How to Become a Better Listener for Customer Research. (Plus a Free Download!)

So you’re ready to incorporate listening into your marketing plan, and do some in-person customer research to gain insight into how they think and feel. But there’s one thing standing in your way: you aren’t the best listener.

It’s okay to admit it. We’re all friends here and have had our moments of being less than stellar at receiving information. Like during that morning coffee run with your girlfriend where she incessantly talks about how she’s totally vegan but can’t wait to try that new sushi place downtown.

You’re well-intentioned. You really want to be all-in and focused on what the person in front of you is saying but you find yourself zoning out.

You have orders to fill, clients to schedule, products and services to share with the world. Your to-do list is out of control. It’s no wonder you can’t find your focus to, as kindergarten teachers nationwide suggest, put on your listening ears.

Here are 5 tips to help you become a better listener for your customer interviews...and for life in general.

  1. Exercise- before an interview take a brisk walk or try and squeeze in a yoga or cycling class. Exercise helps to destress the body and releases endorphins that allow you to focus on what’s important: the client/customer willing to talk with you about your business. If your interviews are in the morning, work out before getting your day started. If they are later in the day, block off time on your calendar to exercise and freshen up before your interview begins.

  2. Pick a comfortable environment- not one that will make both you and your customer fall asleep but not an interrogation room either. This isn’t prison. You want an environment in which your customer will feel relaxed enough to open up and you feel like you can give them your full attention. Does your office have a nice and private seating area? Great! Maybe you take them to coffee or tea during an off hour where a ton of people aren’t clamoring around you, or rent a room at a coworking space in your area. If you’re doing your interviews online, the same applies. Pick an environment in which you feel your best.

  3. Put your technology (and other distractions) away- You’ve blocked off 20-30 minutes for your in-person customer research. I assure you, it is possible to be away from your phone/tablet/child/dog that long. Turn your devices on Do Not Disturb, hire a sitter for both the child and the dog if need be. If you already have a hard time staying focused, don’t set yourself up for failure by keeping your top distractions around. Your client/customer is doing you a favor. A huge one. Let them know how much they matter by giving them your undivided attention.

  4. Ask thoughtful questions- One way to keep your listening ears on is by asking questions you actually want the answers to. Yes, while customer research is all about them, a whole hell of a lot of it is about you too. Ask them to tell you more about how they’ve “had problem skin forever.” What does that mean? How have they tried to fix it? How did it make them feel? You want the answers to all of these to inform how you talk to your ideal audience. They need to know that you get them. And when you get them, you’re gold.

  5. Keep your mind and body language open- Customer research to gain audience insights is a NO JUDGEMENT ZONE. You may hear things about your business you don’t want to. It’s okay. It’s actually pretty awesome. Now you know how to adjust your products/services/brand in a way your ideal audience wants. Throughout all they say, maintain eye contact, nod, empathize with a smile or lean in, relax your shoulders and uncross your arms (no matter how comfortable it is cross them--I’m 100% guilty of this). This encourages your customer to relax and share.


Ready to talk to clients and customers, and create content they can’t wait to consume? Download your free pdf The Interviews Handbook: How to Create Content Your Audience Actually Wants

Tiffany Clarke Harrison