Decision Vision Episode 156: Should I Interview My Customers? – An Interview with Carolyn Kopf, C.E.K. & Partners
Carolyn Kopf, Founder and Managing Partner at C.E.K. & Partners, joined host Mike Blake in a conversation on how to interview customers, whether they be individuals or businesses. She covered how her firm’s studies are designed, the role of statistical significance, compensation, when a company would hire a firm like C.E.K, unexpected results, how the pandemic affected their work, and much more. Decision Vision is presented by Brady Ware & Company.
Carolyn Kopf, Founder and Managing Partner, C.E.K. & Partners
Carolyn Kopf started her career on Madison Ave in NYC and has worked at top global agencies in Europe and APAC. Today, she is the founder and managing partner of C.E.K. & Partners, a firm that provides expertise across market research, branding and digital marketing communications.
As a woman-owned firm, C.E.K. delivers work that enables companies to make more informed decisions, build awareness, establish thought leadership and generate demand to drive business growth.
–Financial services, fintech and payments
–Manufacturing (e.g., flooring, cosmetics, furniture, lighting)
–Sustainability and socially responsible/purpose-driven brands
–Healthcare, hospital systems, health plans and employee benefits
–Emerging technology and cybersecurity solutions
Their clients have included some of the most recognizable brands, and their innovation workshops have generated new product concepts for Fortune 50 companies. Each concept is expected to generate a minimum of $300 million in annual revenue. Carolyn’s curiosity and love of research led to her being awarded a patent (#7,333,635) by the USTPO for a next-generation identity authentication method to be used by financial institutions.
Mike Blake, Brady Ware & Company
Michael Blake is the host of the Decision Vision podcast series and a Director of Brady Ware & Company. Mike specializes in the valuation of intellectual property-driven firms, such as software firms, aerospace firms, and professional services firms, most frequently in the capacity as a transaction advisor, helping clients obtain great outcomes from complex transaction opportunities. He is also a specialist in the appraisal of intellectual properties as stand-alone assets, such as software, trade secrets, and patents.
Mike has been a full-time business appraiser for 13 years with public accounting firms, boutique business appraisal firms, and an owner of his own firm. Prior to that, he spent 8 years in venture capital and investment banking, including transactions in the U.S., Israel, Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.
Brady Ware & Company
Brady Ware & Company is a regional full-service accounting and advisory firm which helps businesses and entrepreneurs make visions a reality. Brady Ware services clients nationally from its offices in Alpharetta, GA; Columbus and Dayton, OH; and Richmond, IN. The firm is growth-minded, committed to the regions in which they operate, and most importantly, they make significant investments in their people and service offerings to meet the changing financial needs of those they are privileged to serve. The firm is dedicated to providing results that make a difference for its clients.
Decision Vision Podcast Series
Decision Vision is a podcast covering topics and issues facing small business owners and connecting them with solutions from leading experts. This series is presented by Brady Ware & Company. If you are a decision-maker for a small business, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us at email@example.com and make sure to listen to every Thursday to the Decision Vision podcast.
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Intro: [00:00:01] Welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast series focusing on critical business decisions. Brought to you by Brady Ware & Company. Brady Ware is a regional, full-service, accounting and advisory firm that helps businesses and entrepreneurs make visions a reality.
Mike Blake: [00:00:22] Welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast giving you, the listener, clear vision to make great decisions. In each episode, we discuss the process of decision-making on a different topic from the business owners’ or executives’ perspective. We aren’t necessarily telling you what to do, but we can put you in a position to make an informed decision on your own and understand when you might need help along the way.
Mike Blake: [00:00:43] My name is Mike Blake, and I’m your host for today’s program. I’m the managing partner of the Strategic Valuation and Advisory Services practice for Brady Ware & Company, a full-service accounting firm based in Dayton, Ohio, with offices in Dayton; Columbus, Ohio; Richmond, Indiana; and Alpharetta, Georgia. The SAVAS practice specializes in providing fact-based strategic and risk management advice to clients that are buying, selling, or growing the value of companies and intellectual property. Brady Ware is sponsoring this podcast, which is being recorded in Atlanta for social distancing protocols.
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Mike Blake: [00:01:43] Today’s topic is, should I interview my customers? And according to data from Price Intel, most software as a service companies do fewer than 10 customer interviews per month, which is surprising given that most SaaS companies have thousands, if not millions of customers. And, you know, as data becomes increasingly important, and it’s been this way for a while, you know, data has been gold for the last 20 years now. But as we develop greater analytic capability, as we develop greater AI and as we move kind of philosophically to a more evidence-based management approach, society-wide, I think this notion of interviewing customers becomes more acute.
