Take Your Customer Conversations To The Next Level

These days we are finding companies treading water in the wake of their own customer analytics. They have expanded their data sets, yet they are still searching for answers; still searching for the "why" behind survey results. The majority of customer insight interactions are short-lived and simply aren't structured to get beyond the "what" of the customer experience.

Conversations with customers may be perceived as less efficient, but they do unlock three attributes to customer insight that analytics and other means fail to deliver on: depth, emotion and authenticity; all keys to revealing the elusive "why".

The only trick is knowing how to navigate each customer conversation, or in our case an in-depth interview, to ensure you are getting the answers to your most burning questions. 


First know that there are content tiers to every conversation. An awareness of these tiers enables a better vantage point from which to speak with a customer and generate meaningful insight. We'll draw upon an actual customer story above to help illustrate each content tier.

  • SUPERFICIAL: The first tier of content in conversation, largely made up of initial surface-level responses. In the graphic above, "Small business, we're scrappers. We're scrappy." is a perfect example. On the surface, small business owners can appear confident and scrappy; jacks-of-all-trades that just know how to get it done. If we were to stop the conversation here, we would miss their harsh reality.
  • INTELLECTUAL: Moving up into the second tier of content, the intellectual tier reveals a very objective view of what the customer's life is like today as well as rational reasoning behind their decision-making. "There's just so much to do, but somehow we get through it," sheds some light on the challenges inherent to being a small business owner but doesn't convey the emotional depths to which they must go, so push further.
  • EMOTIONAL: The third tier of content in conversation marks a transition from the "what" behind customer responses to the "why". Quality time leads to a strong rapport and smart questioning continues to elevate the discussion. In this tier, discussion becomes emotionally-charged as customers feel comfortable sharing their feelings, triggering empathy. In the graphic above, the customer was ready to take the conversation deeper. "Every night we go to bed thinking, how am I going to get through this?" No longer is this customer the scrapper who doesn't need any help; this is becoming an entirely different story. Fantastic insight into needs and desires can be discovered in the emotional tier, but don't stop there.
  • ESSENTIAL: The fourth tier of content, the essential tier, is where customer core beliefs and motivations are revealed. It won't come quickly so you will need time to establish rapport. It's each customer's endgame, and therefore the most valuable content you can generate. In the example above we learn: "There are no manuals for this. We're real people out here, so if you really want to get to the heart of us, help us." At last the customer is truly revealed and we can begin to learn who we are really building solutions for.

To move upwards into higher tiers of content during the conversation, you will need to employ a technique we use called laddering. Now that you know there is richer content you can access in each tier, you just need to ladder to get to it. Simply take the most superficial responses to your initial questions and pose variations on the question "why?" to ladder-up. Why do small business owners have to be scrappy? If it's because there's so much to do, why must everything get done? How does the experience make them feel? If they go to bed worried every night, why would help be so valuable?

Awareness of the content tiers and the practice of laddering will take your customer conversations to the next level.