How to ask a customer for an interview and get a “Yes!”

by 
Hannah Shamji

If you’ve done a customer interview or two, you know that getting one in the books isn’t always easy. It sounds like it should be, right? Send them a link and ask them to book. The end. 

But chances are, the customers you want to interview don’t know you.

So not only are you reaching out cold, but you need to convince them on first interaction to spare 45 minutes from their ever-so-busy schedule to chat with a stranger. 

In spite of this, recruiting customers to interview is not a process that many talk about.

A quick Google search will pull up articles aplenty on how to do a customer interview or what questions to ask, but few go through the how and what of getting a customer to agree to an interview in the first place.

Having recruited and conducted 100s of customer interviews myself, this article will share what I’ve found works that you can pick and choose from to optimize your own customer interview recruiting process. 

4 steps to getting customers to agree to an interview

The process of successfully recruiting customers to interview includes 4 basic steps: 

  1. Plan your customer recruitment strategy
  2. Find your recruitment channel
  3. Invite more customers than you need and
  4. Coach customers towards saying “Yes!”

These steps are quick but important, and rather non-negotiable. Skip one and you’ll be forced to figure it out down the road, perhaps more frantically.

But follow through and you’ll find the entire recruitment process to be rather seamless (making you look like a pro if you’re doing this work for a client).

Importantly, the 4-step above focuses on recruitment, and recruitment happens after you’ve determined who you need to talk to.

Naturally, if you don’t yet know your target interview sample, you’re not ready to start recruiting.

Step 1: Plan your customer recruitment strategy

A recruitment strategy is a plan for when and how you schedule the interviews. The nature of this plan depends on how many interviews you have to run and how long you have to complete them in.

How many interviews do you need?

The number of interviews you ought to run depends on the number of segments you’re working with.  For a single segment and research question (not including finding product-market-fit which is more of an ongoing research quest), I recommend scheduling between 5 and 8 interviews. 

There are exceptions to this rule but for the most part, less than 5 is too small a sample to be robust and more than 8 interviews (with the same segment) doesn’t tend to offer new insights.

How long should the interviews take?

Aim to conduct all of your interviews in the span of one to two weeks.

When your interviews are scheduled too far apart from one another, it’s difficult to immerse yourself in the world of your customer and incubate a deeper understanding of their pains and needs.

But when your interviews are in close proximity, immersion happens by default. You’re able to spot connections and patterns in customer responses more readily, and dig that much deeper with each interview.

Mistake to avoid: too many interviews per day

It’s not doomsday if you have to schedule your interviews over more than a couple of weeks, nor is it especially unusual, but opt for a more conservative timeline where you can. 

Pro Tip: Stick to 2 interviews a day, three at the most. If you’re keen on more than that, go for it.

But bear in mind that conducting interviews is not passive work. Interviewing is a muscle you need to actively flex throughout each conversation, so it’s not uncommon to feel wiped after a day’s round of interviews.

Be careful not to prioritize getting the interviews done over getting the interviews done well.

Step 2: Find your recruitment channels

Where do you find customers to interview? The answer to this question is fairly straightforward if you have tens of customers or more - email your list or post in your private Facebook community.

But if you don’t have (many) customers and if you’re looking to find product-market fit or validate a startup idea, it’s time to get scrappy. 

The top two (free) channels I’ve used to recruit prospects to interview are LinkedIn and Facebook. I’ve had moderate to high success with each and recommend you try both and more. 

There really is no one, singular channel that is a unanimous must for finding prospects to talk to.

More than likely, you’ll need to mix and match based on your target audience (i.e. where they hang out online) and marketing (i.e. if you’re B2B or B2C).

LinkedIn

This platform is especially great for B2B research. I’ve had the most success searching for individual ‘People’, filtering by job title, industry and location and sending out direct messages with a request to connect. 

Needless to say, leverage your personal connections and network before you search more broadly. 

Another avenue on this platform is to search for LinkedIn groups by job title or industry, and request to join. Once you’re in, make a post to invite people from the group to an interview.

