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Interviewing your customers can make a fantastic promotional blog post for your business. It’s natural for people to be suspicious of the seller/business owner when they say that their product or service has changed people’s lives or livelihoods for the better. The real proof is with your happy customers!
When your customers agree to be interviewed, they are usually giving up their time for free for your gain, so it’s important to get it right.
Here are my top five tips for interviewing my clients’ customers and getting the best result.
1. Choose a comfortable setting
People who are naturally confident in social situations can still get nervous in an interview. If it’s going to be a personal story, it’s especially important to pick a place where your customer will feel comfortable, such as a cafe or in their own home. Make the effort to go to the place they choose, and try as much as possible to do the interview at a time that suits them so it’s not rushed.
Some people feel more comfortable responding by email or having a chat over the phone. If that’s the case, it may be best to do it that way. But be aware, with interviews via email, that you may not get the whole story. People are more likely to open up if you're face-to-face, even if they're initially nervous. The reason for this is that being face-to-face allows people to 'test the water' on a difficult subject. Usually, they'll be encouraged to give more detail after seeing you react positively. If you're not there in person to reassure people with positive body language, they'll usually go with the safer option, which is to keep the more personal parts of their story to themselves.
2. Watch your body language
Imagine the kind of message that is communicated to your customer by checking your phone during an interview - you're bored, in a hurry or you're looking for an excuse to leave.
Putting your phone away for the duration of the interview goes without saying, but people can accidently send negative signals through their body language without it being obvious enough to realise: things like frowning when you're thinking about how to phrase a question or staring at your notepad and forgetting to make regular eye contact.
If you're looking to do in-depth interviews, this will usually involve talking about some personal things or maybe a difficult time in your customer's life, so it's worth being aware of how your body language can make or break an interview. You'll be forgiven for most minor mistakes - nobody's perfect - but an accidental negative reaction does run the risk of shutting the conversation down completely. By appearing nervous yourself, you'll likely make the customer nervous too.
The easiest way to check your body language is to do a practice interview with someone, and record it. You can then see if you have any nervous habits like wringing your hands or fiddling with your pen. If you're not used to conducting interviews, it's natural to be a little nervous - but it gets easier with more experience.
The best way to develop confidence when conducting interviews, if you're not naturally a very confident person, is to approach the interview like it's a regular conversation. This will help you to let the interview flow more naturally. Sure, you have your list of questions, but there will also be some back-and-forth. There has to be, as firing off a list of questions one after the other can make people feel like they're in a job interview. Think of it as an opportunity to get to know your customers and to develop a good relationship. Stay relaxed and open, and your customers will too.
3. Don't ask 'yes or no' questions
If you ask a question that can be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’, that’s usually the response you’ll get. Instead of asking ‘has Taekwon-do made you more confident?’ try asking ‘can you tell me about a situation you're now more confident in through training in Taekwon-do?’ - this allows your customers to answer more specifically, go into detail and perhaps give an example. This is the answer you want.
4. Don't edit out the customer's story
I know the whole point of the interview was to get some good promotional quotes for your business, but remember to respect the customer’s story. Nobody wants to read an advert. Articles masquerading as an in-depth interview with a customer that only have quotes about how good your business is look like a fake set-up and are not interesting to read.
Readers care about the story. People love and connect to human interest stories. If your customer has a story about a difficult time in their life, and your service/business helped them, don’t be tempted to cut straight to the bit about your business and edit out their story. The context, or 'backstory', sets up the article and, yes, including the 'backstory' does mean you will have less room for promotional quotes about your business. However, the article will have no impact without context and without setting up the story, and your customer's story is likely an interesting one that will draw in readers. Use as much of the customer’s own words as possible - don’t paraphrase their story into a paragraph, let them tell it their way. They’ll be happier with the result and it’ll be a better article overall. People get upset if they feel that their story has been left out. There's a reason they told you - they want people to know!
What convinces readers to choose a business or service over another is knowing that someone in their situation has been helped by that business/service. People think, ‘that helped her mum - it could help my mum too’ or ‘I’m the same, that could help me too’. This is why customers' stories sell more than your explanation of why your business/service is great. You actually need the story more than you need promotional quotes.
5. Respect is the key
Even the most confident of people can freeze up as soon as the dictaphone comes out. This is because the media has taught us to be cautious about what we say.
We’ve all heard stories about people being misrepresented in the media, both deliberately and accidentally. You need to make smart choices about which quotes you choose to include and, sometimes, that's more difficult than you might think, because the people you interview can slip up.
I consider it part of my job to make the interviewee look good - it's the most respectful approach. Having the aim of making the people you interview look good also means you'll be on the look-out for any slips and, essentially, be able to save people from themselves!
To be clear, I have never interviewed any ‘bad characters’ but perfectly nice, normal people can slip up occasionally. This is often due to:
Lack of context:
Sometimes, people will express frustration at a situation. The most common instances I have come across are when people are talking about their situation/lives before they were involved with a business that improved some areas of their life. The slip comes in when people make emotive statements such as 'I was angry before I started X' but either forget to explain the circumstances, or think that it's not relevant. But when people are talking about anger or other strong negative emotions, proper context is absolutely needed and you should ask for it. Statements such as 'I was angry' risk painting a picture of an aggressive person. In reality, the anger they refer to was a response to a situation that would make any normal person feel angry - they don't mean that they were 'an angry person'. Be careful about which phrases you pick out to use, and make sure that the proper context is included, so that the interviewee’s true meaning is represented.
Some jokes are funny in the moment, but not at any other time. Usually, you will already know your customers to some extent. This leads people to let their guard down and make jokes and this is not a bad thing - having a good connection with your customers is great. But some jokes just look bad when written down. You should be aware of present controversial issues and be able to judge whether something that was said translates well to the written word. If a joke is likely to spark controversy, don’t include it.
It’s true that controversy and shocking personal statements can make for an interesting article and attract readers. But it’s also true that if you - accidentally or on purpose - include a quote that’s missing context or a joke that can make the customer look bad when taken out of context, you’ll soon have a reputation for being untrustworthy and will struggle to get future interviews.
Respect is the key. Reassure your customers that they can speak freely, that it doesn’t matter if they slip up and that you won’t include anything that could potentially look bad or be a misinterpretation in the article. This makes people more relaxed and allows them to be more confident in the interview, leading to a more honest, more productive interview. Then hold up your end of the bargain and make smart choices about what you choose to include.
Georgie Bull is an adventure sports and martial arts blogger. This blog is for new and intermediate bloggers, looking to improve their blog writing.