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In-House Versus Outside-Agency Customer Interviews

market research customer interviewsIt may not be an age-old debate, but it’s one I’ve been hearing a lot lately. In market research, customer interviews (or in-depth interviews, or IDIs) are often a key part of a broader research study. If you’ve been planning a research project involving IDIs, you’ve probably asked yourself whether or not you should hire an outside market research supplier, or use in-house colleagues to conduct the interviews.

Though the obvious reason for choosing the in-house option may be financial, there are additional reasons for going with this path that are just as pertinent. Specifically, the desire to create more hands-on involvement for team members (allowing them to have direct learning experiences), as well as rapid feedback, make in-house research enticing.

When handling customer interviews in-house, you gain the benefit of fast feedback. You can easily receive updates from colleagues making the calls down the hall. Should any roadblocks arise, you and the interviewers can quickly review the screening criteria, modify the interview guide, or escalate findings.

We also see enhanced learning (more “aha!” moments) when team members are personally involved. This fact holds true regardless if it’s executives, middle managers, or other staff conducting the customer interviews. There is nothing like talking to 10, or even just five, customers one-on-one to create deep, lasting insight.

Risks of In-house In-depth Interviews

So what are the risks of doing IDIs in-house?

The ultimate risk: alienating clients. Colleagues who have not been trained to do customer interviews may have trouble asking questions and listening to responses in a purely objective way. Clients may get irritated if they feel manipulated or misunderstood by a company representative.

Another big risk: underestimating the amount of project management work involved. If you have never conducted in-house interviews before, you may not realize how much time it takes. Your tasks may include:

  • Writing a screener
  • Crafting the interview guide
  • Recruiting and scheduling the interviews
  • Coaching interviewers
  • Arranging for and then reading transcripts

Perhaps most importantly, keep in mind that you’ll need to read and synthesize the results in a way that can be shared.

In-house IDIs take significant time—for you as the market research project manager and for the colleagues doing the actual interviews. I have seen clients embark on these projects, confident that they can do them, only to have the project turn into a never-ending-nightmare. The involved staff simply could not take enough time away from their core job tasks to get things done in a time-efficient manner.

How To Conduct Customer Interviews: The Final Decision

Keep in mind the following as you make your decision about in-house versus outside-agency market research:

  • Time: Do you have it? What about those conducting customer interviews and potentially transcribing them? Remember that customer interviews would likely be a task added onto an employee’s preexisting assignments.
  • Learning potential: Would you and your colleagues learn more by conducting research in-house than by using an outside agency? Do these benefits outweigh the time and energy commitment required by in-house research?
  • Risks: Do you have the right people for the job? Interviews are not the time to alienate your customer base. If the experience goes badly for customers, the money you saved doing research in-house may be lost in a future sales.

Only you know if the in-house approach is the right one for your company, but these tips can help guide you in the right direction. Remember to be reasonable about your expectations and realistically estimate the time and skill necessary for conducting in-house research.


[Interested in learning more tips to manage in-house interviewers? Interested in training non-researchers conduct research interviews? Check out Research Rockstar’s class: Research Interviews 101.]

[Are you leaning toward the in-house option? Even so, remember that market research policies still apply to you! Check out Research Rockstar’s helpful guide on policies.]



Kathryn Korostoff

Kathryn Korostoff is founder and lead instructor at Research Rockstar. Over the past 25 years, she has personally directed more than 600 primary market research projects and published over 100 bylined articles in magazines. She is also a professor at Boston University, where she teaches grad students how to analyze and report quantitative data.

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