Small tweaks, Big Differences: Lowering your flake rate on customer interviews

Are you having trouble getting customers to interview for your product? Are too many flaking out and missing your scheduled calls?

It’s a common challenge new and veteran PMs face every week: You want to be interviewing customers, but they’re not happening as often as you’d like.

While I’ve written a bunch about how to interview customers, and how to take great notes, I haven’t discussed the important step of actually getting customers to show up for a call.

I was just helping a client with this issue recently, so wanted to share what I’ve learned helping dozens of product managers over the years. Here’s my best advice for improving your success rate at both getting customers to interview and getting them to show up:

How to get more of your customers to show up for their scheduled customer interviews

You can’t interview customers who don’t set up a time to speak with you.

Or, put more simply: you have a 100% flake rate for the customers who never scheduled a call.

So if you haven’t set up any calls yet, you’ll need to do that first. Here’s where you can start if you’re new to customer interviews:

  • Ask your existing user base: If you have only 10 customers, go interview all 10. When you have much more than that, you can narrow your focus, but it’s always best to start with people already familiar with your product.
  • Focus on power users: Every product tends to have some people that are fired up about using it. They log in more, complete more actions, and may even evangelize it to others. These people are gold. One of the best ways to thank them is to interview them and take their feedback and ideas seriously. They often reveal insights that can help guide you to your next stage of growth.
  • Mix up your methods: Every customer type I’ve ever worked with has been a little different what works best. Try various communication mediums to see what works best (text, email, messages in your platform, Linkedin, etc).
  • Act on what you learn: This should go without saying, but I’ve seen too many PMs miss the forest for the trees on customer interviews. You should be learning new things in interviews that influence your roadmap, improve designs, and fix bugs. Taking action on what you hear is what signifies to those you interview that it was worth their time to talk to you.
  • Give credit and thanks to those that helped: This may seem like a small thing, but it is a big deal. Customers *love* hearing that you built the thing they complained about or suggested. Taking a few minutes to message them to let them know can go a long way, and is often how you then build relationships where customers will volunteer for interviews again and again.

And if you need more ideas for getting customers to speak with or just need to find your first set of customers, I have a post that will give you tons of ideas: 95 ways to find your first customers.

Rules of thumb to remember when interviewing customers:

Before we dive into the tactics to use to get your customers to show up for their interviews, keep in mind a few important rules of thumb for these interviews:

  1. It’s hard to start from scratch: If you’ve never interviewed customers before, it will take time to get your customers used to talking with you. The first ask will have the lowest response rate, and then it will get better from there.
  2. Your industry matters a lot: B2B customers are typically much easier to get calls with than B2C (consumers), but that varies, too. Think about your customer and how often they’re by a computer or phone and what their schedule is like. The more they are available and near a phone/computer, the easier to get calls, while the less they are, the harder interviews will be. So yes, it’s harder to interview college students than an IT department. But it’s also harder to interview a construction worker than a retiree.
  3. How you ask matters, too: Being friendly, explaining what’s in it for them, and making it as easy as possible makes a big difference, too. You should experiment on the best methods and wording to ask for interviews just like you’d test other messaging in your product and emails.
  4. Ask the right people: Make sure you know who you want to talk to and why. Power users are more likely to speak to you, as are those who are most motivated to use your product (like a sales rep mandated to log their calls) and have been using it. Asking people who never log into your product will both be harder to get on the phone, and have fewer useful insights (unless you’re specifically trying to learn how to activate users of their type).

All of this is to say that practice and persistence makes perfect; it takes time to master the entire process of interviewing customers, but the rewards are huge. You’ll make better product decisions, improve your product, and gain insights that can improve every team and department.

Fixing the flake rate: How to get more customers to show up to your interviews

No matter what you do, some customers won’t show up to your interviews. It’s an unfortunate fact of life. Emergencies come up, conflicts hit their schedules, and some people flat out forget.

Yet, there’s a tolerable amount of flaking, an expected amount of flaking, and then amounts that make it too hard to do your job, and leave you and colleagues feeling frustrated.

The rule of thumb I like to use is that in an easy to reach, engaged audience in B2B, 10% is a good flake rate (meaning 1 in 10 calls scheduled is a no-show), while in B2C and other difficult industries, a 40% flake rate is not unusual.

Regardless of your industry, we want to make that number as low as we possibly can. These tactics will help you accomplish that.

Oncehub and Calendly are your friends.

Before we get into the nitty gritty details, it’s important to call out the most important tool in the process of scheduling customer interviews: your scheduler.

If you work in tech, you probably use Calendly, and if you’re really old school, you may remember the old days of Tungle, who invented the tech back in ~2009. I personally use a tool called Oncehub, which I find more robust and customizable than Calendly, but both will work.

The key with either is that they automate parts of the process you don’t want to have to do yourself like:

  • Proposing times you can make based on your current schedule in any moment.
  • Creating a calendar invite and sending it to your interviewee and any colleagues joining.
  • Avoiding any double bookings no matter when your customers are ready to find a time.
  • Handling reminders, and easy rescheduling for the customer.

And if you’ve ever used them, I’m sure you can think of other benefits as well.

All of their functionality turns many frustrating back and forth emails into a few quick clicks and you’re done. And unless your customers are egotistical VCs on Twitter, they’ll be grateful to have something so simple and fast to use. (…and a dirty secret about VCs is that the same people who *hate* calendar scheduling links have assistants who *love* to use them.)