Mike Blake: [00:02:31] And, of course, one of the more, I guess maybe it’s not important, it’s not the right word, but certainly better-known tools for understanding customer satisfaction is something called the net promoter score. And generally, that’s best achieved or understood through customer interviews, although I suppose you could do those two online surveys and so forth. But clearly, you get more – you get richer data when you actually talk to people as opposed to asking them to click on buttons on a website.
Mike Blake: [00:03:05] And so, I hope you’ll agree. I’m a data junkie as it is, and I have someone coming on today that’s a fellow data junkie. So, this is going to be data junkie to data junkie action here. And for the other data junkies out there, I think you’re going to like the show and certainly hope that you will.
Mike Blake: [00:03:20] And, joining us today is Carolyn Kopf, who is founder and managing partner of CEK & Partners, a market research, branding, and digital communications firm. Carolyn is passionate about delivering strategic insights that transform brands. Clients benefit from her team’s ability to mine data and extract gems to find insights that truly differentiate their brands. She guides and positions them to reach the next level. She holds an MBA in international business – sorry, international business.
Mike Blake: [00:03:50] Carolyn Kopf started her career on Madison Avenue in New York and has worked at top 10 global agencies in Europe and the Asia Pacific markets. Carolyn is the founder and leader of CEK & Partners, a 20-person firm of experts across market research, branding, and digital marketing communications fields.
Mike Blake: [00:04:08] As a woman-owned firm, CEK delivers work that enables brands to build awareness, establish thought leadership, and generate demand to drive business growth. CEK & Partners innovation workshops have generated new product concepts for Fortune 50 companies. Each concept is expected to generate a minimum of $300 million in annual revenue. CEK has generated $600 million in annual in aggregate revenue for its clients over the 13 years of its operation and has completed over 1200 engagements and counting.
Carolyn Kopf: [00:04:39] Thank you for that introduction. I appreciate it. I’m really honored and excited to be here with another data junkie.
Mike Blake: [00:04:47] Yes. Well, thank you for coming. So, welcome to the program. So, why are people excited, or why are people saying the best practices now includes interviewing customers?
Carolyn Kopf: [00:05:03] Well, I think really best practices, if we take it higher to what you’ve said, it’s really gathering insights, you know, and there’s so many great wonderful techniques that are effective. And, speaking with customers is just one of those techniques. But certainly, whether it’s surveys, whether it’s online bulletin boards, whether it’s focus groups, or whether it’s in-depth interviews, there are so many great ways to capture insights about what customers are thinking, how they’re behaving, and how that has changed over the past couple of years.
Mike Blake: [00:05:42] So, when is the right time to interview customers?
Carolyn Kopf: [00:05:47] You know, there’s usually critical junctures where you want to understand the latest attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Those critical junctures could be anything from you’re getting ready to launch and develop a new product, and you want to understand market viability for a product concept. Well, in that case, you might want to speak with, not only customers but prospective customers who haven’t purchased from you before or even lost customers to understand where that fits in with their needs. So, there’s, you know, doing – you have a new marketing campaign, you want to understand customer sentiment and be prepared. Any time you’re making an investment and you’re going out into the market, you want to make sure that you’re informed.
Mike Blake: [00:06:43] So, I want to ask you about talking about prospective customers because one of the big buzzwords around Atlanta with startups, and I know you don’t do a ton of work with startups, but you’re certainly familiar with what they do. One of the buzzwords around startups is a notion called customer discovery, right? Investors want to know what conversations have you had with prospective customers and, you know, you do interviews with people for a living, so I’m curious. I think you have unique insight to this.
Mike Blake: [00:07:14] I think when prospective customers are involved, I think there’s a predisposition psychologically to want to tell the interviewer what you think they want to hear. Right? You want to be – people want to be positive. There’s a natural predisposition, maybe to not be entirely honest but rather be encouraging. Right? Because there’s no cost to that, the interviewee of doing so.
Mike Blake: [00:07:39] As an interviewer, how do you cut through that? Is it interviewing technique? Is it structuring the questions correctly? Is it something that has to do with the post-interview data analytics? Or, is this something that’s just sort of have to live with in terms of whether or not prospective customers are willing to be truthful to you and tell you, “Nah, I don’t want to buy it. Your baby’s ugly. Get out of here.” Because I don’t think that happens as often as it does when the actual purchase decision is put in front of them.
