Co-founder Hiten Shah on how PMs can become better at customer research
Recently, I got a chance to interview Hiten Shah who has created several successful SaaS brands (FYI, KISSmetrics, Crazy Egg and others) and wrote the popular book 5 Habits to Building Better Products Faster. I asked Hiten for his insights on building and scaling successful products and becoming a better customer researcher.
This is an excerpt from an interview on how to avoid common pitfalls of product development, where Hiten shares his insights for PMs. To learn more, check out the full article.
Why do you think a lot of companies don’t do enough customer research?
Doing customer research is hard because you have to set up time to talk to people. You have to be willing to hear what they have to say, even if it invalidates whatever you’re thinking. It’s super difficult unless you realize how much harder it is if you don’t do it. Most people understand that. Humans don’t like being wrong. When we’re wrong, we want to be right, so we ask biased questions.
Doing customer research is hard because you have to set up time to talk to people…. It’s super difficult unless you realize how much harder it is if you don’t do it.
To do product development, you have to learn skills that we were never taught growing up. Most of us weren’t taught to react to feedback in a positive way. I believe that learning to take feedback without reacting negatively is the breakfast, lunch and dinner of champions.
What are some of your favorite tactics that help you avoid these pitfalls of customer research?
I use the mute button on whatever tool I’m using to do the interview. I’ll ask a question and then be as silent as I possibly can. My goal is to listen patiently and only talk about 10 or 20% of the time when I’m doing an interview. Silence is your best friend in these customer interviews. When the customer is silent, they’re thinking about the question, and you shouldn’t answer it for them.
I also try to get stories out of people. If they say, “I have this big problem, and I don’t think your product solves it,” I resist the urge to respond to their critique during the interview. I take notes and might respond to them later in an email, but I make sure not to ruin their train of thought. If we can solve a problem, but the customer thinks we can’t, I want to know why they think that. That’s when I’m going to learn where we’re doing something wrong.
Are there any common mistakes people make when they do customer research?
One common mistake is not digging deep enough. When customers say they have a problem, you might not ask why and move too quickly to the next question.
When you hear something interesting, make sure you understand why the customer said it.
Another tactic I use in interviews is repeating back what I think the customer said. They will often correct me or give me more information. You’re really just trying to get them to talk as much as possible. People don’t like talking about their problems, so you have to use a bunch of strategies to get them to open up.