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Rx: Suntan Lotion

Suntan (c) Naomi Karten

Do you conduct customer interviews? If so, I hope you avoid the mistakes made by a woman who interviewed me at the local mall. The subject: Consumer preferences for the name of a new suntan lotion.

The woman approached me, clipboard in hand, and asked if Iíd mind being interviewed. She assured me it would take only a few minutes. When I agreed (how could she know that Iím always on the lookout for case study material?), she invited me to a tiny, doorless cubicle in an office on the lower level of the mall.

She began by showing me a list of proposed names of a new suntan lotion and asking me to recite them. They all sounded like medicine youíd take after your suntan lotion failed to do its job.

A series of questions followed. What did each of these names suggest to me? (Medicine!) What came to mind when I thought of each of them? (Medicine!) Which of several factors are important to me in selecting a suntan lotion? (It shouldnít remind me of medicine!!) You get the idea.

What made this experience a case study, though, was not these off-putting names, but the unprofessional way she conducted the interview. Throughout the interview, staff members kept poking their heads into our cubicle, shouting questions at my interviewer. Repeatedly, she interrupted the interview to help them.

At several points, she even left the cubicle to resolve problems. Each time she returned, she apologized and told me how grateful she was for my participation. Itíll only take a few minutes longer, she repeated for the umpteenth time.

My poor interviewer became so flustered by the commotion that she read aloud not only the instructions for the interviewee, but also the interviewerís instructions ("Allow the respondent to give multiple responses to this question."). She was the supervisor, she explained, and her client was demanding results, but some of her staff hadnít shown up and she was trying to do two jobs. I could appreciate her plight -- who hasnít faced staff shortages? Still, if you want to appear professional, do the opposite of what she did.

For example, conduct your interviews in a place thatís free of distractions and interruptions. Strive to appear relaxed and confident, even if your insides are trying out for the pole vaulting team. Prepare for the interview. Reading from a script is fine, but it shouldnít sound as if youíre just reading it for the first time. If things go wrong, donít call undue attention to them. Repeated apologies, even though well-intended, are just plain annoying. Before you begin the interview, state how long itíll take Ė and then stick to that time commitment. (My interview took about four minutes; the interruptions extended it to 30).

When the interview ended, my interviewer again thanked me profusely, apologized for taking so much of my time, and gave me a coupon book with discounts at local stores and restaurants. The expiration date was two days later. When I pointed this out, she apologized again and accompanied me back upstairs to Mall Central.

I donít know why, but I often think of her on SPF45 days.

Text and graphics copyright © 2009 Karten Associates. +1-781-986-8148,


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Karten Associates
Randolph, Mass., USA
Phone: +1-781-986-8148
Fax: +1-781-394-0530