Carolyn Kopf: [00:08:09] Yeah. I think that’s a really great question and a really strategic one. Thank you for asking that. I think what’s really important is stepping back from the actual conversations and thinking through the design of the research. All of our studies are custom-designed. So, we think through, does a study have to – we call it blind – should it be blind where the participant does not know who’s sponsoring the study? And that way, they’re not going to try to please anyone. And, that becomes especially important again with the design of the study. They’ve chosen a third-party partner again to help be that objective voice. They’re not going to, you know, lead the conversation. So, there’s really those three pieces of an experienced moderator, having a blind study and then having a third-party moderator.
Mike Blake: [00:09:08] So, do you – is best practice is that you simply try to interview as many customers as you possibly can? Or, is there a way to – do you work out sample sizes using the math, the math that’s out there that tells you how many customers you interview to get to achieve a certain confidence level? See, I told you, analytics people, you’d be happy with the geekiness here. Do you go that deep? Do you get – do you go – do you go that deep with something like this or?
Carolyn Kopf: [00:09:36] You might not be too happy with this answer. But when we do what’s called qualitative research and we’re having discussions with customers, it’s not going to be statistically significant. It will be directional. But certainly, we want to understand and think through the sample.
Carolyn Kopf: [00:09:54] So if a customer, if a client wants to speak to customers, it’s important to understand what is the lens that they want to. Is it a certain position, a certain title within a department of a company? Is it a certain size of the company? Is it a certain industry segment? What if it’s all three of those things? Then, all of a sudden it’s “Okay. Well, we want to speak only with manufacturers and a director level or above, and we want to hear from companies across three revenue ranges, you know, less than a billion, 1 to 2 billion and 2 billion plus.” I’m just, you know, shooting from the hip here. All of a sudden that determines how many people you need to recruit, right? If there’s quotas for a company size, you want to – at a minimum, we recommend five and always an odd number. So, it’s kind of that tiebreaker, if you will.
Mike Blake: [00:11:00] Yep. So, let me ask this, and you have had this conversation before, but I think our listeners will benefit. Why wouldn’t you strive for some sort of statistical significance? Is it – I don’t want to lead the witness here, so I’m going to leave that open-ended. Why would you not try for a statistically significant sample?
Carolyn Kopf: [00:11:21] Well, I think part of it is you have to remember that when you have discussions, if it’s in-depth interviews or focus groups, you’re not having someone answer every question. You’re not forcing them. You must answer this question. It’s a discussion, and there might be some questions that you skipped because someone’s not comfortable or they don’t have the expertise to answer the questions. So, you’re really from one conversation to another. You might serve up, you know, 10 out of 15 of the questions, and not to mention just the sheer number of people you would have to speak to.
Carolyn Kopf: [00:12:00] Today, we find that we really want to deliver insights faster to meet the demands of our clients and to move through hundreds of interviews. It would be very doable, but it’s just not necessary. Not to mention you start to identify themes after you’ve spoken with three to five people. So, you’ll just start to see those same themes, even if you spoke to 20 people. So, let’s just call it at five per segment, if you will, but you could have, you know, 10 segments in that case. You might be speaking to 50 people.
Mike Blake: [00:12:37] And, I had a thought of a point that you just brought up is that, you know, just because you’re talking to somebody doesn’t mean that they’ll answer all the questions, which means that if you wanted to have a statistically significant sample, you have to factor in the fact that not all the questions will be answered, which means your sample size is even greater, which means more expense, more time and like – and as you said at the end of the day, you may not gain that much more insight from a statistically significant sample.
Carolyn Kopf: [00:13:05] Well, we find a lot of – absolutely. I agree with you. We find that the best – you know, you can complement these discussions with doing quantitative studies. So, you might have, you know, 15, 20, 30 in-depth conversations, get some very good directional insights and findings. And depending on how much rigor and how much you’re investing in a product launch or a marketing campaign or a rebranding, it might warrant saying, “Okay. We’ve got some great directional insights. Let’s take those and craft an online survey and get those statistically significant insights with a larger population.” So, certainly, they work hand-in-hand, depending on the rigor that’s needed.
Mike Blake: [00:13:51] So, you spoke about a magic number five, which I find fascinating. I don’t do what you do for a living. That’s lower than I would have imagined. How do you select the five? Who are the lucky five?
Carolyn Kopf: [00:14:04] Well, keep in mind that, you know, we could have eight segments that we want to speak to. Right? So, and five within each of those segments. So, all of a sudden you’ve got 40 people that you’re speaking with but the characteristics of the five. So, it could be, you know, much of it is making sure that the people match and get through that filter and qualify to speak with you. So, certainly consumer interviews, you’re going to find those people faster. But when you start talking about B2B studies, you’re working from a much smaller universe. So at that point, really, it’s just a matter of who meets the qualifications and the specs of the participant and are they available within the window of the study.
