How to do customer interviews (really well)

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One of the most amazing and fundamentally game-changing tools a startup founder can use to develop their idea and build a great business?


You guessed it… the customer interview.


Now it can be a time-consuming drag when it doesn’t go so well and you’d rather go build your mvp. Or, seen another way it can be a thoroughly enlightening and inspiring experience and – importantly – give you the permission to really ‘get’ your customers and help you understand what you need to serve them.


You can probably tell which side of that fence I sit on 😉


There is a video recording that sits alongside this blog so if you’d prefer 25 minutes of hearing it from the horse’s mouth then this is for you:


If you’d rather scan through the highlights in text form, then read on!


Here are 8 practical tips to get the most out of your customer interviewing experience. 


1> Set The Right Expectations For Yourself

You should probably aim for being a competent interviewer; one that with experience can become a good interviewer. 


You don’t need to be an expert – and you have many other things to be doing which require your time and input. 


So be kind to yourself, understand where you need to be and be happy that you will improve your skills over time, simply by experience.


2> Create Early Rapport

This is so fundamental it should be a blog post and webinar all by itself. Creating trust and rapport with the participant is essential in order that they trust in you, and in the process, that they can be fully honest. And it’s honesty you need right now.


I’m going to drop in the slide on this one as it’s worth having a read. 

Build rapport by being honest and transparent about what you’re aiming to achieve. 

Show some vulnerability to build up more trust with the participant. And, if you have some quirks to your character, try to play those down. 


You want the participant to be thinking “I feel I can be really honest with this person”.


3> Seek Reassurance & Permission

Let’s not ask for forgiveness with our customer interviews, let’s seek permission.

Permission to record the call so you can go back over it later, maybe auto transcribe it and refer back to it when you need to. 


This data can form an incredibly powerful repository of insight that will keep delivering value to you as your business develops. 


4> Give Time To Explore Context

Context is paramount. Understanding much more about your customer than just the very specific things you need to know from them will really help shape your understanding of them so you can develop great products and messaging. 


Find out what’s going on in their lives, what their values are, what their big challenges and headaches are at the moment. 


Context is vital.


5> Speak Less, Use Silence

Basically, keep schtum more of the time. If you’re a talker, you really need to control this and allow the participant to do most of the talking. 


I am happy when the participant is doing 60-80% of the talking. The best participants answer all your questions without you needing to ask them!


Silence is also a really clever way of seeking something more from the participant. Sure, you can probe them (“tell me more about…”) but carefully inserted pauses will have the same effect. They will feel compelled to fill that silence with more – and it’s often these additional thoughts that are the nuggets of gold. 


6> Use Open Questions (Close For Clarity)

So much advice you will receive about interviews is to stick only to open questions.  I agree but I also advocate using closed questions – but use them sparingly and too good effect. 


For instance, you might need to validate something they’ve said, summarise a thought and get them to confirm one way or another. 


Or maybe they’ve said something that seems contradictory. A closed question will get them to clarify what they mean. 


7> Have Structure, But Allow For Free Flow

Most certainly, develop an interview structure and timings ahead of your first interview. But don’t stick to it rigidly. 

Allow some flexibility as customer discovery is – as the name suggests – exploratory by its nature. What you are often looking for is the ‘unknown-unknowns’ which you won’t get by planning alone. 


8> Keep Conversation About Solutions To The End

Some advice is to avoid conversations about solutions entirely from a customer interview. This obviously depends on the stage of development and the objectives of the interview itself. 


In customer discovery, most certainly stick to problems for the majority of the time…

  • What is the problem? How would they describe it?
  • How big is it, how often do they encounter it?
  • How does it make them feel?
  • How do they solve it at the moment?
  • Would they be interested in a better (paid for) solution?

At no point when someone is articulating their problem do you jump in and say “we have a solution to that!”. 


But it would be a wasted opportunity not to get some feedback on the solution. Do this at the end of the interview. 


Introduce the solution – maybe describe it or show a visual concept and ask them about what they think. Asking “how much do you like it?” is unhelpful as you’ll get false positives (people like to say things to please others). 


Better to ask “what would stop you from buying this?” – find their big objections. If they don’t have any, that’s great. If they do, you can use this feedback to develop the idea further.


The video has much more detail so worth a watch before you embark on interviewing.


Any questions then please do get in touch. 




Would you like to learn how to run your own research?

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