Investigative Reporting Tips for Customer Success

With over a decade at the Wall Street Journal and 20 years in journalism, David Kesmodel honed his investigative-reporting skills, interviewing techniques, and deep research experience. As the founder of DLK Research, his clients look to him as a trusted advisor playing a pivotal role in their investment evaluations so who better to ask for some tips for composing insightful conversations? 


Determine your goals

There is a lot of value in primary research validation. What is already stated by the company or others on their strengths & weaknesses? Confirming these comments or refuting the theory/perspectives through due diligence builds greater conviction. Going beyond these data points requires an understanding of the difference between qualitative vs. quantitative information.

  • Quantitative data is information that can be measured with numbers - i.e. your height or your shoe size.
  • Qualitative data is information about qualities & can't be measured. Data concerned with descriptions, which can be observed but cannot be computed.

The Prep

Creating the right environment for in-depth conversations requires you to do your upfront preparation. 

Reviewing available articles, videos, etc. will reduce the chances of you getting blindsided or caught off-guard. Furthermore, coming into the conversation having done your homework improves your initial impression and shows respect for everyone's time. 

As part of your planning, coming up with an outline of questions verifies the logical flow. Depending on the situation, you may consider sharing them ahead of time.

During the Conversation

Your primary duty at this point is to listen. Give your interviewee space to make their points while taking notice of moments when a follow-up question could yield a more profound understanding or critical insight. Some thought-provoking questions are: Can you elaborate on that? I don’t understand the significance of _______?

Even with the most thorough preparation, it is difficult to anticipate how someone will respond to your questions or how long it could take. The prioritization of questions in your outline is vital when there are time constraints. Having an open mind to adjusting your approach leads to better interviews with a more natural cadence. Take notes and refer to them as the interview is unfolding.

  • Don't rush to the next question. Remember to listen first and pay attention to the flow.
  • A polite interruption may be necessary. Delicately steer them back to the topic if they are going off on a tangent. 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask a stupid question (technical, jargon, acronyms, etc.).

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