Mike Blake: [00:15:02] So, when you make that selection, I’m curious about something, I’m kind of going off-script here, but I know that it’s common to compensate survey participants generally to participate in the survey. Do you find that’s also the case with customers? Do you have to budget for customers being willing to talk to you, to being compensated for their time, to talk to you about their own experience with you?
Carolyn Kopf: [00:15:33] You know, that’s interesting because there are different types of customers. We really bucket it into three types of customers. One is the lost customers. They’re no longer – they’re no longer your customer. There’s your current customer who should be willing to speak with you without being paid. And, of course, there’s your prospective customer who is you’re going to need to incent them to speak with you. So, that’s really the rule of thumb.
Mike Blake: [00:15:59] Interesting. We hadn’t even talked about customers who have left. And, how – do you do that a lot? And if so, how do you find that? Because there’s a saying, I’m sure you’re familiar with, that, you know, a happy customer will tell nobody, but an unhappy customer will tell 9000 people. So, I wonder, are people who are unhappy actually more willing to participate because they just can’t wait to unload on the company that pissed them off basically?
Carolyn Kopf: [00:16:29] Well, keep in mind if past customers, especially when we talk about B2B, they may not be unhappy. It could be that the project sponsor changed companies and say they went with another vendor or another relationship. It could be that their budgets were cut and they had to eliminate a partnership and consolidate. So, a lost customer in the B2B world may not be unhappy, but rather, you know, when we do speak with lost customers, it’s really valuable when you’re positioning the brand. Because remember when you position a brand, you want it to be any positioning that you articulate. You want it to be defendable, ownable, and true.
Carolyn Kopf: [00:17:17] So, if you get that 360 of your current customers, your lost customers, and your prospective customers, all of a sudden you know if it’s dependable or true. Because if you’re thinking one thing, but people have left because that’s not the case, it really helps to ground work in the defendable and true piece, at least in the B2B world.
Carolyn Kopf: [00:17:42] Absolutely, I agree. In the consumer world, a lost customer is probably someone who’s grumpy and didn’t love something, whether it was, I’m thinking about things that happened today with, you know, return policies, with everything being online or not being able to get a hold of someone on the phone. All of a sudden, there are different reasons why someone might not be happy.
Carolyn Kopf: [00:18:10] But I think absolutely it’s important to understand when you talk about that net promoter score. What are – what is the percentage of detractors, neutrals, and promoters? Because certainly if someone’s neutral to negative, there’s a chance you can recover that relationship with, I don’t know, a free trial or, you know, a 10% discount, something to get them to come back. But if it’s a true detractor that’s on the scale of NPS, down at the one or two’s, that’s just – just let them go and focus on your happy customers who are promoting and those who are neutral that you can recover and really bring them along.
Mike Blake: [00:18:59] So, who should perform the interview? Should it – leaving aside an outside firm for a second, we’ll get to that. But many firms, I’m sure, in-house this process, and if they do, who should do that? Should it be somebody in the marketing department? Should it be somebody on the direct service or provider team in the case of professional services, maybe a dedicated group entirely whose job it is to interview customers? If it’s an internal agent that’s going to be doing that, who should that be?
Carolyn Kopf: [00:19:33] You know, it really depends on the context. So, for example, if you’re talking net promoter score and you’re speaking with lost customers, you want someone from the customer insights team or someone even from customer service who’s trained in having conversations with lost customers and helping to bring them back to sign up for free month trial or whatever the business model might be. But certainly, many customers have those insight teams. They’re going to have the experienced moderators that know how to navigate conversations, know how to navigate tricky situations in a customer-friendly manner. So, certainly, we recommend someone with experience handling them.
Mike Blake: [00:20:21] So, when is it a good idea to have an outside firm as opposed to the firm, the company itself, interview the customers?
Carolyn Kopf: [00:20:30] Well, I think there’s a couple of reasons. One could be a company or a corporation. Their customer insights team is small and they need to expand capacity and expertise with an outside party. That’s one scenario. Another scenario is a company doesn’t have insights in-house, and they could lean on marketing or product marketing but maybe there’s not the expertise, so it’s really a risk and it would make sense to bring in a third party to either design the study, you know, do the comprehensive. And then, I guess the last point would just be making sure that no one’s leading the answers because certainly you want the insights to be helpful and true in the sense of making decisions versus what someone wants them to be.
Mike Blake: [00:21:32] Right. Don’t – you know, I think Brady Ware is great, don’t you agree? Right? Not exactly an honest interview question.