Tweaks to Your Customer Interview Scheduling Process to Reduce Flaking

Ok. Now that you have a calendar scheduling tool set up, let’s go check those settings so that you maximize the chances that the majority of your customers who schedule a time will actually speak with you.

1) Set a lot of reminders:

Your first instinct may be to minimize reminders. You sent a calendar invite, right? You make all the meetings and events on your calendar, so your assumption is everyone else is the same.

That’s a rookie mistake.

Instead, set multiple reminders: 24 hours before, 1 hour before, and 10 minutes before is a your best bet. This makes sure the day before they see, “oh right, I’m supposed to talk to [your company] tomorrow.” Then, the 1 hour and 10 minute reminders ensure you’re at the top of their inbox and they are less likely to get sidetracked and forget.

Even if you think they’d be annoying, realize these reminders really help you out, so take advantage of the fact scheduling tools will automatically send these for you….if you turn them on.

2) Ask for a phone number at sign up, then call them:

You may use Zoom or MS Teams or Google Hangouts for all your calls at work, but that doesn’t mean your customers always do. For any number of reasons they may be unable to or unfamiliar with the technology.

And even if they are familiar, there may be times they have issues with the system working due to spotty internet, not being near a computer, or IT restrictions. You never know until you lose some calls because of it.

However, unfortunately many customers who miss calls never tell you why they didn’t make it.

That’s why the best thing you can do is ask for their phone number when they sign up for a call, so you can call them instead of wait for them to dial in.

3) Offer a gift card or credits for their time:

One of the easiest ways to recruit more people to speak to you is to offer them a reward for their time. This is particularly helpful when you’re working on a consumer product.

This can also often help with flake rates, too, because people are more likely to show up when they have a reward they’ll get after.

Just realize there’s quickly diminishing returns on this; while $20 might work better than $5, you typically won’t find much difference between $20 and $50, or $50 and $100. The exception is if you’re trying to talk to high net worth individuals, or executives; in that case you may need to pay a lot more, or donate the money to a charity instead.

Regardless, offering compensation (or credit with your product) is a great way to not just get people to schedule a call, but if you remind them of the offer, it can help with getting fewer of your interviewees to no-show.

4) Remind them what the purpose of the meeting is in the title, description, and initial ask:

As you’ve likely learned in building products, the little details matter, and they add up. Getting the details right in your customer interview reminders and calendar invites is no different.

Assume that your customers are busy, distracted, and thinking about a lot of other things, which means repeating all the most important details will help.

Go through your calendar scheduling tools settings and:

  • Make your title for the calendar event something clear and descriptive (i.e.- “[Your company] product interview about [Feature]”)
  • Put in the description all the key information about the event to further jog their memory and remind them of the reward they’ll get (i.e.- “You scheduled this call so we can talk to you about your experience with [Feature]. As a thank you, you’ll receive a $X gift card for your time.”)
  • Put all this info in the reminders, too. Remember those 24 hour, 1 hour, and 10 minute reminders? Usually you can add a note or customize them, so add the same info there, too.

You never know what your customer will or will not look at, so by always having the most useful information, you avoid them saying, “Who the heck is Joe and why did I agree to call with them?”

5) Configure messages to come from your email as much as possible:

Your interviews are a chance to build a relationship with your customers. One of the best ways to do that is for them to feel like they can reach you.

Sending messages from “noreply@” and default systems feel impersonal and prevent your customers from reaching you directly. This can rob you of all kinds of valuable opportunities:

  • Questions or concerns they have before speaking with you (which if unanswered they just won’t show up)
  • Feedback about your product. Most feedback never makes it to the PMs who can do something about it, so the best thing you can do is give your customers a direct line to you to cut out all the middlemen.

Where possible, swap any default email addresses and noreply@ systems for your own email, or an alias you can forward to you.

6) Resurrect some missed calls by sending followups:

There are a million reasons why someone might forget about your call with them. Don’t take it personal.

Instead, assume they meant to make the call and something came up. If that happens, the best thing you can do is follow up. I like to do so twice for anyone who seems to be flaking:

  1. 5 minutes after the start time: This is a last ditch effort to get them to join you. Be brief, polite, and simply include the link or dial in info to your call.
  2. 30 minutes after the start time: At this point they’re obviously not making it, so now this follow up is a “Sorry we missed you email” which then you give them a link to reschedule to a better time.

Neither of these are perfect, but I’m always amazed at how effective they are.

I find that anywhere from a quarter to a half of my flakes will respond to one of these and ultimately lead to us having a call.

And a couple settings for your benefit:

While you’re in your calendar scheduling tool setting things up, a couple other settings that will really help you be more effective:

  • Allow for no more than 3 calls in a day. Trust me, you’ll be drained, and this way you can still get other things done in your work day.
  • Leave a 30 minute buffer between meetings. This helps with any bio breaks you need, making sure you’re prepared well, and avoids fatigue.

With a few tweaks and tactical additions to your process, you can significantly change how often your customers flake on your customer interviews.

How do you avoid customers flaking on your calls? Leave a comment with any other tactics you recommend.

Further Reading:

Want to learn more about having great customer interviews? These other posts can help you:

And if you want hands on help creating a repeatable process for interview customers and turning those insights into great products, I’m available as a coach and consultant for a limited number of engagements. You can sign up for a call here, or learn more about my work here.

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