Understanding Customers Through Effective Interviews

Roll, Camera and Action.

You have just come back from your user interviews. You are a first-time founder or an indie hacker, you have just read some blogs and seen some videos requiring you to have customer empathy for the product to succeed. You and your team have been tirelessly working on a product which automatically converts Figma assets to video. You are the self-declared Product Manager/CEO of the venture and decide to take ownership to talk to customers. This is how it usually goes -

  • “Hey Pete, I was building this product that automatically converts your Figma assets to a video. What do you think about it, interested?”
  • “Amazing idea man — It definitely sounds like something that my team might use. Cool shit! Keep me in the loop. I would love to try out its beta.”

Second conversation may be something like –

  • “Hi Katrine! I am building this product that converts your Figma assets to a video. Do you think you will pay for it?
  • “Woah! Sure, thing man. Sounds interesting. Will definitely pay.”

Well, you are on cloud nine! I can tell because I have been there as a novice entrepreneur. Just clinging onto the little affirmations for your idea when VCs are rejecting it. You want to prove them wrong and what better than the customers themselves saying they will buy it.

However, this is a trap. Customer interviews are one of the most important parts of the project and if you don’t get it right, you will lose valuable time and resources. It is important to not go on and collect false positives while you’re starting on an entrepreneur journey. Try to see the broader view and stay out of your own hypothetical La-La-Land. You don’t want to be someone who builds a feature for a year and at the time of release, no one is ready to pay for it or worse, you can’t even get engagement on it. Look past these cuddly compliments and fluffs.

Compliments are fool’s gold: Shiny, distracting and entirely worthless.

Following are few learnings that we have accumulated over the years of building products, failing, iterating, interviewing and sometimes succeeding. It will play a pivotal role as an entrepreneur to be able to ask the right questions, whether you are asking yourself or your potential customers, because the questions you’re going to ask have the potential to take your business idea in very opposite directions.

The first step is obviously relaxing the customer. Talk about their workday, family, what excites them, etc. It is important that they feel at ease. It should feel like an interview not interrogation. Keep your body language relaxed too. Now ease into your actual interview script.

1) Why do you bother if we build this or what implications does it have for you?

This is an important question as it will let you know directly how the business is impacted. Does this affect the finances or is hampering the customer service leading to churn or is it creating inefficiencies due to repeated tasks?

2) Talk me through the last time it happened and what did you do about it? What else have you tried?

Asking them to talk you through it helps you to learn from their actions instead of mere assumptions. If they have an issue and instead of solving it, they get used to it, then the issue may not be as important or critical. Have they tried solving it? If yes, why are they still seeking for the solution? If no, maybe they don’t think it is important enough to take the pain. This will let you know whether this solution could be a vitamin or a painkiller. Some problems may be there but they don’t really matter.

3) Why do you want it? What purpose would it serve? How are you doing currently without it? What problems are you facing with your current method?

The other day I visited a doctor who asked his patients to call him during a specific time for booking an appointment. I found that pretty inefficient. There are so many solutions out there which helps your customers schedule. I asked and he told me he liked talking to his patients and book their appointment only if he feels it is legit plus his patients are rural folks who can’t operate smartphones. Without digging deep into the problem and their reason for current solution usage, you won’t be able to identify the priority of the problem.

4) Don’t do passive interviews.

It might happen that even after several interviews you get completely swamped with your notes and have no idea how to proceed. You should go into each interview with a hypothesis. Now don’t get me wrong. This is different from forming a bias towards a solution. The goal is to know by the end of the interview whether what you know is correct. Prepare a list of 3 most important things that you want to know and the aim is to get those 3 things answered so that you don’t come back not sure what was the outcome.

“Startups don’t starve, they drown”

You’ve ideas, all of them are amazing but don’t let yourself and your startup lose focus and drown in a stream of those ideas. Make sure you prioritize the right feature to build at the right time and for that you have to ask the right questions. Sample prompts for Interview to get you started:

  • “Please tell me about a time when this happened…”
  • “Please tell me about the last time you did x.”
  • “If y happens, what do you usually do?”
  • “You mentioned x. Please tell me more about that.”
  • “Please describe to me how..”
  • “What are your feelings about x?”
  • “Do you have something in mind that might help you?”
  • “You mentioned that you did x. Please tell me why you chose to do x instead of y?”

Step by step customer journey map from Interaction Design Foundation (IDF)-

References: The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick



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