How to Uncover Hidden Customer Needs Like Moz

The following is a guest post by Laura Lopuch, Denver-based wordsmith and freelance marketing specialist.

What do Chevy and Moz have in common?
Let me give you some more background.

Chevy is on the cusp of launching a new truck: the 2019 Silverado.
Their hard work started months before now. This new truck reflects feedback from over 7,000 people on what they wanted in their next truck, representing the most intensive customer research study in the company’s history.

A while back, Moz hired Conversion Rate Experts to optimize their homepage. Their biggest lever in getting a 52% lift in sales?
Doing live interviews.

Customer interviews are key to uncovering your customers’ hidden needs and getting that lift you desire. But these interviews are cloaked in mystery. If you’ve never done one before, it’s hard to get an insider’s road map to conducting customer interviews.

Until now. Consider this article as the curtain pulled aside — and you’re invited to come behind it.

Why Do Customer Interviews

Let’s start simple.

Why should you do customer interviews?

Simply put: If you want to sell more and create more business, you need to do customer interviews.

The only way to figure out your customers’ needs? Talk to your existing customers. If someone bought from you once, you want to uncover the “why” behind their buy and use that in your marketing strategy. 

During research for their book, Marketing Metrics: The Definitive Guide to Measuring Marketing Performance, the authors found that the probability of selling to a new prospect is 5-20%. Yet the probability of selling to an existing customer is 60-70%. 

Do customer interviews when you’re:

  • Writing new copy for emails, landing pages, sales pages, product pages
  • Developing new products or services
  • Wanting to get more of your ideal clients (’cause they’re so dang awesome)
  • Just starting out and needing to pinpoint your messaging
  • Brainstorming new products or services
  • Writing a high-converting email (or email sequence)
  • Launching a new product
  • Whenever you need to discover a customer’s needs

As Dustin Walker at Good Funnel says, “Interviewing is the best way to uncover deep, emotional insights about your customers.”

“But Won’t I Be Bothering My Customer?”


Your customer might be secretly dying to tell someone about their experience. At the very least, your customer wants to share their thoughts on your service or product. 

Research has found that people love to talk about themselves — even as much as they love money. About 40% of everyday speech is devoted to telling others about what we feel or think. 

When you phrase your request for a customer interview, capitalize on that desire. Set your customer up to be the hero — the one with all the answers that you’re dying to know. 

Yes, that means compliments, a wee bit of flattery, and framing them as the all and mighty expert. 

How to Ask Your Customers for An Interview

Here’s how you perform that tricky little dance.

Send an email that says you’re interested in interviewing them to find out about their experience with the product or service and how they felt about it.

Set clear parameters for the interview in your email. For example, how the interview will be conducted, how long it will last, who will be on the phone. That way it’s easy for your customer to say yes. 

I’ve even seen emails that sweeten the pot by offering to donate some money to the customer’s favorite charity. 

Here’s an exact email I used to set up interviews of my client’s customers:

Here’s an example of an email that I’d send if you were donating money to a charity in exchange for a customer interview:

Set Your Customer’s Expectations

A big part of scheduling successful customer interviews is setting expectations. People don’t like to agree to requests when they have questions or when they don’t know what to expect. 

Just like you wouldn’t want to take your mother-in-law or old college friend out for dinner, if you didn’t know that :

  1. Dinner will last 60 minutes tops
  2. You aren’t expected to go out for drinks after
  3. Conversation will revolve around family, old friends you’ve fallen out of touch with, or recent activities
  4. You can still get enough sleep to make your early meeting tomorrow morning 

If your anxieties are answered at the start, you’re more likely to say yes.

Just like for your customers.

In your request email, be clear on what this interview will look like, so details on:

  • Length of interview: don’t make it longer than 60 min
  • How you’ll conduct the interview: in person, over the phone, via Web conference call
  • When you’d like to do this interview
  • OR what your deadline is for completing this interview (i.e. because of a product launch coming up)
  • If you’re conducting the interview for a company, tell them everything they say is 100% anonymous

Set Your Expectations

If you’ve never done a customer interview before, chances are you’ve got a nervous squirm in your belly.

Take a deep breath. You’ll do great — if you do a little bit of prep work before the interviews.

First off, understand what a customer interview isn’t. 

It isn’t a chance to make a new friend, talk the entire time about the weather or your upcoming travel plans. 

