How to Interview Customers When You Already Have A Product

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How do you build awesome products and minimize wasted time, money and resources on features nobody wants? The answer lies right under your nose – talk to your users!

Some of you might say, “yeah, yeah I’m already talking to my users.” But, there’s a BIG difference between idle conversations and the customer development process.  In the latter, you’re capturing more than customer feedback.

To help us guide these waters, Justin Wilcox (Customer Dev Labs) chatted with us about how to interview customers when you already have a product out. Heed these customer development strategies to build awesome products.

You can watch the video below. I’ve also summarized some of the video’s key points below the video.

ListenLoop: Why is it important to talk to your customers when you already have a product? (0:33)

Justin: The time to talk to your customers is when your customers can help you test your riskiest assumptions. Riskiest assumptions like the ones below are great for talking to customers.

  • Does my customers have a problem?
  • Which channels do I reach them in? How do I find my customers?
  • How much are they paying for existing services?
  • Are they looking for alternatives

If I’m testing a risky assumption, then I’m talking to customers. If, however, I’m testing something else like marketing copy, partnerships or pricing, I’m not talking to customers at all. I talk to customers when they have the answers to my riskiest assumption.

ListenLoop: For people with products, what kind of questions should they be asking customers? (2:04)

Justin: This depends on what you’re trying to learn from your customers. Customers have two sets of problems: problems they know that they have and problems that they don’t know they have. Often times we try to solve problems they don’t know they have and they don’t care to fix. You want to find out:

  • Do they have a problem?
  • Are they ready to solve it?
  • What language do you need to use in order to let them know you have a solution?

You can read the script I use in one of my blog posts. (Click here for that blog post or view sample customer development questions).

ListenLoop: How many customers do you talk to? (3:54)

Justin: The ideal number of customers depends on your customers. I’m very tactical about my experiments. I’m not talking to someone for the sake of talking to someone. And I’m not talking to someone to reach a quota. I’m talking to someone because I want to learn something about my business or I want to know more about.

If I’m in interviewing mode, I’m talking to 10, 20 or 30 customers a week, depending on how easy they are to get.

How do you know you’re done interviewing? I’m done interviewing when I stop learning new things, when I start getting decreasing return on investment. If one more interview isn’t going to get me one more hour’s worth of value, then I’m going to stop doing interviews.

ListenLoop: What tools do you use?(5:21)

Justin: Surveys are a non-starter for me for this type of risky assumption experiments. Surveys are too hard to get right because of survey bias, false positives. It’s too easy to ask “would you use this?” The devil’s in the details. The interviews are about trying to find out the why. For example, “why is this the hardest part of your job?”

Tools that I use are Skype, Google Hangout or phone calls. But ideally, I’d try to talk to them face-to-face at their office or a coffee shop. I also use Mechanical Turk, Craigslist, cold email and LinkedIn to try to get those contacts.

Justin explains one of his latest experiments (7:30)

Question from participant: How is gathering customer information different in a SaaS model business as opposed to direct to consumer? (9:15)

Justin: The biggest difference is how you get the interviews. The trick with getting interview is that you’re taking away someone’s time. You need to give back some sort of value back to them. In a consumer business, you can do that by finding people who are bored. The value I can provide to them is having a conversation with them. It’s about them and their problems and people like talking about their problems. I will go to places where people wait like bus stops and airports.

In the B2B space, I’m looking for middle managers. I offer to solve a problem they have. That’s the value I’m giving to them.

Once you got the interview, they both should be exactly the same. You ask the same questions.

Question from participant: What’s the difference with talking to customers to enhance an existing product versus to validate a new startup idea? (13:03)

Justin: They sound like different perspective, but they’re not. What I’m going to say is scary to those who already have a product: the world and your business is not about your product. Your product solves a problem. What you want to focus your energy on is the problem your product is solving.

The way I would enhance an existing product with an offering is to not think about that offering at all. I would think about who is my customer and what’s the problem they have. And I would go back to my customers and talk about those problems. If during those conversations they mention another problem they face, great. It’s time to solve that problem. It’s the exact same formula. Understand your customers. Understand their problems. Then solve those problems in the most efficient way for them and you.

Question from participant: During customer interviews, how can I make sure I’m not leading the customers to say what I want or just be too excited? (20:46)

Justin: In the interview script I use, I barely talk about my product. In fact, we do very little talking. The only talking we do is to get someone else to talk more. The less you talk, the less likely you are to lead someone.

Another trick you can try is asking, “if I gave you a magic wand and you had all the resources in the world, how would you solve this problem?” Then something really interesting happens, they start talking about solutions, which might not be the solution I’m thinking about. Then they get really, really excited. Once you’ve got someone talking about their problem and possible solutions, then you’ve got them primed for a solution. I then ask, “can I contact you when I have a solution?” They’re guaranteed to say yes.

Question from participant: Once you’ve gathered all the data from customer development, how do you distill all the information to a single concept that will lead to building the next thing (29:57)

Justin: What I’ll do is take all my notes from all my customer development interviews and I will highlight all the core concepts. Then I go out a take a stack of post-it notes. For every interview, I take out a different color of post-it notes and I write down those core concepts. I put those up on my wall and start grouping core concepts from different interview groups together. Then you start to see a post-it cloud around problems that are most common, motivations that are most common and channels that are most common. Then you start to see a pattern.

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