The In-person interviews tend to be much more helpful than just customers surveys for a variety of reasons. One, they are much more personal and you are talking to a potential future customer who is in your target market. Two, when you ask open-ended questions, you may not only get validation for your idea but other customer problems might arise that you didn’t even think about. Third, you can gain access to additional potential customers that fit your customer persona by simply asking for references.
It might feel most natural and productive to go straight to the question you want an answer to like, “Would you use a product that does ___________”. There are many problems leading or even asking this question. For example, it is a closed ended question where most of the time you will get an answer of yes or no. Secondly, by leading with your business idea, you are already looking for validation. The customer will sense this and they may even try to be nice and say yes, “I would use that product,” just so they don’t hurt your feelings. Third, you are referencing the future by asking “would”. If you find yourself asking a question with the word “would” in it or referring to the future, it is time to change the question.
Here are 5 questions developed by Customer Development Labs you can script as a starting point when asking your customer questions.
What’s the hardest part about [problem context] ?
Can you tell me about the last time that happened?
Why was that hard?
What, if anything, have you done to solve that problem?
What don’t you love about the solutions you’ve tried?
Let’s go ahead and dissect each of these questions to understand why we are asking them.
Question #1 — What’s the hardest part about [problem context] ?
This leading open-ended question will evoke many responses and you may even see a physical reaction where the pain point is so high, they physically show their pain with their reactions.
Question #2 — Can you tell me about the last time that happened?
Stories are the portal to the soul. When your customer tells us a story of when they last experienced this problem, emotional and physical responses will be triggered allowing us to gather even more data and insight.
Question #3 — Why was that hard?
As we discuss in our what is your why section, customers don’t buy your what, they buy your WHY. We will dive deeper into our organizational WHY in the near future which will also help in our marketing copy.
Question #4 — What, if anything, have you done to solve that problem?
This question will give us a lot of information on whether or not our solution to the problem is strong enough for the customer to be moved to use and buy it. If they say they haven’t tried to solve for it because the pain hasn’t been great enough, then maybe it is time to look for a bigger problem and pain point to solve.
Question #5 — What don’t you love about the solutions you’ve tried?
This will lead to our unique value proposition of why our product and solution will be different than their current alternatives.
You can also close out the interview session by asking a variety of closing questions including
Do you know 1 or 2 other people who are struggling with [insert the problem they are most actively solving] that I might talk with?
I’m actually exploring a solution to [insert the problem they are most actively solving] problem. Can I contact you if we find a viable solution?
In most cases, potential customers are more than happy to sit down with you and help make your product better or bring your idea to life as long as they understand your purpose of trying to solve their problems. However, in some cases you may have to bribe or incentivize your potential customers with free swag or gift cards. For example, we could have offered 10 high school coaches and 10 high school athletes a $10 Starbucks card if they sat down with us for 15 minutes to answer these 5 questions. Let’s look at the “Coach”app example and see what type of questions we could ask potential customers who aligned with our customer personas.
Question 1: What’s the biggest challenge you face as an athlete when you are practicing without a coach?
Question 2: Can you tell me about the last time that happened?
Question 3: Why was that hard?
Question 4: What, if anything, have you done to solve that problem?
Question 5: What don’t you love about the solutions you’ve tried?
I’m actually exploring a solution to give athletes real time feedback without a need for a coach. Can I contact you if we find a viable solution? Or I’m trying to understand this problem from a wide range of perspectives. Do you know 1 or 2 other athletes who are struggling with getting feedback when practicing without a coach that I might talk with?
The in person customer interview process is by far the best process to reach your target market and better determine the real pain points they are experiencing.
Joe Gebbia, a co founder of AirBnb, calls this process nlightened empathy.
“We used to travel and actually stay with our customers,” says Gebbia. “It was the ultimate enlightened empathy–you were so close to the people you were designing for that it informed you in a way that, you know, an online survey never would.”