You’ve asked your customer — aka the person who pays your bills — for a slot of their precious life, so you can learn more about what makes them tick, why they bought from you, and how you can solve their problems. 

A customer interview has a clear goal: get inside your customer’s head. 

In order to do that, you need to do some background research on your customer ahead of time.

Check out their LinkedIn profile, Twitter or Facebook feeds, and a quick review of any articles they may have written. You want to get a feel for their personality, so you can ask relevant questions. The questions that will uncover the essential “why”  behind their purchase with you. 

As for the actual interview, plan for:

  • 45-60 minutes for each interview
  • Ideally, have 2 interviewers on the phone
  • Go into the interview with a list of questions 
  • Record the interview: don’t rely on taking notes

(Don’t know what to ask? Below I’ll give you a list of must-ask questions.)

One caveat: Don’t stubbornly stick to every question on your list.

The beauty of customer interviews is you have the ability to follow tangents that lead to unexpected discoveries.

This is why customer interviews give you bigger, better insights than a simple survey or pop-up poll. In a conversation, you’re free to ask follow-up questions and ferret out those tangents, instead of wondering — or worse, making your own conclusions — about your customers’ thoughts. 

“Your No. 1 job as an interviewer is to listen,” says Dustin Walker at Good Funnel. “And occasionally ask ‘probing’ questions to get more insight or to gently steer the conversation where you need it to go.” 

It’s much harder to get honest feedback if you’re the CEO or founder asking your favorite, long-time client for criticism.

Imagine if your significant other asked if the blooming-with-ugliness shirt they’re wearing (and hand-selected themselves) made them look bad.

Chances are you’d be reluctant to say, “yes, it’s making me want to gouge my eyes out” for fear of hurting their feelings.

Your customer is the same way. Consider using a neutral third party like a consultant or freelancer to conduct the interview. 

How to Conduct a Customer Interview

Think of your customer interview as three parts:

  1. Warm-Up
  2. Nitty-Gritty
  3. Finale 

1. Warm-Up

“Before I greet a research participant — even for phone interviews — I take a deep breath and smile,” recommends Michael Margolis. “I want to appear friendly and welcoming from the start. Smiling makes my voice and my attitude seem friendlier and more positive.”

In this section, ask background questions to get your customer warmed up and ready to start talking.

Think of questions along the lines of:

  • How’s your day going? (or How was your weekend?)
  • Where did you go to college?
  • What’s your job title?
  • What do you do in your job?
  • What’s the weather for you today?

This interview is like any conversation: start off with a small bit of chitchat and work up to the harder questions — and more intimate ones — towards the end.

2. Nitty-Gritty

Now you’re diving into their experience with your product or service. Down below, I’ll give you some great questions to ask.

You’ll want to follow a handful of general rules for the Nitty-Gritty section:

Use Silence

It’s easy to fill awkward silence with talk, but resist that temptation.

Think of a question as an invitation you are giving to someone.

“Give them time to understand it and respond accordingly,” says Steven Telio of Build on Purpose. “Silence may feel awkward, but it is one of the most powerful tools you have to help someone open up. Silence is the interviewer’s friend.”

Don’t Suggest Answers

Remember your goal: Get inside your customer’s head.

To accomplish that, you need to let your customer answer your question. Give a 5-second pause after you ask a question.

“Honestly, I felt weird the first couple of times I interviewed people like this. There would be an awkward pause. I’d feel uncomfortable,” says Thomas Carney of Planio.

“Then, I’d start ‘suggesting’ answers, and they would just agree with my suggested answer. Unfortunately, answering the questions for them just meant that I missed out on deeper insights.” 

Ask Follow-Up Questions

Don’t assume anything. The beauty of a customer interview is you’re expected to ask questions. Yes, that includes follow-up questions.

If you don’t understand something — or it’s a little murky — ask a follow-up question.

“A simple well-timed follow-up question usually prompts a more thorough explanation or valuable examples,” says Michael Margolis.

“Silence or a complete-the-statement question (‘So when that happened you. . . ?’) Few participants can resist a pregnant pause and a researcher’s curious, expectant expression.”

Ask Tough Questions

Andrew Warner interviews founders, entrepreneurs, and top business people. Hardest part of his job?

Asking a tough question and not taking it back.

Here’s what he does: He puts himself on mute after asking that question.