For the post itself, modify the language in the email template below. When possible, use a monetary incentive to sweeten your request for help. Repeat this process for as many groups as you join for your research.

Public Facebook Groups

This platform is ideal for B2C and service-based businesses. While on LinkedIn, people and groups can take a while to respond, Facebook engagement is much faster and higher. 

Search for groups by job title or industry, and use the keywords you discover in the results of your search to inform future searches. Once you’re in, drop a message to the Admin.

Facebook group admins are an excellent resource, and often really prompt to reply. Ask if you can post your call to action in the group, and if you can interview  them (assuming it’s a fit) or if they know anyone else in the group or otherwise who would be a good fit for you to talk to. 

As with the LinkedIn group, modify the language in the email template below to create a Facebook post for the group. Repeat for as many groups as you join for your research. 

Other free recruiting platforms

If LinkedIn and Facebook aren’t as helpful, try doing a Google search for discussion boards related to your target audience. These aren’t always publicly available, but they’re more common than you might think. 

While on the hunt for relevant discussion boards, search based on the circumstance your audience has in common.

For example, instead of “law student discussion boards” which is about who your audience is, try “law student exam prep discussion boards” which is more about the situation your audience is in.

As another example, instead of “mothers discussion board” try “new mothers” or “mothers postpartum depression discussion boards”.

That’s not to say that the search for who your audience is will turn up empty, but assuming the community is one that has discussion boards, then the more specific your search, the more relevant your results.

Platforms like Reddit or Quora and Twitter are also great for recruitment, particularly if you’re searching for prospects in a particular industry (rather than a job title).

As a first step, take a look at Quora categories, Twitter communities and subreddits to see if your target audience hangs out on those platforms.

Paid platforms

A Google search for “User research platform” or “User interview platform” will also pull up a number of paid platforms you can use to recruit interviewees. 

These platforms are especially useful if you have a specific job title and industry you’re targeting.

But if you’re looking to cast a wider net (i.e. industry or job title), or if the group you’re interested in speaking to congregates in public online spaces (e.g., in Facebook or LinkedIn groups or Twitter communities, etc.), start with a free platform. 

Step 3: Ask more customers than you need

Recruiting enough customers to interview and scheduling those interviews in a timely manner is a numbers game.

To land 5 to 8 customer interviews within a week or two, you’ll typically need to ask double if not triple that amount of customers.

If you (or your client) have good rapport with customers, you might be able to land enough interviews with fewer emails.

But more often than not, emailing a higher volume of customers translates to a higher and faster response rate.

Don’t forget to follow-up. Generally speaking, customers who are going to book an interview do so right away.

If you have 2 new bookings within 24 hours of sending out an interview invitation email, it’s unlikely that more will book in the next day or two - so don’t be hesitant to send a next-day follow up as a prompt before emailing a new batch of customers a day or two thereafter.

Step 4: Coach customers towards a “yes!”

There are two main ways to get customers to agree to an interview: 

  • Incentives 
  • Exclusivity. 

How to incentivize customers to agree to an interview.

Incentives are an extremely effective way of motivating customers to book and show up for an interview.

They’re not always necessary and many customers are happy to converse without an incentive, but if you have the budget for one, why not use it.

What incentive?

For a monetary incentive, stick to something inside of a $20 to $50 value. More than that isn’t always more compelling and may begin to bias the responses you receive in the interview towards the positive.

In lieu of cash, you can also offer something from your product line like credit, a free month or a discount.

Be mindful that offering product-specific incentives to people who are not your leads or customers may come across as trying to push your product on them, which can be rather off-putting and backfire.

Offer a limited number of spots.

Another helpful way to persuade customers to book is to create urgency by way of exclusivity.

Here, being exclusive means offering a limited number of interview slots.

This is easy to do when you email 30 or so customers and only open up 8 interview slots, and works especially well when you’re offering an incentive. 

How to invite customers to an interview.

