me to do what I do in the right spirit. They help me to appreciate my client more deeply and allow that appreciation to inform my writing and coaching. Following that interview about the services of my ‘honesty good’ client, I had no doubt about the quality and value of her ‘solution’. The respect and gratitude my interviewee expressed was infectious, and I was full of a desire to write the best, most convincing copy that I possibly could. That is what you need to experience when you are writing about people.

Interested in incorporating interviews into your market research? Already do them but feel a bit awkward about the process? I’ve thought about what makes the process enjoyable and worthwhile for me. Here are some of my Really Great Interviewing Tips:

1. First, Relax

You’re not conducting Customer Appreciation Surveys for a bank. Best-case scenario, you’re having a real conversation. Foster a relaxed, conversational vibe by chilling out, breathing deeply, and getting that good smile-sound into your voice. Be cool!

2. Write Questions Ahead of Time

Be relaxed, be cool…but definitely go into the call with a plan. Identify what the most critical information you need to gather is (eg. what is the main benefit customers experience as a result of this product or service), and figure out what kinds of questions might uncover that information in an interesting way. Make sure your questions are phrased in really simple jargon-free language. Marketing lingo is bad and silly and should be confined to the cave systems on Twitter where marketing people congregate.

3. Ask MOOOOOORE Questions

Don’t just race through the pre-written questions. Ask lots of follow-up questions. Go off the beaten track and investigate whatever interesting ideas seem to open up or suggest themselves as a result of the answers your interviewee is providing. Again, remember that you are having a conversation, not conducting a survey.

4. Eliminate Confusion

Make sure to ask for clarification if the interviewee shares something that you don’t think you understood 100%. It is imperative that you understand what this person is telling you, or your research is worthless. People are not insulted when you ask them to explain themselves further. Don’t feel like you need to act smarter, wiser, or more intuitive than you are. Also, don’t stress if your interviewee needs to ask for lots of clarification; it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve written bad or weird questions. Once again…just be cool.


As an interviewer, you are an information-collector and a researcher but you are also (and perhaps more importantly) an individual who is connecting with other individuals in order to CARE MORE. How could genuinely caring more about your client and the people your client serves improve the quality of your work and the quality of your life? I often say that empathy is by far my most essential professional skill and I meeeeeean it. When I respect a client more deeply as a result of the learning, research, and connecting I’ve done, I do more informed and effective work. And I enjoy doing it a lot more than if I cared less.

That’s it! Pick up your notepad, fire up the Skype, dial the phone, put your listening hat on, and open that lil heart up. You and all of your ‘honestly good’ clients will benefit.

[Author: Kristin van Vloten]

January 16, 2015

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