Use These 3 Tips to Be Less Awkward in Customer Interviews

Customer interviews can be nerve wracking.

I remember the first time I did a customer interview. I had a full script with all these questions lined out. It went according to script at the beginning but veered off somewhere in the middle.

And honestly, that’s how a lot of customer interviews go. But that’s OK. Because when you start to veer off in the right direction, you can get a lot of really useful information.

General Strategy

As a general strategy, you’re going to start broad and then you’re going to dig deeper into some things that you hear. Becoming good at this can take a little bit of practice. If you’re someone who likes to have control, then you’ll need to learn how to let it flow and not dominate the conversation before you can start to get good info.

Bias and Good Questions

Bias can wreck a customer interview. So leave yours at the door.

You need to ask good questions that will give you good answers. No leading questions, please. The interviewee wants to regurgitate things that they think that you want to hear - don’t let that happen.

Building a great product requires understanding your customer

Customer interviews can help you understand the pain points of your customers so that you can build a better product.

They also help you find any quick wins that they may be missing that you know about, and then you can help educate them on those.

The best part about customer interview are that they help you keep the finger on the pulse of how your customers are feeling.

Are they still excited about your product? How are they feeling? Are some of them fed up with something annoyed with something? Or are they really happy? Are they really looking forward to something? The more of these you do, the more you’ll know.

The 3 Parts of a Customer Interview

The intro

The first task you have is to introduce yourself and thank them for joining you. Maybe a little small talk about where they are, the weather, or something interesting that just happened to you.

The intro is also an appropriate time to ask if you can record this conversation.

If you are using this customer interview to try to validate something, do not tell them about that here. This way they are not going to give you answers that they think you want to hear. They’re going to give you their real answer.

A typical intro may go something like this…
“Hey, thanks for coming. I’m Corinn. I’m the product manager. And I’d love to hear a little bit more about how your company is using Speckled and what other problems you may be facing”

The interview

After you’ve done your intro and maybe you’ve asked them for a little bit of information about them, it’s time to get into the meat of the conversation.

To do this, we’re going to start with a few softball questions. We’re going to start broad and then we’re going to go deep.

Go broad

These softball questions can be things like:

  • What are your big goals and focuses right now?
  • What are the top problems with X right now?
  • What’s the hardest part about being a [their job role/demographic/etc]?
  • What are your most important professional responsibilities/goals?

Really, really listen to their answers and try to hear any sticking points that they may have. Your ears should perk up when they talk about decisions that they made, things that they weren’t happy about, things that they were happy about.

Then go deep

Once you’ve found some of these, you’re going to zoom in to them. Now is the time to ask questions like:

  • Why or why didn’t you decide to do something?
  • What were the implications of that?
  • What else have you tried?
  • Tell me more about…

Add any other questions that you feel could get more info about the responses to your first few broader questions.

Keep a list of questions handy

If for some reason they don’t have anything deeper than that, you’re also going to want to keep a list of questions handy. There’s a bunch of them in “The Mom Test” by Rob Fitzpatrick, which is a really great book.

Just in case you get that awkward pause and silence and they’re maybe they’re not the most talkative of customers you have interviewed, this list will be a conversation saver.

Ask at least one question which could blow up your product

Try to ask at least one question that has the potential to destroy everything you know about your product. This sounds scary, and it is.

As much as you want to validate your product or your idea or whatever it is that you’re trying to figure out in this interview you also want to try to invalidate it. So ask some tough questions and be open to hearing some tough responses.

Wrap it up

So you’ve gotten through the beginning, you’ve introduced yourself. You’ve maybe talked for a while in the meat of the conversation anywhere from five to 10 minutes to upwards of an hour, really depending on how talkative the customer is.

This last section is the easiest.

Once you feel like you’ve gotten to a good place and you have heard what you think you need to hear or time runs out, it’s time to wrap up the conversation.

Here is one great final question to ask:

  • Is there anything else I should have asked?

This gives them an outlet to give them something that maybe they wanted to talk about, but you didn’t ask them about. Listen to their response if they have one, thank them for their time, wrap it up and let them get on with their day.

In Review

Customer interviews are challenging because you need to remove bias, ask good questions, and get over nerves.

However, they are a wealth of information and can help you keep your finger on the pulse of your customer base.

When performing a customer interview, introduce yourself but not your problem, ask broad questions and then zoom in on the answers, give the customer an outlet to cover anything you missed, wrap it up, and enjoy your newfound knowledge.