Carolyn Kopf: [00:21:40] I know you had a great experience with it. So, how would you rate it on a scale from 1 to 10?
Mike Blake: [00:21:45] How much do you love us?
Carolyn Kopf: [00:21:47] Exactly. And so all of a sudden, you know, people might not realize they do that. It’s just their natural, optimistic, bubbly selves. And, it may not be intentional. So, it takes out that, you know, to have that experience and that fresh, neutral perspective.
Mike Blake: [00:22:05] And, you know, you mentioned the word training. And, I want to bring something up because I don’t think this is always appreciated, but conducting interviews is a skill. It’s not easy to conduct a useful interview, is it? You don’t just walk up and just do that for the most part, do you?
Carolyn Kopf: [00:22:26] No, you don’t. I mean, experienced moderators. I mean, it starts with the design of the questions. You know, what is the order of the questions? Certainly, you want to make sure that you start out not revealing anything if you’re looking to get awareness of a particular topic or a particular brand, and then potentially reveal the sponsor if it’s relevant later in the conversation. So, it’s really that design, not only of the flow but the actual design of the questions themselves so that they don’t lead.
Mike Blake: [00:23:06] Now, what is the benefit of conducting customer interviews versus sending out a survey? Someone might say, “Could not that accomplish the same thing faster, more cheaply, more efficient.” Why go the extra mile, the extra hassle, the expense for doing the interview?
Carolyn Kopf: [00:23:24] Well, certainly I think that there’s different reasons to do in-depth interviews over a survey. One, the in-depth interviews, you’re going to get more rich context. You’re having a discussion. You can listen for certain things and you don’t hear what you’re expecting to hear. You can probe on topic areas and go deeper into the conversation so you really can guide the discussion and each one will be a little bit unique.
Carolyn Kopf: [00:23:52] With a survey, for the most part, you’re going to have closed-loop questions or, you know, they’re not going to be open-ended, and someone has to choose from six answers. And one of those answers could be, I don’t want to answer it, or, you know, I don’t know or not applicable. So, you’re really limiting. You’re getting very great information, but you’re not getting deep context.
Mike Blake: [00:24:24] So, is there an ideal length for how long an interview should take? And, I got to imagine at some point there’s got to be a limit to how much time you can get from somebody. So, in your mind, is there an ideal time limit on an interview?
Carolyn Kopf: [00:24:41] Absolutely. I think there’s really three types of interviews. There are interviews that feel like a survey where you might ask someone, I don’t know, 15 questions in 15 minutes. It’s like, “Are you aware of this?” Yes, no. Right? It’s not a conversation. You can do that in 15 minutes.
Carolyn Kopf: [00:25:00] If you want to have a conversation and really go deeper, I would suggest 30 minutes. Potentially, you could do 45. It’s just going to be harder and more expensive. The 60-minute interviews are really going to be around usability. Right? So, you want to share something on the screen and get feedback.
Carolyn Kopf: [00:25:23] So, there’s certainly different techniques that are going to be appropriate for the different amount of time. We find that really a 30-minute in-depth interview, that’s a conversation, is a tried and true. If you’re doing usability., you’re going to want a minimum of 60 minutes.
Mike Blake: [00:25:41] What are the – this may be an unfair question, but I’m going to ask it anyway, and that is, what are the most important questions to ask customers, and for the purposes of this question, let’s say current customers versus prospects or lost customers. What are the kinds of the most important questions? Or, if you want to replace important with common, that’s fine too.
Carolyn Kopf: [00:26:05] You know, it really comes back to the learning objective because, remember, each study is going to be custom-designed to fulfill the needs and objectives of the client. So, if a client is seeking to understand awareness of their organization, you’d start with asking questions around, how familiar are you with a company? Tell me, what are they known for? And you might end the survey with how are they different, better or special, compared to the competitors? Those are very common questions with awareness and trying to understand how to position or reposition a company within the world.
Mike Blake: [00:26:48] So let’s – to me, I think a common application of a customer interview is to gauge customer satisfaction and maybe detect likeliness to become an ex-customer related to net promoter, I guess. Do you think that interviews that are more structured in nature, the yes-no, or rate this one to five versus unstructured, open-ended, which format of questions do you think works better for that kind of purpose, or is a mix of the two ideal?
Carolyn Kopf: [00:27:24] It’s really a mix of the two. So, you ask, you know, on a scale from, you know, typically net promoter, we do that through a quantitative study. It’s an online that comes through a text message on the phone and email. But you could ask in a conversation for someone to rate a product attribute on a scale from zero to five, zero to 10, whatever it is, and then ask them, “Why did you rate that a 10?” And then, they explain their ratings. So, that’s how I would use a mix of questions. And that’s, you know, both regardless of the type of study you’re doing.
