Left Arrow
Back to Blogs
Back to Blogs
meaningful Insights

Competitive Retail: How to Do Customer Interviews that Give Powerful New Insights


Powerful customer understanding and engagement techniques – follow this step-by-step guide on how to do customer interviews for more advanced retail insights

Are your customers telling you how to become the best retailer in the world?

More importantly: Are you listening to them?

You might have noticed that 9 out of the top 10 e-commerce players are tech companies, not retailers. This is why we’ve often said the key to e-commerce success is thinking and operating more like a tech company.

One of the core exercises tech companies do very differently from traditional retail is conducting highly focused, individual-focused customer interviews. Not anonymous surveys, but in-depth one-on-one conversations.

That practice comes from the methods like Agile we use to build software, where you roll out versions of a product, and then actually interview users one-on-one to get the feedback you need to improve the next version.

The tech companies that dominate e-commerce do exactly this in the retail space, and, if you want to build a successful e-commerce arm, you should too.

Here are the 12 steps of how to do customer interviews for more meaningful insights…

How to Do Customer Interviews that Unlock Deep Preference and Behaviour Insights

1. Customer Interview Planning

1.1 Break research topics up into projects

Customer interviews need to be short, focused and powerful. No single customer has the time or patience to help you redesign your entire business in one go, so it’s best to conduct many individual interview projects – each designed to address a specific question you have.

For example

  • A project for discovering how millennials want to engage with your app
  • A separate project for discovering how middle-aged customers engage with your website
  • A separate project for testing 2 or 3 new features you’ve added recently.

1.2 Create a research guide for each project

To keep it focused, start by outlining your objectives. What do you want to learn from the customer in this interview project? What questions do you think you need to ask them for the answers you need?

Now, consider: What customer segments do you need feedback from? Is it just one or multiple? 

The good news is that in the tech space, companies discovered early on that you don’t need to interview millions of people to get useful insights – years of research in the tech space shows you only need to interview 5 people to get all the feedback you need.

Execute it

  • Outline your interview project objectives
  • Identify the customers/segments you need to interview
  • Focus on getting only 5 quality customer interviews

Also, see how to use data to boost customer loyalty, the key differentiation strategies in a competitive market and why you need design thinking in finance.

1.3 Craft the right questions

Since you’re looking for deep insights, your questions and how you ask them are key to getting useful information. 

Naturally, you always ask open-ended questions (questions that can’t be answered with just a “yes/no”), to encourage people to explain what they mean in detail. And then, focus on asking questions about the customer’s past behaviour (what they have already done/experienced), not their future intentions.

Do not ask people if they like/use/want to use etc. your product. Keep your questions focused on discovering their past/current behaviour, without leading them on.

Some examples

  • How do you normally buy [product}?
  • How often do you buy [product}?
  • Tell me about the last time you bought [product} online…
  • What did you like about it, and what didn’t you like?

Note: We are busy crafting a killer customer interview question guide and will include it here soon.

1.4 Decide on the interview format

Is it possible/affordable to conduct interviews in person? Or will they have to be done online or via video conferencing? Will the customer be more comfortable talking on the phone than face-to-face?

You know your customers best, but do keep in mind: For best results, you want as many of your people to be able to analyse each interview, to look for hidden insights that the interviewer might have missed.

Best practice

  • Have two interviewers: one to ask questions, and the other to observe the customer’s behaviour while responding.
  • If you can record the interview, even better because it allows a whole team to analyse it afterwards.
  • When doing online video interviews, ask if you can record it, for the same reasons.
  • Ensure that the customer is comfortable with the format, you want them to give you honest feedback, so they need to be relaxed and calm during the interview.

Get some market-leader insights with our case study on Amazon’s omnichannel strategy.

2. Executing Customer Interviews

2.1 Listen more than you talk

The key to successful customer interviews is to listen, and then keep the person talking. Your role is to guide the conversation with your questions and then step back, allowing the customer's voice to lead the way.

Execute it

  • Start with your question, then listen and take notes – note down what the person says, the exact language (vernacular) they use to describe it and highlight any points you want them to expand on.
  • Ask them to expand on the points you wanted more clarity and insights into, and repeat the process.

2.2 Stay focused on discovering pain points – don’t pitch solutions

One of the hardest parts of customer interviews is resisting the urge to correct or lead the person. If they couldn’t find the checkout button on your app, there’s no point showing them where it is – rather find out why they couldn’t find it, where they expected it to be, and what it should have looked like.

You want to learn how the customer thinks so that you can design solutions where you don’t have to show them how to do things, they automatically find it themselves.

Execute it

  • Ask them to tell you about their last experience using your [app]
  • Ask them what they liked and didn’t like
  • If they mention specific things they struggled with, ask them to explain in-depth what the problem was, what they expected, how it can be improved, etc.

Get key insights on strategies that help you unlock the future of retail and the key differentiation strategies in a competitive market.

2.3 Ask WHY after each answer for deeper insights

A good exercise is to train yourself to follow every answer with a “why” so that the person can elaborate on what exactly they mean. This gives you more nuanced insights into their expectations, needs and behaviour.

2.4 End every interview with a probe for more sources

Naturally, at the end of each interview, you’ll thank the person for taking the time to talk to you. But a good rule of thumb is to probe them for more information sources, while it’s still fresh in their head.

Ask them

  • Is there anything I didn’t ask about the problems you described?
  • Who else do you suggest I should ask about this problem?

Learn how to use analytics for better engagement.

3. Analysing Customer Interviews

See the guide to doing in-depth customer feedback analysis and follow these steps...

3.1 Debrief after each interview

This is when it becomes really valuable to have a team of people doing the interview. Directly after each interview, your team can come together and share what they noticed and learned from the customer during the interview.

You’ll be surprised at how many different things people pick up on – all valuable insights for your research project, of course.

Execute it

  • Build in time between interviews for debriefing sessions
  • Have everyone in the team say what key messages they got from the customer
  • Have them discuss what they picked up on from the customer’s manner, body language etc.

3.2 Draft potential solutions

Also directly after each interview, have each of your interview team jot down a couple of ideas they have for solving all the problems the customer just mentioned.

This is, of course, not your final to-do list, it’s just a way of capturing your team’s initial thoughts, to help guide deeper analysis and brainstorming later on.

Execute it

  • After every interview, have the team complete a form with two columns
  • In column one, they list all the problems the customer highlighted
  • In column two, let them write down some ways they think you can solve those problems fast.

See why you need a digital consultant in today’s market.

3.3 Review recordings & do a deeper analysis

Afterwards, you get a much larger team to review all the recordings and look for more insights that your interviewer team might have missed.

Also, it gives them a chance to look for recurring patterns and common themes among the various interviews, so you get an idea of priority and better feedback for your innovation team to work from.

Do it like so

  • Have your team review the recording without the interviewers’ notes first, and have them write down their initial perceptions and ideas.
  • Then give them your interviewers’ notes, and allow them to expand on their findings.

3.4 Use the results to brainstorm new ideas

Finally, use the collective insights from your interviews as a springboard for brainstorming sessions. This collaborative approach can help generate innovative ideas that are deeply rooted in customer needs and preferences.

Remember, the goal is not just to collect data but to understand the story behind that data, enabling you to meet your customers where they are and where they want to go.

See crucial retail app features for personalised user journeys and learn to do in-depth customer feedback analysis.

Need help getting better insights from customer interviews?

Speak with our digital consultants, they’re Agile experts who can help you get better insights and real-world solutions, fast.

Let's talk about
your next project

Specno Team