How to conduct perfect customer development interviews

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To create products and services that are focused on your customers, you need to talk to them and conduct customer development interviews. This is often easier said than done as there are a number of challenges and pitfalls lurking here.

We reveal how you can find customers to interview and what you need to keep in mind when conducting interviews.

Customer Development Interviews - An Overview

Table of Contents

Why Customer Development Interviews?

To develop customer-centric products, it is essential to know your customers. Only if your assumptions about the customer’s life or work reality are correct, only if the problems you want to solve really exist in the customer’s world, will your development be going in the right direction – if not, that’s not a big deal. Because that’s exactly the kind of insight you’ll get when you talk to your customers.

Read more about the customer development approach in our article on customer development.

Finding customers

Before the actual interview, there is the acquisition stage. There is no patent remedy here, but rather a series of channels that you should try out.

Social Media

The professional network LinkedIn  in particular can be very helpful in networking with and contacting people from the professional environment. Here you can search directly for people in specific positions by entering “Marketing Director” in the people search, for example. In addition, you can search for companies and see who works there and in which positions. Interesting people can send you a networking request, in which you also have the opportunity to briefly describe your request. With a premium membership, you can also send messages without a contact request, which then also have no character limit.

Furthermore, you can also post on LinkedIn and ask your network. Maybe one of your contacts works in an appropriate position or can recommend someone from his network.

Finally, the network also offers groups where you can find communities interested in a particular topic. You can post a request or find people who share interesting ideas and questions with the community. You can then contact them if necessary.

Along with LinkedIn, Twitter  can help you find and contact relevant people. Once you have a solid follower base, you can simply tweet your request. If necessary, a larger account can also help you by retweeting your request or posting it themselves. Of course, you can also actively search for relevant actors yourself and write to them directly. It helps that most accounts are publicly visible who their followers are and who the account itself follows. You can also search for relevant hashtags and find interesting people or organizations this way. Tools like www.hashtags.org can help you with this.

The Quora question platform is also suitable for finding interesting people. Find out more about this network in our Quora guide.

E-Mail

Do you know someone in your current network, or have you received the contact details of a relevant person who would be a good candidate for a customer development interview? Then you can of course also write them in the traditional way via e-mail. There is no harm in writing to several potential interview partners – however, you should not send mass e-mails to all your contacts, but rather weigh up beforehand which contacts really come into question.

Real Life - "Outside the Building"

Even outside the Internet, you can find people who are relevant to your idea. Especially events such as conferences or other events are a good opportunity for this, because there are usually people from certain industries who have common interests or problem areas. In addition to asking for a conversation in the “normal way”, you can also find out things during casual conversations, for example at the buffet, that can help you validate your idea. Read more about this type of customer interview in our article on the Mom Test.

How do I ask?

After you have figured out who you want to contact and where, you should also know how best to approach the matter in order to introduce yourself and your concerns.

It is important to make clear who you are and what the reason behind your message is. Ideally, there is a common contact, which you should also name in this context.

The whole thing can then look something like this:

“Hello, my name is Manuel Meier, I am a product manager at Supermetrics. Maria Schmidt suggested that I might talk to you about XY”.

If there is no common contact, then you should refer to something else if possible:

“Hello, my name is Manuel Meier, I am a product manager at Supermetrics. Through your blog, it came to my attention that you deal extensively with ABC. Would you consider conducting an interview with me about XY? “.

The most important thing here is that the requested person can find all the necessary information in the email without having to research who you are and what you do. Even if this sounds obvious, there are always emails that lack these essential points.

After the introduction, you should also explain what exactly you hope to get out of the interview:

“I am currently pursuing Customer Development and would like to learn more about how I should approach X and Y.” Alternative: “I would like honest feedback on my XY document.”

Furthermore, it is important that you suggest several ways of how, when and where you can talk to each other. You should find out in advance (if possible) where the person lives or works. Also, find out what exact locations are suitable. These should be locations that can be reached in several ways, by car as well as by public transport. There should also be tables and Wi-Fi on site.

Think about possible dates and suggest the different options. This way, your counterpart doesn’t have to put energy into these thoughts themselves, but can simply look at their calendar and give you appropriate feedback.

Such a proposal might look something like this:

“I would like to talk to you for about half an hour over a cup of coffee. Would any of the following suggestions suit you?

  • Tuesday, 02 August at 10:30 in Café Rosenbad
  • Thursday, 04 August at 14:30 in the castle café
  • Friday, 05 August at 12:00 at Starbucks on the main market square
 

If you don’t live in the same area, also add the neighborhood or city.

+ a Follow-up email in which you thank them and summarize what you were able to learn.

Cheating on customer interviews is like cheating in your parachute packing class

The actual interview

There is no one recipe for the perfect customer development interview, but there are a few rules you should keep in mind.

Important is that you make a clear distinction: Do you want to learn something about your customer’s (consumer) behavior, mindset and problems? Or are you looking for feedback on a concrete idea you already have?

You can certainly bring up both points in an interview. In this case, it’s important that you talk about your customer’s problems first, and then get feedback on your idea.

Also, don’t go to the interview unprepared. Think about your assumptions beforehand and prepare a rough script with basic questions. You can deviate from this later, but it should be there in any case.

In the following you will find a rough structure for a successful customer interview:

1. Your counterpart

First you can ask your interview partner a few questions about themselves. This helps the partner warm up and get into the interview setting. It also gives you the opportunity to build a bond with your partner.

The answers to these questions will also help you later figure out what type of user is most likely to be receptive to your hypothesized problem and the solution you may come up with.