Mike Blake: [00:28:08] And I think the advanced class in terms of data analytics, which I candidly can’t, I don’t know how to do, is analyzing the results of those unstructured answers. So, I’m curious, how do you do it? Are there tools that you put together that are like language analysis tools that help you do that? Or, how do you approach those free-range answers to try to aggregate them and pull a cohesive story out of them?
Carolyn Kopf: [00:28:39] Yeah. That’s a really great question. I have never been asked that. I love that because unstructured data is hard for some people, right? You know, data ana – you know, people work with their Excel sheet, Tableau, these different platforms. But really with unstructured data, we’re looking for themes. Right? So, it’s not, you know, you certainly want to compare conversation to conversation to identify theme. Once you identify those themes, you’ll pull some verbatim ones to bring color to the findings document. So, a verbatim would be a direct quote from a customer, prospective customer, lost customer that represents the overall story that’s been heard, for sure.
Mike Blake: [00:29:31] So, I’d love it – Give me an example of when a client of yours, maybe, you know, that hired you to find out something from – it could be current customers, prospects, lost customers, doesn’t matter. And, maybe the client thought that I already know what the answer is going to come back but maybe you came back and surprise them where the data sort of – you didn’t surprise them, the data surprised them, and the responses surprised them. Can you think of a time when that happened?
Carolyn Kopf: [00:30:00] Yeah. I mean, I think there’s a couple of instances. I mean, especially when you talk about doing an AAU study, attitudes, awareness and usage. Right? A customer does that to establish a baseline and monitor their brand’s performance and how it’s perceived in the marketplace with its customers as well as against its competitors. And so, you’ll know you’ll rate brand attributes as far as how the brand behaves, you know. Do people think that it’s fun to interact with the brand? Do they think that the brand customer service or communication is friendly or welcoming whatever the situation may be?
Carolyn Kopf: [00:30:42] And so, a lot of times there might be things that aren’t even a hypothesis that comes back of, “Oh, wow. We didn’t realize that we weren’t considered a friendly brand. We thought everyone was really warm and welcoming. Gosh. You know, but compared to our competitors, they might be doing a better job.” So, things that weren’t maybe on the radar, especially when you compare it against the competitors.
Carolyn Kopf: [00:31:11] Another example would be in message testing that you find out that, you know, you think you’re messaging is resonating or you have some new messaging that you want to launch, whether it’s for a TV or radio campaign or, and you test it and you hear from people that, “Wow. I can’t believe the brand’s talking to me in that manner. It’s rude. It’s making me feel bad. It’s fear-based.” And so, things that, again, weren’t even on the radar to expect to come back surprise – you know, the data surprises all of us, and the importance of that is the value of the data. Right?
Carolyn Kopf: [00:32:03] It’s a small investment compared to, you know, the marketing and advertising campaign creative, the production, the media buys. I mean, when you look at it and compared it to those budgets, it’s probably a rounding error. So, it makes sense to certainly get that pulse of, “Oh, yeah. This is resonating,” or, “Oh, wow. We should really talk to our team and train against this because it’s not coming through right to our customers.”
Mike Blake: [00:32:36] And, you know, those surprises can, as you said, you know, they can be so instructive and the business you’re in, to me, from my perspective I should say, the business that you’re in from my perspective is really the insurance business. Because for a small amount of a relatively small investment compared to the overall investment of introducing a new product service company launch, whatever, right, you can find out if you need to course correct or even bail out before you make the really big investment.
Carolyn Kopf: [00:33:09] Absolutely. Especially when you’re talking about proof of concept, you’re trying to figure out what price point, what products and features should be the top three that are communicated in the marketing that are going to be most, you know, interesting and compelling to the customer in a software solution, for example. I mean, you don’t want to put 15 product features when really there’s three that are going to compel and motivate the buyer to sign up.
Mike Blake: [00:33:41] I remember when at the outset of COVID, Apple had a very short-lived campaign where they were doing these TV and video advertisements, basically showing people having lots of fun and smiling while they’re all in quarantine and using their Apple devices and so forth. And, I sensed it and there was tremendous backlash because basically, while millions of people who can’t be sequestered were forced to put their lives on the line in service to the rest of the economy, and also just sort of completely missing the point that the pandemic was serious and it wasn’t just a vacation to go home and play on your iPad. You know, I think that was a place where Apple really missed the mark, and I suspect they thought that for sure. They really understood what everybody was going for.
