Actioning Customer Discovery Interviews

(Nick Noreña, a Lean Startup Coach at Kromatic, works with teams and organizations to help them implement Lean techniques in their daily business. An entrepreneur at heart, his favorite thing to do is work with early stage startups. If he’s not in his office in San Francisco, you can probably find him on a long bike ride, or on Twitter and LinkedIn.)

This is Part 2 of a two part blog post on effectively using the data you gather from customer discovery interviews. Check out Part 1 if you haven’t already.

After a round of customer discovery interviews, I often find myself inundated with data. To be honest, it’s a bit intimidating. I’ve tried lots of different approaches to organize that data, from writing up long and verbose reports, to just giving the rest of my team the raw data and telling them to make sense of it (take a wild guess as to how well that worked). What I found was that while I had accrued lots of data I was always left begging for actionable insights.

So how do we actually interpret all of that data we worked so hard to collect?

Find patterns

When we are doing customer discovery interviews, we are collecting a lot of qualitative data. After doing several interviews, you will start to recognize patterns in the responses you are getting.

For instance, if our goal going into the interviews is to understand how people communicate with their family members, we might find that 7/10 people use WhatsApp to do so. That’s an important pattern! Or perhaps our goal is to discover new pieces of software for editing your photos. 4/10 people we interviewed mentioned a piece of software we had never heard of. Maybe worth exploring further!

The challenge with finding patterns from customer discovery interviews is that much of (if not all) that data we collect is qualitative. In order to find those patterns, we need to quantify the data.

The first step in quantifying the qualitative data is tagging our notes with “themes.” In this context, themes are the subject that each note revolves around, or underlying threads. These themes generally end up being either problems we hear or solutions we learn about, but can really be anything. For many data sets, we won’t realize the themes until we sit down after our interviews and dig into the notes.

Let’s go through an example: We are thinking of opening up a food delivery service in San Francisco, and are interviewing potential customers to learn about their dinner habits. One of our interviewees, Sally, says “I love to eat gourmet foods, but I prefer the company of a few close friends at my house for dinner than loud, boisterous restaurants.” A theme for this direct quote might be “doesn’t like to go out.” We can even spread this note into other themes, like “loves gourmet food.” After interviewing 15 more people like Sally, we realize that maybe instead of opening a food delivery service, we might want to explore a service that brings chefs into peoples’ homes and cooks a gourmet meal there instead of at a restaurant.

We like to use a really simple spreadsheet to visualize the qualitative data. The spreadsheet includes a color coded key for the different notes we take (see Part 1 for an overview on what those notes are), and space to fill in notes for different themes. Download the spreasheet here:

Feel free to use it yourself, and better yet, come up with your own template!

Go with your gut

“Wait a second, I thought Lean is all about being data driven so you don’t have to go with your gut?!?!”

While it’s true that we shouldn’t just go with our gut, the important thing to understand here is that by having customer conversations, we are training our gut to make informed decisions. We won’t capture everything in our notes, and we will always leave the conversation with a “feel” for how it went. That is an important signal! But always make sure to listen to that signal only after actually conducting the customer discovery interviews.

Quick aside: We think the most challenging part of being an entrepreneur is balancing vision with data and vice versa. By simply immersing ourselves in the process of talking to customers, we train ourselves to listen to the world around us, and that can affect what our vision looks like before we even unpack the data. Let these biases be a strength!

Another thing we should note is that this is why it’s so critical that the CEO and founding team (i.e. the decision makers) are the ones actually conducting these customer conversations, or at least being a part of the process by taking notes during them. This happens too many times with teams we work with: they will do an excellent job of collecting data and gathering insight, and the decision maker, who wasn’t present for those conversations for whatever reason, will shoot down the data because she is going off of her gut (the gut that wasn’t in the room during those conversations). If that happens to you, bring the decision maker into the next conversation(s). If they still say no, at least you will know that they are making a more informed decision.

HiPPO: Make sure the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion is informed by the data!

Another benefit of going with our gut is that it is action oriented. By removing barriers to making a decision, such as the need for more data, or wanting to get something perfectly right before moving on, we can get to experimenting faster.

It’s all about that action

Ultimately these customer discovery interviews need to lead us somewhere. Sure it feels nice just talking to people and learning about their problems. But as entrepreneurs, we need to do more than that. We need to always make sure we are progressing towards something that will move our business forward. So when it comes to actioning our data, find patterns, go with our gut, do whatever it takes to build momentum. And remember, it all starts with talking to real people.

Here’s the template again if you missed it before:

This post was originally published here on Grasshopper Herder — Lean Startup Blog. Don’t miss a post…Subscribe!