In our recent blog article “What's the best way to interview clients to get actionable client feedback?” we discussed the importance of having the capacity to integrate different interview methods (in-person and telephone interviews, or web surveys) into a successful client feedback programme. In this blog we go back to the basic tenets of interviewing, discuss the different client feedback interview methods in more detail, and how the interview method choices you make are likely to impact the type of questions asked, as well as the likely feedback that you will receive, and the experience of the interviewee.
Face to Face Interviews
In a professional services marketplace, face to face interviews (sometimes called in-person interviews) are undertaken using a qualitative style of interviewing, and are typically conducted with VIP, key accounts and important clients. As such, these interviews are usually undertaken with a relatively small number of clients to get useful insights and their opinions.
This style of interviewing can be semi-structured, or flexible, as a skilled interviewer will allow the client to cover the topics that they wish to discuss whilst concurrently observing body language and other non-audible clues to steer the conversation appropriately. If interviews are being undertaken by different interviewers, then a discussion guide is used to maintain consistency consistent structure to the meetings and conversations, and to aid reporting at a later stage. The outputs of this type of interview are usually presented in written reports
The information gathered can often be limited by (1) the number of clients interviewed and (2) the questioning and feedback can become highly tailored to a specific client so that it can be difficult to understand how this might relate to the wider client base.
The choice of interviewer can be key in the effectiveness of these interviews - they need to have the right skills. Avoid interviewers who are natural sales-people – they can turn an interview into a sales pitch, or people who are too closely involved with a client just in case they may turn the meeting into a project review and end up responding to points made; also be aware that they may not want to ask difficult questions if this exposes a vulnerability in their knowledge or skills.
Good interviewers will often be independent from the relationship management or service delivery teams so that they can focus on undertaking a client listening meeting and keep accurate notes. F2F interviews are typically undertaken by 2 staff members (the interviewer and a note taker) or an experienced client feedback interviewer (backed up by a recording device).
The rationale for face to face interviews includes:
- Allows for an in-depth conversation where the client is involved in driving the agenda
- Body language can be observed
- Demonstrates to a client that they are valued and their opinion is important
- Have a high completion rate
By contrast face to face interviews have constraints:
- Time consuming for both the interviewer and the client
- More expensive than other interview methods (time and travel costs)
Executive Telephone Interviews
Executive telephone interviews are an effective and efficient way to gather client feedback without the travel and time cost constraints of meeting face to face. With a high response rate they are particularly suited to situations where clients are geographically dispersed.
Whilst both in-person interviews, and some telephone interviews, by design, can be very free-flowing and bespoke to the client, a more normal approach is to have semi-structured interviews where content is to be aggregated and reported upon from multiple similarly structured interviews.
By adding quantitative interviewing techniques to the semi-structured interviews it is also possible to track changes in reported feedback over time, benchmark trends internally and externally and, if enough interviews are undertaken, to generalise the findings beyond the sample of clients interviewed.
CATI (Computer Assisted Telephone interviewing) technology is often used to guide the executive interviewer to ask appropriate questions on the phone, depending upon the interview context; used well, the respondent will not know that CATI is being used in the background. This also assists in adopting a consistent interviewing approach, which is followed when interviews are undertaken over a longer period of time, or when using multiple interviewers.
These interviews are typically undertaken by appointment rather than via an apparent cold call to gain feedback which may catch the client unware.
The rationale for telephone interviews includes:
- Shows clients they are valued and that their opinion is important
- Allows the interviewer to probe responses to get more insight
- More personal than web surveys
- Ideal for clients who are geographically dispersed
- No travel time needed or travel costs incurred
- Multilingual situations can be managed by linguists
- Easy to scale up at more affordable rates than in-person interviews
- Easier to monitor that a consistent interview approach is being followed when multiple interviewers are used
- Interviews can be recorded if consent is given by the participant
By contrast telephone interviews have constraints:
- Cannot observe body language
- Interviews to an overseas mobile phone can be expensive
Web surveys are a good way to reach and engage with a large number of clients at a relatively low cost. It requires less time and resources to send email invitations, making them an effective way to gather client feedback. They can sometimes be considered as a more convenient method for a client to provide feedback. However, web surveys are not always the preferred method of data collection, as it is largely a qualitative interview technique, meaning that the feedback gathered tends to be highly structured and may lack depth as compared to telephone or face to face interviews.
In recent years the internet has been widely used to undertake web surveys, and it is becoming common for individuals to receive follow on surveys from services they receive from many organisations (car purchase, flights, hotel stays) – they are a popular choice when it comes to data collection, but often they are of variable quality, and response rates tend to be much lower using this method. In addition, survey length and the visual presentation of the survey have an impact on how the questions are read, understood and responded to by participants. Once the survey has been completed, the results are automatically saved to a survey portal and are ready to be analysed.
The rationale for web surveys includes:
- Less expensive than telephone and in-person surveys
- Suits multilingual situations
- Participants can complete in their own time
- Fast way of reaching target audience
- You can get real-time results - quick and easy analysis
By contrast web surveys have constraints:
- Much lower response rates as compared to other interview methods (in-person and by phone)
- No interviewer to clarify and probe responses, resulting in less reliable data
- Cannot observe body language
- Invitations may be screened out by email servers
Continue the discussion
Does this provide you with the information you need to choose the right approach for you? Do you have any further questions? We would be happy to talk further to assist you and to share our experiences of what has worked in practice for others.