Mike Blake: [00:34:29] But that to me, that was a classic case where they would have done very well to have stepped outside of their office and hired somebody like you to kind of test that message and give them sort of a reality check because it truly was disastrous. Your Apple can withstand that, but nevertheless, it was a disastrous campaign that the kind of study that you’re talking about, you know, talking to customers would have avoided.
Carolyn Kopf: [00:34:56] Yeah. And, I think that what’s important here is when you talk about, you know, smaller companies, startup companies, you know, these mid-sized companies, it matters. You know, if they have a misstep, it can mean market share points for them in the millions of dollars or more. So, I think that’s a great reminder about just taking the time and being thoughtful to hear from people before you tell them what you think they want to hear.
Mike Blake: [00:35:29] So, we’re recording this in a period of a lot of uncertainty in terms of, you know, meeting in person, return to office, et cetera, et cetera. Does it impact how you earn to interview or the efficacy of interviews to conduct them virtually or remotely versus in person? And if so, what adjustments have you had to make in terms of technique or approach to close that effectiveness gap?
Carolyn Kopf: [00:36:01] You know, we’ve always done in-depth interviews over the phone, right, because we might have, you know, 20 interviews, but we’re speaking with people around the country. So, it’s not cost-effective to fly to California and then fly to Texas and then over to New York and then to South Carolina. So, those would always traditionally be done over the phone.
Carolyn Kopf: [00:36:21] The primary difference is, you know, we’re now using Zoom. So, it’s almost better because you get to see the people and it’s easier to record. You’re not, you know, jury-rigging some handheld recorder or whatever techniques people use, you know, 10 years ago. And, everyone’s comfortable for the most part on Zoom. You know, there are a few exceptions, but really Zoom or similar platforms, whether it’s a WebEx or a Teams, they’re great for in-depth interviews.
Carolyn Kopf: [00:37:00] Certainly. I think the biggest change has been in-person focus groups, right, where those have gone virtual. Certainly, there are plenty of current focus groups behind the glass that are still occurring. But I think that there are definitely some efficiencies and comfort level with virtual focus groups and that saves people money. You don’t have to fly to California to conduct focus groups. You can do them online if there’s a speed or budget constraint for a company.
Mike Blake: [00:37:33] You know, you bring the whole Zoom thing up and it’s funny. You know, we’ve had the telephone for about 145 years and we’ve had video calling available for roughly 60. And it was really a niche, fringy product nobody wanted to deal with it, except for real tech heads until the pandemic hit. And then, all of a sudden, because there’s a virus out there, for some reason now we don’t want to do phone stuff anymore. Everything has to be on video. And, it’s strange because nothing changed about the core technology or even the use case. It’s just for whatever reason because we’re all in our – for our time, we’re all in our homes, all of a sudden we had to do video. Really strange. Somebody’s got to be writing psychology papers on that.
Carolyn Kopf: [00:38:17] It’s been a great tool and I’m surprised we haven’t, like you said, used it more often. I think it just wasn’t mainstream or it wasn’t a platform that was an easy subscription. Whereas, now it’s just part of your tech stack.
Mike Blake: [00:38:35] So, you mentioned something I want to, I did want to make sure to touch upon. It sounds like that it is a practice of yours, at least sometimes, to record interviews. And if that – is that in your mind a best practice as a blanket or are there some cases where it’s more important to record an interview than others?
Carolyn Kopf: [00:38:55] You know, I think that recording the interview has value for transcription. Right? So, you can really focus on speaking and listening to the participant in the study, and you can go back and, you know, if you’re allowed, I mean, there’s different parameters depending on the study design, you can go back and cut a video if it’s a Zoom and show a minute clip of, you know, 10 customers what they said, depending on if it’s, you know, the parameters. Again, sometimes it’s confidential and it’s blind and people aren’t supposed to know who’s participating. But again, there is that opportunity at the right design. But there’s also the opportunity to transcribe the interview so you have those notes so that you can pull the verbatim. I mean, you can certainly try to type as fast as you can to get those verbatims, and that’s certainly possible. But relying on the videos is just a great, again to use your word, insurance policy that you have the notes and all the information to do the analysis.
Mike Blake: [00:40:07] And, I’m guessing, I know some attorneys feel this way when they do when they take depositions that being able to capture the body language can sometimes be very material to what you glean from that interview.
Carolyn Kopf: [00:40:25] Certainly. I mean, we’re not putting anyone under the spotlight where we’re grilling them.
Mike Blake: [00:40:29] No, I understand. I understand. You know, waterboarding anybody. But nevertheless, I mean, you can a question that may make somebody feel uncomfortable or more comfortable, and, you know, but I’m only speculating. You know, whether it’s a deposition or a conversation, right, body language is meaningful.