To get started, these questions may be helpful:

  • What is your role and position in the company?
  • What is the company structure like and how are you involved in it?
  • What budget do you have available? Who must approve expenses?
  • How and where do you discover new products and services for your work? Can you try them out freely, or do you need permission?
  • Tell us about a typical day at work.
  • How much time do you typically need for task X (a task mentioned earlier in the daily routine)
  • Have you tried anything new lately?

 

This first part of the interview doesn’t have to be overly extensive, but it should be comprehensive enough to understand the role of your interviewee.

2. challenges and problems

The following part is about validating whether your customer actually has the problems to solve and meets the challenges that you assume.

Listening without bringing up your own idea is especially important here. This part is not about you, but about the customer’s life and work.

In order for the answers to be as usable and unbiased as possible, keep the following in mind:

  • Let your customer talk as freely and extensively as he or she wants. Let them rant about a problem and then find out the exact cause of their displeasure.
  • Ask open-ended questions when possible. Instead of “Do you like product XY?”, ask “How do you approach Z?” or “How do you discover new apps/products?”

Possible sample questions for this section may also include the following:

  • “What are the biggest challenges in your job?”
  • Ask deeper questions about the daily routine, especially about items that sound difficult, expensive, or otherwise uncomfortable.
  • “How have you dealt with this problem in the past?” Optimally, there is a temporary solution or workaround. If available, ask for a copy of it.
  • If you had a magic wand that could solve one of the problems, what would such a (possibly unrealistic) solution look like?”

Hättest D einen Zauerstab, der eines der Probleme lösen kann, wie würde so eine (möglicherweise Important: You still haven’t talked about your assumed problem. If this problem has not been addressed by the customer himself, you can now ask directly whether the customer perceives your assumed problem as such. If your assessment was wrong, you should find out why.

To learn more about how you can have this type of feedback conversation, check out our article on the “Mom Test.”

3. Your solution

In this section, you need to validate whether your assumptions about the problem and a possible solution are valid in the customer’s world. If the customer has already told you about the problem in the second section, you are well on your way. It is especially good if the customer’s “magic wand” offers a solution similar to your idea.

Next, tell your interviewee what you see as the problem and what solution you have come up with for it. Find out what the customer has to say about it and try to ask as open questions as possible.

In addition, you can ask how much the customer is willing to pay for your solution. Instead of “How much would you pay?” you should offer early access to the product and a discount for a small deposit. This is not about selling, but about getting your customer into a true “buyer’s mindset.”

Why we do this is because people are generally very bad at predicting their own future behavior and decisions. This also applies to buying decisions. If you ask only “normally” how much the customer would pay, then their possible enthusiasm about your idea might cause them to underestimate the “downsides” (such as paying the price).

This issue is also why you should generally ask more about current and past experiences and problems in customer interviews than about future plans such as purchase decisions.

Finally, at the end of the interview, you can also ask if your partner can recommend another person for a customer development interview and introduce you to them. Such networking usually has a higher success rate than, for example, mails.

Customer Interviews are only the beginning

Customer Insights Suite Light dark version

Essential tips

During the interview, you should keep the following tips in mind to get the best possible result – that is, the most reliable validation of your ideas.

  • Take notes carefully so you can share key points with your team later – multiple minds can draw more reliable conclusions. Also note down verbatim quotes and emotions of the customer at certain points.
  • Dig deeper – if you come across an interesting point in one of your customer’s answers, ask more specific questions and get more explanation.
  • When the customer proposes features on their own, ask first and foremost for the underlying reasons, i.e. the actual problems they want to solve with the feature.
  • Be conversational and relaxed – in the best case scenario, the interview won’t feel like one at all to your client, but more like a conversation with a friend.
  • Be open to listening to something that changes or “destroys” your idea. If you find out that the customer wants something different than you thought, then adjust your idea. It may also turn out that your idea is not interesting at least for the intended target group, then you should also accept that and draw necessary consequences. This can also be a pivot.

Follow-up

After the interview, it is advisable to thank the interviewee once again and to briefly summarize what you have learned from him or her. In this mail or message, you can also ask if the person would like to take a look at an improved draft at a later date. Someone who has already invested time in you and your request is honestly interested and will probably continue to follow the project. People who invest money instead of time are also interested in how their investment is developing.

In the follow-up, you should go through the notes, preferably together with your team, to work out the learning. Here you could proceed as follows:

  • Mark important points, especially Pain Points, and write them down on Post-Its of a particular color.
  • Repeat this after the next customer interview using different colored Post-Its.
  • Group similar Post-Its together.
  • At the end of the interview series, reject the points that were mentioned only once.
  • Sort the remaining groups in descending order of how often they were mentioned.
  • Finally, summarize each group’s core problem in their own words.

 

These points are then well suited for creating your own summary of the learnings.

Online tools such as PadletMiro or Conceptboard are ideal if you do not want to work with “real” Post Its.

Summary

The customer interview is important because only the voice of the customer can tell you if your assumptions about them and their challenges are correct. So the main goal is to validate your ideas and assumptions.

The key is to ask open-ended questions and talk about the customer’s real problems and challenges, not about feelings or future decisions. Listening is the most important thing here.

Present your own assumptions and ideas only after you have given the customer unbiased feedback on his experience. Ideally, they will already be reporting on the problems you suspect.

After the interviews, create summaries of the most frequently mentioned problem areas.

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André Wehr

André Wehr

About Me

As a founder and entrepreneur, I experience the importance of customer centricity for companies on a daily basis.

Incorporate the essential perspective of the customer into your product genesis and marketing processes. That puts horsepower on the street and keeps things moving.

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