Stop talking, start listening!
How to conduct meaningful customer interviews
As Product Managers, you need to constantly talk to customers to understand their motivations and pain-points, to be able to build products that are useful. Customer interviews are a great way to build a connect with your customers and understand their world!
You might have different goals going into a customer interview - It could be an exploratory conversation to identify problems, a conversation to validate a hypothesis, or a session to collect feedback on a solution. In this article, we have identified questions to ask during customer interviews to validate a hypothesis or a pre-identified problem using the 3Ps- Persona, Problem, and Priority framework. Towards the end, we have jotted down the five deadly sins to avoid while conducting these interviews:
🧑🏻👨🏻 Persona: Who are the customers vs the end-users of your product, and what are their skill-sets and motivations
Example questions on personas:
What are your job title and primary responsibilities?
What is your work environment like?
As a [type of customer], what high-level jobs and tasks do you perform?
As a [type of customer], what kind of skills and experiences, do you need?
As a [type of customer], what platforms, tools, and technologies do you work with?
As a [type of customer], what does success look like in your role?
🧐 🤷🏻♀️ Problem: What is the exact problem, when and how often do they encounter this, how do they solve this today, where are existing solutions failing and what is their idea of success
Example questions on problem:
Tell me about the last time you did [problem].
How often are you personally involved in [problem]?
Tell me about (or show me) how you solve [problem] today.
Is there anything specific you do right before or right after [problem]?
What are the major problems or challenges you face when doing [problem]?
How/ when do you say the [problem] has been successfully solved?
👍🏻 👎🏻 Priority: Priority questions are meant to help you understand how painful the customer problem is, and whether customers will prioritize solving this problem over every other problem they are facing.
Example questions to understand priority:
What is the cost of not solving this [problem]?
Where does this [problem] stack-rank compared to other problems you are trying to solve?
If you had a magic want to solve any problem, which one would you pick?
The stack-rank information is especially important because it helps you objectively decide whether the product is “worth building” in the first place. Remember, a great PM is the sum total of the great products they build and the not-so-great products they decide to not build!
Now that you have the settings right, here are the five deadly sins to avoid when conducting customer interviews:
Avoid the temptation to wax eloquent about the awesome product you are building. Being too ‘sale-sy’ early on is one of the shortest paths to losing customer trust. Interviews are opportunities to listen and grow—not sell.
❓Asking leading questions
A few PMs view customer interviews as a way to confirm or justify their ideas/ hypotheses or to solidify an exec’s mandate. One of the ways PMs do this (often without realizing) is by asking asking leading questions i.e. questions that prompt or encourage the desired answers, like “ We have heard this from a lot of customers. You must be encountering this as well?” The problem with these questions is that they making assumptions about the customer behavior or pain-points or inadvertently puts them on a spot. The customer often ends up feeling that they are “supposed” to face a certain problem when they actually don’t. Another example of a leading question is “Would you pay for this product?”. Most customers just say yes (even if they don’t intend to) to avoid uncomfortable follow-up questions. As such, these questions don’t quite help you with useful information. Instead, be objective and really try to deep dive into whether this is an important enough problem to be solved and if it is a true priority for the customers, rather than cherry-picking points or anecdotes that validate your pre-conceived hypotheses.
✅ Correcting the customers
As PMs, we often tend to take feedback personally and respond to customer feedback with “Oh, that is not the right way to do it”, or “Our product already does this”. This puts the customers on the back foot and they quickly lose interest in sharing more!
📆 Committing to a solution or timeline
“We will ship this feature in Q2!” In the spirit of keeping the customers happy or not losing them, PMs often end up committing to features without consulting their team. Avoid getting in the “customer-pleasing” mode in these interviews to not disappoint them later.
📝 Reading from a script
Don’t adopt a cookie-cutter approach to customer interviews. Focus on building a real rapport with your customers and knowing and empathizing with their pain-points. You might find it hard to get the customers to open up if you are robotically reading from a script.
This brings us to the end of this article. We hope this helps you get more out of your next customer conversation. As with all things product- experiment, reflect, and iterate on this to identify what works for you.
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