When done right, customer conversations can transform your marketing strategy. We’re not talking about surveys, focus groups or online communities - those are also valuable tools in specific cases. We’re not talking about ‘interviews’ in the prescribed or interrogative sense of the word. We’re talking about one-on-one conversations that are lightly guided, responsive, deeply personal and incredibly human.
People often have two stories about why they bought something. The first is an explanation of why they bought it. The second is why they actually bought it. Customer conversations help us uncover the truth.
If you’ve been following us, you will have seen our posts about Jobs to be Done theory. The whole premise of JTBD theory is to step outside of the product you’re trying to sell and understand the progress that a customer is trying to make in their lives. By understanding what they are struggling with, and the outcomes they want to achieve, you can better understand how your product fits into their world.
In our experience, conversations are not the same as your typical qualitative interview. The typical qualitative interview is often guided heavily by product. They ask for a lot of reactions to the things. What do you think of this product concept? How would you describe this brand’s personality? How important is x or y feature? What channels do you use to discover brands?
Whereas ‘conversations’ (as we’re calling them) are guided by the customer. We tell them our focus: financial services, fashion, work, technology, fitness and so on, and then we dig deeper. What are your biggest frustrations about how things work? When was the first moment you realised - I need a solution to help me do this better? How were you doing things before? How long had it been that way? What does your setup look like now? Any challenges with how things work today?
Conversations are what we need to be doing to inform our strategies. Interviews are what we need to be doing after those strategies have been developed. The insights gleaned from both approaches are valuable, but entirely different. Conversations seem simple, but are harder than interviews in some ways. You can’t read from a script; you have to listen, respond and engage whilst ensuring the conversation stays on track. And most difficult of all: you have to refrain from guiding people too much or directing the conversation back to product. It’s worth it though.
The brilliant thing about conversations is how they open people up. Many times now I’ve had people thank me for helping them think through things and for making it seem just like a conversation and “not at all like an interview”. They’ve offered to continue talking beyond the allocated time slot and even to send me follow ups later about the things they didn’t remember during the session.
By making people feel comfortable and listened to, you’re allowing for authentic expression and the full range of human emotion. I’ve experienced, on one side of the spectrum, people who are on the verge of tears talking about their struggles to the other side where they’re bursting into fits of giggles (and me along with them). Conversations yield a dynamic and fascinating range of perspectives and help us avoid getting responses that quickly become too repetitive or standardised.
Most importantly, more engaged participants mean better quality insights. A conversational approach could make all the difference in setting your strategies off on the right foot.
People often have two stories about why they bought something. The first is an explanation of why they bought it. The second is why they actually bought it. Customer conversations help us uncover the truth. All of us are incredibly good at convincing ourselves of the rational, logical and justifiable reasons why we needed to buy that Peloton (for example). These surface appearances: “It’s actually, when I worked it out, cheaper than the gym in the long run, even though I don’t currently go to the gym...” hide the deeper motivation which might be “I feel insecure about exercising around other people” or any number of other reasons. Conversations are all about getting the full picture and unlocking that deeper level truth.
You’ll notice above that we’d categorise most surveys as only reaching surface level motivations. This is sufficient for many purposes, especially for opinion polling or capturing customer perceptions. What it’s not so good for: unlocking growth opportunities or strategic insights which require an understanding of market forces and real motivations. Where we’re using insights to inform or direct our strategies we must start with open conversations. This can then inform the answer options presented in a survey so they’re more accurate and reflective of a customers’ potential experience. It’s certainly more effective than a few of our best researchers sitting on a zoom call brainstorming what range of things people ‘might’ need an answer option for. Or worse (and more likely) a single researcher coming up with the whole survey whilst sat at their desk.
Surveys themselves should also be designed to feel conversational. It should feel like no effort at all to respond to an engaging 10 minute survey, and if we’re doing things right it should actually feel fun and satisfying. People are getting fatigued by endless requests for feedback, online reviews and customer surveys. As much as 67% have abandoned a customer survey in the past (US data). Forms lasting longer than 20 minutes are really pushing the limits of the human attention span, especially if the questions are repetitive or difficult to answer.
In customer conversations we put our product hat down for a second, and step inside the world of the customer. Our aim: to identify their Jobs to be Done, or in other words, the progress a customer is trying to make in their lives which calls for a product like ours. We use a JTBD framework adapted from Bob Moesta’s book: Demand-Side Sales 101 to keep us rooted to the topics we want to explore.
Ever seen a qualitative interview guide which looks like this? In our conversational interviews, we put this framework in our discussion guide (and memorise it by heart) so we can guide people to talk us through all the forces influencing their buying decisions, without it feeling like a prescribed set of interview questions.
The four forces of progress diagram (above) helps us zoom in on the psychology of customers at the most critical moments: when they’re deciding to buy or deciding to switch. Guiding participants through a recent purchase step by step, here are some example questions:
The force of habit is so strong in humans, it is worth investigating the moments where people are willing to break out of their habits and take action. The four forces are the foundational pillars of action. It helps us identify ways to (1) ensure product market fit (2) develop solutions that help customers make progress and (3) design marketing and experiences which guide customers towards these solutions.
Listening in on customer conversations as they’re happening live is a great way to energise teams from all across your organisation. It can unite teams previously in disagreement, or help align on a way forward which puts the customer at the center of new strategies. Aside from settling disputes, it also helps dispel preconceptions about what the organisation thinks customers want. We live and breathe our products, so it can be a useful reminder that customers have way too many things going on to pay any attention to the details we spent days, weeks or months working on.
Finally, this type of exploratory research gives us one more thing that defined research techniques cannot: a way to funnel our creativity. After all, customers aren’t product designers or developers or marketers or advertising copywriters. Data can only help us go so far, but it cannot tell us what to do. An over reliance on data can stifle creativity, get us obsessed over minor details or stop us taking action quickly (because of the belief we need to test and validate everything in a survey first).
We hope you found this piece useful. At untold, we use customer conversations in the vast majority of all our strategic marketing projects. We believe customer insights have infinitely more power when used to inform strategy, rather than solely as a mechanism for monitoring performance.
For more information about our process, drop us a message in the chat or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Untold is a marketing & growth consultancy specialising in customer-led growth strategies.
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