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How to – Customer Interview

There is so much buzz around user-centred design, design thinking and Lean methods of creating and delivering products and services to the market. One thing that these methods all have in common is that they put they explore the unmet needs of a customer by going out and meeting them face to face. It seems obvious that Product Managers would be constantly in contact with their customers to help understand them and to continue to discover new opportunities, but many Product Managers and organisations struggle with talking to their customers.

When we have asked why it is difficult we hear a number of blockers including everything from: “I’m not allowed to talk to the customer” to “Couldn’t I damage my company’s image by talking to the customer?” or “I don’t know what to ask my customer.”

In reality these are just excuses that cover an uncertainty of just how to get started with a customer meeting and what to say when the interview starts.

With a little bit of planning and a few simple steps it isn’t as hard as it first seems.

4 Steps for conducting a Customer Interview

Here is an overview of the four steps for customer interviews, that will help you start your journey towards knowing your customer.

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Step One: Research Objective

The first step is to define the research objective. A customer interview is not a chit-chat, it needs a specific objective, which could be:

  • to prove or disprove a hypothesis
  • to describe a customer journey
  • to be an input for persona creation
  • to test a Product, prototype or MVP

Step Two: Identify and Recruit Interview Subjects

Your research objective will be an essential input as you decide who you’ll interview. Will you speak to customers, or non-customers, or a combination of both? Your interviews may focus on a particular market segment, or a group who demonstrate a particular behaviour, or perhaps match a demographic. Many people ask how many should be interviewed? The common benchmarks are somewhere between 5-20 and when you stop learning new things from the interviews.

Step Three: Plan Interview Questions

With these foundations, you can move on to devising the interview structure and questions. It’s worth being aware that asking customers what they want, or what they will do in the future, can produce unreliable results. Asking what they have done in the past can produce much more honest data.

Step Four: Extract Insights

Back in the office, you’ll need some method to extract the insights. This doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as easy as grouping like answers together on post-it notes, or compiling themes in an excel spreadsheet. Take time to recognise patterns relevant to your research objective. If you were testing a hypothesis, are you in a position to say it was proven? Or if you were trying to build a customer journey, can you deeply describe all the steps your customer takes?

 

During the whole process, it’s important to be aware of our personal biases. A customer interview should be approached with an open mind. As much as we want to see our Products succeed, it’s important to check those hopes at the door and be ready to receive any feedback the customer may provide.

Finally, conducting a customer interview is a skill, which requires practice. Having a colleague watch you while you interview may help identify possible areas for improvements. It’s very easy to slip into pitching your Product as the solution during an interview, or leading your customer to a particular answer.

Sitback and Brainmates have joined forces to present a new course: Customer Interviewing Masterclass. It’s designed for both User Experience and Product Professionals, who want to deep-dive into every step of the customer interview process.

The class is integrated with the Brainmates Framework and will provide tools, techniques and tricks valuable through the Innovation, Design and Implementation phases.

 

About The Author

Nick Coster is the Head of Training Services and a co-founder of Brainmates. He is passionate about the benefits of building products and services that delight the buyer and the user. He has been developing and managing products for over 15 years, with range of different companies including Telstra BigPond, Excite@Home, Optus, Westpac, eBay, Cochlear, and Macquarie University. Nick is Brainmates' lead Product Management training facilitator. He enjoys training product managers from different industries and working with them to help them deliver market-driven product innovation. He brings life to the Product Delivery Cycle framework by sharing his personal experiences as a practitioner of Product Management.

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