How To Overcome Your Client Feedback Blind Spot​​​​​​​


Whether you collect testimonials from clients during exit interviews, or you ask for them later, having endorsements from previous clients helps potential clients make the decision to work with you. Testimonials and case studies let them see what it’s like to work with you and help them picture the kind of results they can achieve with your help.

What’s the best way to gather testimonials and case studies, you ask?

Client interviews.

Look, I hear you shaking your head and running for the door at the thought of doing client interviews.

GIF of guy shaking his head saying

You can get good solid information, but asking the right questions can be tricky, and sometimes it’s downright awkward to ask a client why they loved working with you.

(I know you are thinking “Why can’t I just do a survey or something?”, and I promise we’ll talk about those in another post. This is not the post for that. This is the one where SOMEONE needs to actually talk to your clients.)

So, what if there were a way to approach client interviews that would help you capture the whole story?

First…a little breakdown of perspectives. Why does it matter who’s doing the interviewing?

The Insider Perspective (aka “Assumed Knowledge”)

Chances are good that your inner circle of friends have a set of stories, experiences, and inside jokes that have become part of your shared conversation. You’ve been through stuff together, and when you talk, you use those shared experiences to relate to other things happening in your lives. Kind of like Darmok – the episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where the Tamarians speak only in metaphors. (Yeah, you might have to look that one up.) Or you know, pretty much every episode of Friends. You know exactly what’s going on because you’re in on the metaphor/joke/story, etc. But the rest of the world is looking at you, scratching their heads, and wondering what in the heck you’re talking about.

GIF of Alex from Orange is the New Black talking about things and stuff

Example: You can say “you know, the thing with the stuff”, and your friend knows exactly what you mean.

The same thing essentially happens when you are working with a client.

Over the course of working together, you are sharing the experience, you become comfortable with certain ways of communicating, you get to know each other and create your own shared working language. You know all the same acronyms and jargon. If they are an awesome client, you probably also have your own inside jokes. It’s that whole building-a-relationship-with-a-person thing.

You both KNOW what you’re working on. You don’t have to start from scratch each time you talk, you can skip right to the next thing on your mutual to-do list. For example, you “assume” the other person knows what you mean when you say “The Project That Shall Not Be Named”  so you don’t have to explain yourself every time.

Now compare that to the interaction you would have with someone you know but never get to see or talk to very often…

The Outsider Perspective (aka “Fresh Ears”)

We all have that friend or family member who refuses to use social media. (The UNTAGGABLE) (I’m looking at YOU, Lisa). Regardless of their reasons, the only way to connect with them is to get on the phone or get face to face and bring them up to speed on everything they’ve missed.

So you pick a spot and make a plan to meet up for a beverage and a fun afternoon of catch up conversations. You tell them all the stories your family has heard a dozen times, but this time is different, because your friend’s never heard them before. They’re not on Facebook, so they haven’t seen the 35 pictures from your trip to New York (including all the pseudo-selfies you took to capture images of wacky or famous people on the sly) – or all the comments about your kid’s first time at camp. This means you really play up the exciting parts and the parts you probably wouldn’t tell to your family because you think they already know them.

Because there’s no “assumed knowledge” your friend will often hear details you might not otherwise have shared – and they might share insights (and ask questions) you might not otherwise have gotten that will enrich the entire experience.

Simply put… you tell a better story.

 SNL GIF of Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers saying SNL GIF of Snow White getting a hive five from all the Dwarves

You and Your Clients are Now The In-Crowd

Because you and your clients have so much shared knowledge, you actually end up saying less about some of the more obvious things about your work together.

This can be because of:

  • preconceived notions of roles/responsibilities in your client relationship
  • business culture/environment
  • comfort zone when working together
  • the desire for forward momentum

Your client isn’t trying to analyze what it’s like to work with you as you work together. They just want to get the work done. Processing happens later. If they’re introverted, they’ll probably never even mention it to you. Verbal processors, on the other hand, might want to have a debrief session later.

Social expectations/norms also dictate the level of feedback a person might give in the moment, and once you’ve moved on, you probably won’t bring it up either. It can also be jarring to “talk feelings” if you’ve been in a purely strategic relationship. This can show up while you’re working together. The client might have some thoughts about how something could be improved, but they don’t want to slow things down, so they brush it off or tell themselves they can mention it later.

This shows up in requests for testimonials too. They LIKE you! They want other people to hire you too! But our culture is just weird when it comes to gushing about people directly to their face. You can be putting a lot of pressure on your clients without realizing it. They don’t want to let you down, they want to sound persuasive, and their “selling” brain turns on and they end up just wanting to make you sound good and feel good instead of offering details about how you helped them make progress on the things most important to them.

Don’t get me wrong. Doing your own interviews can yield valuable data – in fact, the “assumed/shared knowledge” can actually clear the path to deeper conversations because you already have the details out of the way. It’s a kind of shorthand that allows you to work efficiently and effectively, based on your previous conversations about the goals you’re trying to achieve together. But it’s not the whole story.

Third Party Interviewers Can Get the Outside Scoop

As a new listener, they get the missing story – the part you don’t usually hear due to shared knowledge. Why? People tell their story differently to someone who’s never heard it before. Click To Tweet Much like that social media abstaining friend, a third party doesn’t know much beyond the top-level view. Your client doesn’t have to worry about offending YOU when they’re talking to them. A third party is neutral, trained “fresh ears” – to collect (not shape) the information about what their experience was like.

In the “Jobs To Be Done” methodology, a third-party interview is designed to get your client in the “habit of remembering” (as Alan Klement described in his book “When Coffee And Kale Compete“). Then as they go into storytelling mode, they share the extra details that they either assume you already know or didn’t think were efficient to share at the time (because for example, maybe you charge an hourly rate). There’s no filter, it’s uncensored. There’s more discussion about how things really made them feel and what they were thinking about, versus the actions taken.

The actions are important, but the motivations are even more important. Third party interviews provide that extra angle that you couldn’t otherwise see. It’s the difference between having a continuous conversation with your friends in messenger, and meeting up with an old friend you haven’t heard from in ages. Each has value, but there’s a fresh take that only comes from that one-on-one connection.

For example, when I’ve done interviews for my clients, it always happens that while they are recalling things like how they met, or what they were working on, they always go on these wonderful tangents that fill in the story more completely. Memories trigger previously forgotten ideas or aha moments that they never mentioned. Sometimes they are processing their experience for the first time. And they tell me their own versions of how they’ve explained the problem they had before they came to you. The whole point is that we are capturing their stories in their words, without any of the weird pressure that comes with feeling like they’ve been put on the spot.

The thing that has truly caught my clients off guard, has been when they’ve watched the client interview videos I collected for them. It’s eye opening.

Client feedback testimonial saying


Now, I’m not saying that this is groundbreaking video to anyone else, but to my clients, it’s the first time they’ve really gotten to be a fly on the wall while their clients discuss them and their business. I mean really, how often do you just get to sit back and watch someone talk about you for 45 minutes?

One of my clients said that it actually made her a better person for watching them. She got to see how things she took for granted really made a big impact on her coaching clients, and she got to hear them talk about all the work that happened between their coaching sessions that never got mentioned.

Another just couldn’t believe how her clients saw her. “I’m floored I actually make people feel this way!”

As Seth Godin says, “Marketing is no longer about the stuff you make, but about the stories you tell.” Your client’s words hold so much power. They can help you improve your business. They build trust FOR you with others.  It’s what social proof is all about. They are part of your business’ story, and having an outside interviewer can help you capture the whole story.


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