Talking directly with potential customers via interviews is one of the cheapest, fastest ways to start collecting facts. But conducting face-to-face interviews can be time consuming and yield inconsistent results. It can be hard to know which questions to ask. You can't just ask customers what their problems are. You can’t just ask them what they want you to build or how much they'd be willing to pay for your products or services. Sometimes customers don't really know what they want. They might tell you they’d pay for your solution but their actual behaviors might differ significantly from what they say.
You have to truly understand your customers to design compelling value propositions. You need facts about your customers' true attitudes, behaviors, and the real actions they’re likely to take. Conducting insightful interviews is just as much an art as it is a science. The primary goal with customer interviews is to learn what really matters to your potential customers so that you can shape a value proposition they truly want.
Here are 8 tips to consider as a starting point:
1. Adopt a beginner's mindset
Treat every interview like it's the first time you are hearing the responses that your potential customers are sharing. Dig deeper especially into unexpected jobs, pains, and gains that come up. Listen with open ears and an open mind and avoid interpreting customer responses too early. It's best to use a recording device to capture the interview, so your attention is focused on them and not taking notes. Just be sure to ask permission before recording, and be aware that customers may not respond as openly or honestly when they know what they are saying is being recorded.
2. Listen more than you talk
Your goal first and foremost is to learn everything you can about your customers. Anything you choose to say during an interview is time taken away from learning more. It's important that you avoid wasting time sharing your opinions. Just listen to your customers and try not to interrupt their behaviors or responses. You can follow up with open ended questions like “can you expand on that…” or “what did you mean when….”.
3. Get facts, not opinions
Ask questions that get your customers to share facts and experiences rather than questions that result in opinions. For example, don't ask a question that starts with "Would you..?" Instead, ask a question that begins with "When is the last time you..?" or "Tell me about a time when you..?". It’s easy to revert back to opinion questions so best to go into the interview with a well structured script.
4. Ask "why" to get real motivations
Ask “why?” frequently. It’s a common and very effective technique to get to what’s really motivating certain attitudes or behaviors. You might ask "Why do you need to..?" or "Why is ___ important to you?" or "Why is ___ such a pain?" and so on.
5. The goal is to learn, not to sell
Don't ask whether or not somebody would buy your solution or how much they would pay for it. Instead ask questions that help you understand your potential customers criteria for making a decision about your solution. In our Understanding Customers course we created a template that can help you easily turn your value proposition canvas into a well structured script.
6. Don't mention solutions too early
It's easy to fall into the trap of offering your solution during learning interviews. Don't do it. People inherently wish to please others so it's only natural that they confirm your opinions. By providing a possible solution too early in the conversation (or at all) you alter the direction of the interview. Again, your goal is to learn from your customer, not to sell them on your solution.
7. Follow up
As you continue through the customer development process you will learn new things which will raise new questions. Get permission from your customers to keep their contact information and ask if they'd be willing to let you contact them again in the future. In most cases the person will be happy to oblige.
8. Always open doors at the end
At the end of an interview always ask your customers if they would be willing to make an introduction to people who might find your business useful. Make it easy for them to say yes by offering to write an email or social media intro that can be sent to the contact on your behalf.
These guides for running and designing successful customers interviews can be found in our latest self paced course Understanding Customers. The course comes with 4 hours of content, step by step guide and dozens of downloadable tools and templates to help you master the art of capturing relevant customer insights.