Asking a customer for an interview (incentive or not), doesn’t mean they’ll say yes. 

If the request is too long, it won’t get read. 

If it’s too short or informal, it might come across as spammy. 

Too detailed can be overwhelming and feel like work to respond or participate, but too vague can feel like an irrelevant and impersonal mass email. 

Below is the email I recommend a client of mine use to recruit customers to interview.

It’s based on the template I share below that I’ve tested and optimized with more than 250 customers.

The way this email is written is the way I use it most: For clients to send to their customers (and copy me on the email). You’ll want to adjust the language if you’re emailing customers directly. 

Here is my interview invitation email template that the above email is based on. Feel free to use it as you like:

Subject Lines:

Subject line A: Quick question (and a [incentive] as a thank you)

Subject line B: Answer some questions for a [incentive] 

Body copy:

Hi there [Name] -

It’s [Name], [Role] at [Company]. 

I’m reaching out to a few of our [newest, oldest, top, etc.] customers to better understand your experience with [Company]. 

Would you be up for a 45-minute chat this or next week? We'll give you a [incentive] for your time.

The conversation will be with our customer researcher, Hannah (copied on this email). 

  • You don’t need to prep or bring anything.
  • This isn’t a sales call.
  • There’ll be no trick questions.
  • We’ll send you your [Incentive] right after the call.

There are a few {insert calendar link} times available in Hannah's calendar that you can book directly {insert calendar link}. 

But if none of those work, feel free to reply with your availability and we'll set something up.

Thank you in advance. Every bit of feedback helps. :)

[Signoff]

Note: I’ve had success with both subject lines above. What works for you will largely depend on the voice and tone of your company or client. 

Why this email template works

Chances are you’ll want to tweak this template to match the voice and tone of your company or client.

With an understanding of how and why this email template works, you’ll be better equipped to change it up as you need, while keeping its core intact.

1. Incentives.

Lead with an incentive. If you want someone you don’t know to help you, the chances of them doing so will go up tenfold if you can make it worth their while.

This template capitalizes on the motivating factor of an incentive by calling it out first thing, in the subject line. Give customers a reason to open your email and respond to it and they will.

2. Human Speak.

Speak like a human. People respond to people. If you’re asking someone for something, be a real person, not a bot.

This template aims to do exactly that by being conversational, introducing who you are and making the ask a personal one (not like an automated blast from an ESP).

3. Word Choice.

Have a chat, not an interview. Try not to use the word ‘interview’ to describe the conversation you want to have with customers.

An interview sounds formal and buttoned up, like something you’d probably be nervous about (e.g., a job interview).

If you want customers to open up and feel comfortable in their conversation with you, set a relaxed and non-interview-like tone in the email.

4. Psychological safety.

Create psychological safety. Psychological safety is when you feel respected, accepted and comfortable enough to be yourself.

Speaking with a stranger can feel psychologically unsafe because the other doesn’t know you, the questions you’ll be asking or what to expect from the conversation.

Your job as interviewer is to manage that anxiety by spelling out exactly what’s involved (and not) when a customer agrees to an interview.

In the past, I’ve experimented with including some of the questions or themes I plan to cover on the call in the email.

But every time I did, it raised more questions from customers and resulted in fewer bookings. As a result, I went back to framing the call more generally to encourage bookings, without introducing undue hesitation.

5. Easy peasy booking

Make booking easy peasy. Any semblance of work or effort involved in booking an interview introduces additional friction into the scheduling process and makes it less likely that a customer will schedule a call.

In this instance, work could mean any one of the following:

  • It takes multiple steps to book.
  • There are multiple questions to answer before booking (e.g. as part of the scheduling form).
  • Having to reply with their availability instead of being able to book on the spot.

In conclusion

These aren’t hard and fast rules, but I’ve been using this template and following these practices for years with lots of positive feedback from customers and clients.

I hope they add some clarity and sanity into what can otherwise be a fairly tedious, drawn out process of recruiting customers to interview.

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