“The problem is that we just don’t learn to shut up,” says Andrew. “We need to just ask the question and give the person an opportunity to answer it or even say, ‘No, I don’t want to answer it,’ because ‘I don’t want to answer it’ is also useful.”

Drill Down with “Why”

To uncover the deep emotional needs that are key to high-converting marketing strategies — especially copy for emails, landing pages, or sales pages — you need to ask “Why.”

Some say you should ask “Why” at least three times. Because the first answer you get won’t dig deep enough. By asking “Why” more, you drill down to a specific level and really discover your customer’s motivations.

“Reframe the question and ask it again right then,” recommends Steven Telio. “Do what journalists do. File the question away, and ask it again later. Probe from more than one angle to unlock the information you are after.”

3. Finale

Start winding the interview down about 10 minutes before it is scheduled to end.

The last question I love asking is: “Is there anything you’d like to tell me that we haven’t talked about?”

This question has bust open some incredible insights. By asking this question at the end, you’ve already developed rapport with your customer and they’re willing to share thoughts that they were nervous to voice at the beginning. 

What Questions to Ask?

Now you’re chomping at the bit, wondering, What questions do I ask my customers to get these meaty insights?

When you’re brainstorming questions for your interviews, keep in mind two things:

  1. What goal you’re looking to accomplish (i.e. write new copy, brainstorm new services for your business, write an effective cold email) will determine the path of your questions
  2. Look for gaps in your understanding or the spots where you don’t know what to say. Now figure out what question you need to ask in order to fill that gap, then ask your customer that question

To get your wheels spinning, check out these 50 survey questions that you can easily adapt to interview questions. 

Or challenge yourself to come up with five different ways of asking the same question. This is a useful exercise to come up with alternatives to common questions

List of Killer Customer Interview Questions

Feeling stuck on what questions to ask?

Here’s a list of killer customer interview questions that I rely on during my research phase for email conversion copywriting:

  • What was going on in your life that lead you to search out [product/service]?
  • What were you feeling while using the product/service?
  • When you found our solution, how did that make you feel?
  • What were you feeling when you decided to switch to us?

If you’re selling a B2B product or service, ask questions such as:

  • Tell me about your role.
  • What does a typical day in your role look like?
  • What activities take up most of your time?
  • What part of your job do you least/ most enjoy?
  • What would an ideal week look like for you? What would you be doing?
  • How is your world different from that ideal week?

If you’re selling a B2C product/service, ask questions such as:

  • How do you typically spend your time after work and on weekends?
  • Tell me about your family.
  • What activities take up most of your time at home?
  • What parts of your home life do you most enjoy?
  • Outside of work, what would an ideal week look like for you? What would you be doing?
  • How is your world different from that ideal week?

To uncover their motivations, I’ll ask existing customers questions such as:

  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • How do you currently go about doing this? [you want a step-by-step guide]
  • Show me what’s frustrating about your current process.
  • Tell me how you found our product.
  • What was going through your head when you were looking for it?
  • Is there anything that pushed you in favour of us?
  • How does it fit into your day?
  • What does it let you do that you couldn’t do without it?

Get your effective interview cheatsheet with all these questions, so you can use it during  your interviews.  

Get Stuck? Ask These 3 No-Fail Questions

Is your brainstorming churning out black smoke instead of awesome questions?

No fear, just include these three questions in your interview. Whip them out whenever you feel like you’re on to something, but aren’t *quite* sure of where to take it. 

  1. Can you give me an example?
  2. Tell me more
  3. How did you feel when that happened?

After The Interview

Congrats, you finished a customer interview!

Two last steps before you get to the fun part of analyzing the interview and mining your customer’s needs:

  1. Get the recording transcribed: use
  2. Send your customer a (preferably) hand-written thank you card

Last step: go through the transcript of your customer’s interview and highlight the sticky copy.

Practice Makes Perfect

Doing customer interviews that uncover their needs — so you can use that info to fuel marketing, new products, messaging — is an art form.

The more you do them, the better you’ll get.

If this was your first time, and things got rocky, no sweat. Keep doing them and know that you’ll be better on the next go-around.

Be sure with every customer interview, you:

  • Set expectations for your customer so it’s easy to say yes
  • Record the interview
  • Ask the 3 no-fail questions: “Can you give me an example?”, “Tell me more,” and “How did you feel when that happened?”
  • Send your customer a hand-written thank you card

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