Before 2020, Voice of the Customer (VOC) interviews presented a challenge: balance your objective to gather feedback with your desire to serve your customer’s needs. Then Covid-19 hit. Put aside for a moment the dramatic impact on our health, personal lives, and careers, even a simple customer conversation became riddled with risk. Do you ask about your customer’s health and the health of their family? Do you suggest a video call, as it has become nearly universally accepted, or stick with the telephone as you have done for 10 years? Are your customers even interested in talking? Is asking for a feedback interview tone deaf in the current climate?

After conducting nearly 100 customer and partner feedback interviews, many since the start of the current pandemic, I have a few critical recommendations to ensure your interviews are both constructive and caring:

  1. Develop a REAL Interview Guide — Relevant, Empathetic, Authentic and Legitimate.
    My colleague,
    Mike Gospe, developed the REAL acronym to describe marketing communications. When I heard this, it struck me as incredibly fitting for VOC interviews as well. How many conversations and email exchanges have you had these last few months that feel off base? No thank you, I do not want discount movie tickets to the theater that is not open. The focus of your questions needs to be connecting with your customer as a person while gathering feedback that is valuable to your company.
  2. Be flexible. This is a conversation even if we call it an interview.
    That document you created (the REAL Interview Guide discussed in 1 above) is a guide. It is a map to where you are heading, not turn-by-turn directions. During a recent interview with one of my client’s customers, he shared that his travel dependent company had been essentially shut down for over three months. Suddenly some of the questions in the interview guide did not feel relevant or empathetic. So, I skipped them, and asked follow up questions based on what he shared, trying to find connections between this person and me, while still professionally representing my client.
  3. Show up as a person, not a vendor.
    Everything feels more personal now. Pets run onto the video call screen. I am surely not the only person clicking mute in the middle of a meeting to yell across the house at my kids. It is generous to show up as REAL yourself. Ask how your customer is doing and expect a REAL answer. These conversations serve a purpose beyond gathering feedback. They are about connection during a time of social distance.

Want to learn more? Join KickStart’s final Coffee Chat in the current series, Crafting an Interview Guide for REAL Customer Feedback Conversations, to discuss these challenges with your peers. Come as you are, kids and pets welcome, and discuss professional customer interviews in the time of Coronavirus.