7 Customer Interview Tips To Generate The Best Insights

Okay. You’re excited because you’ve scheduled some customer interviews. You know this is a great opportunity to generate insights that will boost your startup development. But, some entrepreneurs simply waste this wonderful opportunity because they ignore one or more of the following customer interview tips.

1. Ask Open-Ended Questions

The more your customers talk, the higher the likelihood to generate great insights.

But, how will you make them talk? Using a magical ‘trick’ called open-ended questions. These questions start with ‘WHY’, ‘HOW’, ‘WHAT’, and they’ll demand from your customers longer answers than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Let me give you an example; Let’s suppose you’re doing interviews with potential customers for your flowers lovers app.

You may decide asking a closed-ended question such as: “Is it hard to find the right seeds?”
And hear: “Yes.”

Or you may ask an open-ended question as: “How do you find the right seeds?”
And hear: “I start by checking with my neighborhood what were the seeds he has planted in his garden. Then, I select a different one. It’s like a healthy competition… who has the most beautiful flowers, the most exotic, the tallest ones, etc. We have a lot of fun in our ‘mini-war’. And some of our neighbors are already joining the game. The size of the challenge grows every year, because it’s harder to find such unique seeds.

Have you notice the difference? Besides the second answer is longer than the first one (duh!) it revealed more useful insights too. It was also more spontaneous, which helps you preventing yourself from inducing your interviewees to answer what you would like to hear.

2. Simply Shut Up

Every time you’re talking, your customers are not. So, be sure to open your mouth only in appropriate moments—to build rapport, to deepen or to change the topic, to clarify any blurry point.

But, why do we have problems to being quiet during customer interviews? Because we’re driven by the willingness to be:

  • Respected: we fear that the person we’re talking to will judge us badly if we stay too quiet. So, to make sure we’re not ‘stupid’, we try to dump everything we know about the topic and related matters.
  • Accepted: human beings need to be accepted so we constantly try to please other people. And to demonstrate we agree with them, we end up talking.
  • Right: No one enjoys being wrong. Indeed, we should recognize our failures as a means to learn, but the truth is we always prefer to be right. During customer interviews, this willingness to be right may trick us into trying to convince the interviewee about our point of view. If the interviewee doesn’t agree with us, we assume she didn’t understand it and we start ‘explaining’.

After each interview recap the moments you opened your mouth. Were you trying to be respected, accepted or right? If this was the case, work hard to avoid doing it again in the next interview.

3. First The Forest, Then The Trees

Many times, the most powerful insights are hidden in the less obvious places.

For that reason, you should begin your interview with broader questions, in order to understand your customers’ context. Once you capture the big picture, you’ll know which aspects are worth being further explored.

By being broad and open to the unknown, you’ll allow yourself to generate insights from:

  • Interesting quotes: that reveal hidden beliefs, paradigms, prejudices, ideas, etc.
  • Unexpected statements: something that goes to the opposite way you’re expecting it to go.
  • Additional problems: complaints about different issues than the one you’re addressing with your solution (maybe a more relevant one).
  • Adaptations: Self-made solutions or adaptations customers are already doing to partially or completely solve the problem (when something bothers them, they can be reeeeally creative).

4. Be Curious

From all these customer interview tips, this is definitely the most powerful one. If you are really curious about your potential customers’ lives, all the rest becomes much easier.

So, I have a challenge for you: instead of just focusing on putting a checkmark on the task, I want you to take a humbleness pill and work hard to understand how different and amazing your customers are.

When you truly empathize with your potential customers, you become apt to understand their fears, goals, thoughts, frustrations and logic. All these elements are fundamental if you want to make them open their wallets to buy your solution in the near future.

Yes, you may come up with ‘smart’ questions before the interview starts. But, don’t forget that many of the smart questions cannot be anticipated. So, trust in your curiosity to formulate powerful questions during the interview.

5. Don’t Pitch

Simply put: interviewing is about being open to discover; pitching is about presenting to convince.

Do you see? They go to very different directions.

That’s exactly why you must keep in mind that the interviews are all about the customers.

Every time you choose to pitch your idea—instead of listening to your customers—you waste an opportunity to discover what is running in their minds.

Besides that, if they believe you’re pitching, they tend to be less honest too—they may agree with you and say things like “It’s a great idea!” so you don’t become disappointed.

6. Stop Assuming Things

Another common mistake is to take some assumptions for granted.

If you’ve ever said something like “I didn’t ask him, but of course he does that.”, be careful.

In this very beginning, don’t consider something as ‘too obvious‘.

Maybe, you would act in a particular way. But, since you don’t know your customers’ context, you need to ask.

You’re painting a picture from scratch. You know the elements you want to use to paint it. But, you don’t know what kind of picture it is. Let your customers guide your masterpiece.

7. Why?

I love the word ‘why’… Why?

Because it’s so short, but at the same time it’s soooo powerful.

It’s like a small key that opens your customers’ minds and reveal their context, goals, logic, values, judgment, and dilemmas.

So, every time you want to put some color to grey answers—like a ‘yes’ or ‘no’—simply ask ‘Why?’, and be prepared for a ton of powerful insights to come.

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