How to Recruit Customers for Interviews

Hannah Shamji

There’s no question of the value of audience research. But the whole process starts with getting people to actually sit down with you.

How to get people to customer interviews?

Hannah Shamji is a qualitative researcher with a background in psychology and counseling. Her strategic approach to user research is admired throughout the industry. 

In her Wynter Games presentation, Hannah explained exactly how to ask a customer for an interview and get a “yes.” 

“I have interviewed plenty of people, and especially plenty of busy people,” said Hannah of her career in research. 

“People who are not really concerned if they get an interview with me or not - it's me that wants the interview. So I've had to really figure out and think about ways to motivate them and incentivize them to actually hop on a call with me.”  

Step 1: Plan your customer recruitment strategy

If you decide to conduct customer interviews, Hannah says that it’s best to commit yourself 100%. 

Clear your entire calendar, and devote your full attention to both the interviews themselves and the analysis that follows. She refers to this practice as interview immersion.

What is interview immersion?

Interview immersion means you're stacking all of your interviews together. 

It might be tempting to plan for one interview a week over the course of a couple of months, to make the work feel more bite-sized. But this can easily backfire. 

Instead, you want to condense the entire process into a short time frame of several days, so that you are fully immersed in the world of your customers.

Immersion will help you spot themes

“You'll notice that if you take this approach, you will start to spot connections, themes, patterns, way more quickly and in a far more nuanced way than if your interviews were just like super spread out,” Hannah said. 

“It's also great for sanity, right? When you're scheduling, you can block out these times. You don't have to juggle around your schedule. You can kind of set this focus time and really dive deep.” 

How many interviews do you need?

In terms of the number of customer interviews to aim for, Hannah recommends 6-8 completed interviews as the ideal target number. 

“With interviews, you're really diving into a very specific, like the depth of a particular segment or persona,” Hannah said. 

“Six to eight interviews is a great sweet spot for that. When you start to do fewer than six to eight, you kind of come into a space of like perhaps not finding strong patterns.”

Step 2: Find your recruitment channel

How do you find customers for an interview? And how do you go about targeting customers who will say yes?

Hannah says that you can feel the liberty to get creative here. Think critically about the channels that you use for your business. 

Use social channels to find leads 

While Hannah often uses traditional email outreach, she’s also seen great success with channels like Facebook, Twitter, and Slack. 

“I have had huge success when a client has a private Facebook community, a private Slack group, literally sending a message on Slack or a post on Facebook. And we book all of the interviews in two minutes flat,” said Hannah. 

“So if you can do something really easy, like a tweet, why not, as opposed to kind of a bit more rigor with an email.”

Use email to find leads

If you do go the email route, consider carefully who that email will come from. Who on your team or in your company is the best positioned to get results? 

Often, someone with an existing customer relationship, such as an account manager, can be a good ambassador for survey outreach.

“One of those things might be a customer success rep and account manager and existing relationship with the customer that you can lean on,” Hannah said. 

“Having the email come out from that individual. So you're kind of leaning on, they're more likely to open it. They're more likely to respond and engage.”  

Ask leadership to play a role 

You can also up the cool-factor by having the email come from company leadership. 

If a customer gets an email directly from the founder or CEO asking them to participate, they might be drawn to the special nature and exclusivity of that outreach.

“The takeaway from this is be thoughtful and deliberate and creative. Don't think you have to stick to the same channels,” Hannah said. 

“Really put yourself in front of the customers and think through where they are and where you can get that quickest response.” 

Step 3: Tap more customers than you need

We mentioned in step one that 6-8 customer interviews is the ideal number to complete. But that doesn’t mean that setting up only eight interview appointments will be enough. 

If you’re targeting customers using a private Facebook group or similar channel, this is less of a concern. You can post your request and see what happens. 

It’s a numbers game

If you are planning to use email as your outreach tool, you should plan on asking 3x the number of customers that you need.

“This is a numbers game,” Hannah said. “You do need to reach out to at least double, if not triple that amount.”  

Set a tight turnaround

You also want to set up a tight turnaround. Hannah typically asks customers to book the same week as the email ask, with interviews scheduled for the following week.

“I'm looking for people to book within the next 24 hours from me sending out that ask,” said Hannah. 

“It also means that you don't have to wiggle as much with your scheduling, because you're just asking a huge volume of people here. So I've had folks come to me and think that they're doing something wrong because they're not able to land those interviews.” 

Step 4: Coach them to say “Yes!” to an interview

There are two ways to get customers to say yes to an interview: incentives and exclusivity. 

Incentives are always a great tactic. But you want to think carefully about both the value and type of incentive offered. 

Aim for $20-50 incentives

Your ideal incentive will be a payment of $20-50. Why? Research shows that incentives with a higher value can inspire “gift guilt.”

“Any higher than this, you start to get into what I call like gift guilt territory, where folks feel like they need to earn the reward,” Hannah said. 

This means customers might unconsciously start to over-exaggerate their feedback, or talk about your product more favorably.  

Offer a product perk

In lieu of cash value, you can also offer something within your product line. This could be something like a free month of your product or service.

“I've seen free webinars, or a free call work really well. It could be an accessory that you have,” said Hannah. 

Give a donation 

Some customers may not be interested in the perks above. 

Executives may not respond or care much for a $20 Amazon gift card. 

And for Hannah’s clients who feel that their customer relationships are friend-like, offering money may feel inappropriate.

“Something like a charity donation has worked really well in those instances,” Hannah said. 

Regardless of incentive type, it is a nice gesture. “They're there for you to ask them questions and learn. So this is really a favor to you. So you do want to acknowledge that,” she said.  

Offer a limited number of spots

We mentioned that you can drive interest with incentives and exclusivity. Being exclusive means offering a limited number of interview slots.

For example, when you block eight interview slots but ask 25 people, it creates a sense of scarcity.

“They might open the email and think, Oh, cool. Okay. Um, yeah, I'll get to that,” Hannah said. “But if they see that there's a limited number of spots, that's what's going to kick them into high gear and get them to book right now.”  

If you don’t have enough responses within 24 hours, you’ll probably need to send another email targeting additional customers. 

What a winning recruitment message looks like

What does a great recruiting message actually look like? Hannah shared her go-to strategy for crafting a effective customer interview email. 

This format can also be tweaked for use on channels like Facebook or Slack.

Give them a reason 

Why should customers care about another email in their inbox? Make the subject line compelling. Hannah likes to lead with the incentive so that customers have a reason to open.

Be a person 

Don’t make it sound like a mass email. Make it clear that you are a real human, requesting a one-on-one conversation. 

Make it special

The more you can personalize the email and make it specific to that customer, the better your chances of booking an interview. Ensure customers know they were hand-picked for a reason. 

Frame it as a “chat” 

Ask customers to chat, not interview. This is a small but powerful change that makes the request seem less daunting in the eyes of the customer.

Create psychological safety

Customers don’t know what to expect from a phone call with a stranger. Help put their mind at ease by assuring them that they don’t have to prepare anything, and it’s not a sales call. Just a simple chat. 

Say your “why” 

If you can, spell out for customers what you hope to accomplish. If you are interviewing in order to rewrite your website, feel free to say so. It’s a great way to excite customers and make them feel invested. 

Show it’s limited 

Emphasize the exclusive nature of the opportunity by mentioning the number of spots you have available.

Make booking easy 

Finally, ensure customers can click to book immediately. If all spots are full, allow customers to sign up for a waitlist so you can tap them if you have no-shows. 

You can watch Hannah’s full presentation here. 

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