Asking questions is integral to all consulting jobs. Very, very rarely will the situation you're in be so simplistic or so well-defined that you won't need to ask questions. The following are some practical client interviewing tips which should help you achieve the best results.
Set objectives – Clarify in your own mind what you want to accomplish during each interview.
Prepare you questions in advance – Write them out. Use open-ended questions to get the client talking and sharing his ideas, opinions, insights, and biases. Use closed-ended questions to verify specifics and confirm understanding.
Prioritize your questions – Decide which questions are most important; this way you will know what to ask if time is running out.
Frame your questions – Clients will give you more and better information if they understand the reasoning behind your questions. Precede questions with brief statements explaining what type of information you need, why you want it, and how you will use it. Use examples when necessary.
Keep your client on track – One of the best ways to keep you and the client on track is to provide the client with a list of you questions in advance. If the conversation still wanders, summarize the client's last few statements and refocus the conversation by restating your last question or asking the next one on your list.
Summarize the needs back to the client – Check on the priorities of those needs and check on the value the client perceives.
Guidelines for note-taking – Throughout the question and answer process, you want to make sure you take good notes. Some reasons for taking good notes include:
- It's almost impossible to conduct dozens of interviews and remember who said what.
- The most effective statements to put into a report are often direct statements from the client. It's very difficult to recreate these statements word for word.
- It creates a permanent record of interviews that can be used to demonstrate scope and nature of work done.
General rules for taking notes – To get the most out of your notes, be sure to do the following:
- Organize your notes to match your list of interviewing questions. When possible, cross-reference them by number.
- Accurately record the date, time, and person interviewed.
- Record key thoughts about what the interviewee said. Don't try to take down every word.
- When possible, tape-record the interview and transcribe later. Written transcripts provide an easy second look at the information and a way for others to see exactly what was said.
- Record your thoughts about what you've seen and heard. Non-verbal communications won't appear on written transcripts.
- Write so you can read your notes later.