Carolyn Kopf: [00:40:47] Yeah. And I think that that is interesting, but that’s not the core of the in-depth interviews. But, yeah.
Mike Blake: [00:40:55] You don’t make, like, little notes saying, well, this person has shifted in their seat a little bit or looked flustered on an interview question, number nine.
Carolyn Kopf: [00:41:04] No.
Mike Blake: [00:41:05] All right.
Carolyn Kopf: [00:41:05] I think it’ll come through someone hums and haws, and most people will say, “You know what? I just don’t have the expertise to talk about that particular question.” And, it’s very different with the in-depth interviews. You know, it might be different with a focus group where you’re asking someone, “What do you think about this package design?” And they’re, you know, trying for all their might to rip something open and, you know, jabbing at it with scissors. All of a sudden, someone’s body language of, gosh, they can’t open this package, it’s not designed or consumer-friendly, that absolutely matters.
Carolyn Kopf: [00:41:42] And, there are certainly in-depth interviews that may be more ethnographic in nature, where you can send someone a product and say, “All right. I want you to work with this product and use the product, and then we’re going to have a conversation around it.” And at that point, they may share the product. And, that’s where body language would be important, for sure. So, I think you make a very good point.
Carolyn Kopf: [00:42:06] And, again, it just comes down to what you’re trying to learn. And, is it conversation, is it ethnographic where you’re really trying to learn how someone uses something in their home or office? So many variables.
Mike Blake: [00:42:21] I’m talking with Carolyn Kopf, and the topic is, should I interview my customers? A couple of questions I wanted to get through here, make sure that we cover. One, is there any value to interviewing a customer more than once? Maybe, not in the same study, but maybe you come back to that same customer a year later, two years later. Is there a, you know, maybe influences? I don’t know. I’m sort of spitballing. You’re the expert. I’m not. But I’m speculating that there could be a case in which interviewing the same customer over time might yield interesting sort of quasi-time series data. Or, is that just not a thing?
Carolyn Kopf: [00:43:09] No. I mean, I don’t know that it’s a thing. Again, it comes back to what you’re trying to monitor. So, if you’re doing an online study where you’re establishing a baseline on perceptions of a certain brand, of course, you’re going to want to redo that study in a year or 18 months or two years. You may not send it to the exact same body of people. There might be some overlap, but certainly, you start to see how perceptions change.
Carolyn Kopf: [00:43:42] Also, when you talk about the NPS surveys, again, it’s more that you’re repeating to your customer base, right, of, okay, it’s been six months since they received this appliance and they’ve installed it and used it and we asked them how everything was going or how the delivery experience was, you know, a week after they received it. But now, we want to go back and ask them how the experience is with the product.
Carolyn Kopf: [00:44:13] You know, the same with a software, right? So, “Oh, how was it to sign up? Was it easy to sign up and implement the software?” You might ask them that. And then six months later, “How happy are you with the software now that you’ve been using it for six months?”
Carolyn Kopf: [00:44:30] So, absolutely. there are reasons to do follow-up whether it’s monitoring perceptions or following up with an appropriate series of questions as they get more familiar with your product or solution.
Mike Blake: [00:44:46] Carolyn, this has been a great conversation. I want to be respectful of your time. There are probably questions that somebody wished we would have covered or maybe would have wished we spent more time on going into more detail. If somebody has a question about interviewing customers, can they contact you to follow up? And if so, what’s the best way to do that?
Carolyn Kopf: [00:45:05] Absolutely. I think the easiest way to find us and all of our contact information is online, at our website, which is cekpartners.com. So, you’ll find all our social handles there, as well as a contact form and a phone number.
Mike Blake: [00:45:24] That’s going to wrap it up for today’s program. I’d like to thank Carolyn Kopf so much for sharing her expertise with us.
Mike Blake: [00:45:30] We’ll be exploring a new topic each week, so please tune in so that when you’re faced with your next business decision, you have clear vision when making it. If you enjoy these podcasts, please consider leaving a review with your favorite podcast aggregator. It helps people find us that we can help them.
Mike Blake: [00:45:46] If you would like to engage with me on social media with my Chart of the Day and other content, I’m on LinkedIn as myself and @Unblakeable on Facebook, Twitter, Clubhouse, and Instagram. Also, check out my new LinkedIn group called Unblakeable’s Group That Doesn’t Suck. Once again, this is Mike Blake. Our sponsor is Brady Ware & Company. And this has been the Decision Vision podcast.