July 16, 2020
To create content that performs, it’s critical for writers to understand how customers perceive your product, what problems they use it to solve, and what problems, more generally, they have.
(In shorter words: writers need empathy.)
A great way to do this is by talking to customers. In the vast majority of companies we’ve worked with, content producers, and often even marketers more generally, don’t do this. Common objections include:
- Not having time
- Not wanting to bother customers
- Not knowing what to ask
The first two are easy to deal with. The time you take in building empathy with customers is paid off by the time you’ll save creating the right content, and really understanding where your customers are coming from. And as for not bothering customers – they would love to talk to you about your product, as long as they feel like you’re listening. Relationships with your customers, like trust, are a positive-sum game.
So what if you don’t know what to ask? Here are a few good questions to start with.
Tell me about yourself
This is a quick one, but you want to make a connection with the person you’re interviewing. What’s their role, how long have they been in it? How do they describe the company they work at? Useful context for understanding where they’re coming from.
Before you start the interview, you should also take a minute to tell them who you are and your role at your company. And some general tips: show your engagement with the interviewee, and take it slow since often the most interesting information comes after a moment of reflection.
What do you like about your work? What do you dislike?
Start listening here for things they want to do more of – sources of value for them in their work – and pain points. If you’re interviewing an SDR who uses your product and they tell you that the most unpleasant part of their day is filling out reports, you know that the ability of your product to automate reporting is useful to them.
Tell us how you heard about our product
Did they hear about it from a friend, see it on social, or read some interesting article that led them to it? In any case, this is critical data for your content distribution strategy, and you’ll want to share it with your demand gen team, too. (Or maybe your customer can’t remember how they heard about it; that’s useful information, too.)
For extra points with your marketing ops team, see if your customer’s memory of where they heard about it is the same as what’s reflected in your lead gen analytics.
What are you using it to do?
This is the first question that will really help you home in on what you should be writing about. Not only does this answer tell you what problems your software solves, but more importantly, it tells you how your customer thinks about the problem your software solves.
You might get a really simple answer: “We use your software to manage our inventory.” But that gives you a chance to dig a little bit deeper. “Tell me more about that process”, “How did you do that before you started using our software?” or similar questions will reveal details about the customer’s goals and experiences that you can use to write more useful content for them.
What’s your favorite part of our product?
Share this answer with your product team. But also, the language here is useful for your landing pages and calls to action.
“What is your favorite part of using our CRM?”
“Well, I love how flexible it is. You can basically do anything with this software.”
This customer (and others) say that they love the flexibility of your software. This leads to:
- A series of how-to articles on all the interesting things you can do
- A survey of top things that your CRM is used to do
- The use of the “flexibility” theme in your ads, product page copy, and landing pages
If you had a magic wand, what would you change?
Share this answer with your product team, too. From a content perspective, the opportunity here is to know what to avoid. For example, is your search painful to use? Maybe take “powerful search” out of your landing page bullets.
If you were to describe our product to a colleague, what would you say?
This is a key question for your organic search strategy. How do your users talk about your app? What do they think it is? You can target this phrase in search. But also, if you’re hearing answers that are not what your product does, that gives you an opportunity to write content that helps users better understand what they should be using it for.
“I usually describe it as a tool that makes it easier to schedule appointments.”
Of course that means you should make sure you’re targeting how to use your product to make appointment-setting easier. But it also means that you can write some other posts about how your product maximizes customer satisfaction, or facilitates customer engagement via instant videoconferencing.
Letting your customer talk will give you some useful insights. They may also have a problem that you can easily solve for them – a misunderstanding about how a feature works, for example, or lack of awareness about something that’s available to them.
Investing in customer interviews will generate a huge payback for your content marketing efforts. Even one interview every week or two will help you build empathy for your customer. Becoming a skilled user interviewer takes time, and there are lots of places to learn more; Nielsen Norman Group is a go-to for us.