I work with many entrepreneurs who often mistake the concept of “talk to customers” as a sales pitch or an online survey. They go into salesman mode, pitch hard without hearing what the customer has to say, and ask leading questions that steer the customer into responding in ways that reaffirm his beliefs.
The goal of customer interviews is to collect detailed stories on customer mentality, behavior, and frustrations. Ideally, this is done in person, or over Skype, so you can dig deeper into the answers they provide. This builds empathy, uncovers richer insights, and reveals opportunities you could solve for that you may not have considered before.
Here are some quick tips to help you get the most out of customer interviews.
Effective exploration starts with having a clear customer in mind.
Get rid of any preconceived notions you have about your solution; focusing too early on testing the solution makes you prone to biases that will prevent you from hearing what customers have to say.
Jot down a list of questions that test your riskiest assumption. It’s not necessary to write out the questions one by one. The best approach I’ve found is keeping in mind key objectives you’re looking to get insight on, and having a casual conversation with your subject around those objectives.
Never start off by saying that you’re working on an idea. This biases the interviewee and they will feel inclined to be nice or reverse engineer your questions.
Never ask leading questions. You are priming the interviewee for the answer you want to hear.
Bad: It’s really awful to wait in long lines, isn’t it?
Good: Tell me about the last time you waited in a long line.
Never put the interviewee in hypothetical scenarios. The more you ask them to imagine a situation, the less you can trust their answers.
Bad: If you were stopped by the police, what would you do?
Good: Have you ever been stopped by the police? What did you do?
Never start a question with “would.” This asks them about future behavior, which they cannot predict and is not reliable.
Bad: Would you pay for this?
Good: Actually test if they will through a Pitch experiment.
- Never start a question with “do,” unless it’s a qualifying question.
Bad: Do you want more free time?
Good: How do you manage your time?
Qualifying question: Do you have kids?
Qualify the person you’re talking to and make sure he/she fits your customer hypothesis.
Always ask about past behavior.
Always start questions with “who, what, why, when, where, how.” Why and how questions surface the most insightful answers.
Always close by asking for their contact information and an intro to others who fit the customer profile. Chances are they have friends or colleagues who do.
Always make sure your interviewee is not your mom, dad, or friend.