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.

customer interview

Doing Customer Interviews? Be Sure To Cover These 7 Topics

Generating insights from customer interviews is one of the 9 Cheap (But Powerful) Steps To Get Your Startup Idea Going.

But, what kind of insights should you get from these interviews?

To avoid turning customer interviews into just nice conversations, I always have in mind the following seven insights.

P.S.: I Consider items 1 to 4 for the Problem Interviews and items 5 to 7 for the Solution Interviews.

1. The Context

Your customers’ context means the conditions in which the problem arises. Once you’ve finished the interviews, you must have a clear picture of these conditions.

So, pay a ton of attention to the following elements in your customers’ narratives:

  • People involved: “my wife”, “my daughter”, “my boss”, “my friend”, “my colleague”
  • Places: “in my house”, “at work”, “in my family’s ranch”, “in the restaurant”
  • Times of the day, week, month, year: “after finishing my work”, “on the weekends”, “on holidays”, “when I’m doing laundry
  • Events: “on my vacations”, “when I visit my grandmother”, “when we visit our clients”, “when we plan our budget
  • Goals: “I want to be more productive”, “I need to do it faster”, “I wish I could be a better father”, “one day, I will…”, “I want to save more money”
  • Constraints: “I would if I could”, “I cannot do X because of Y”, “I don’t have a good memory”, “but it’s so expensive for me”

2. The Relevance Of The Problem

If I told you I can solve the biggest problem in your life… Wouldn’t you be absolutely crazy to hear what I have to say? That’s a great reason for you to do customer interviews: to be sure you’re solving a problem people really care about.

To do that, during the interview, check if:

  • The customer mentions the problem before you do: instead of asking how your customer deals with the problem you want to solve, ask her how she handles the situation (in which the problem should be happening). If she doesn’t mention the problem, maybe it’s something not relevant at all (or she doesn’t realize its relevance yet).
  • The customer expresses a strong negative feeling about the problem: even if your interviewee mentions the problem, you still need to check her reactions about it. Can you sense a high level of frustration in her narrative? If you can, they definitely may be crazy for a solution. If not, try to understand why she is not as frustrated as you expected her to be.

3. The Consequences Of The Problem

During customer interviews, your mission is also to uncover and understand every single consequence the problem causes to customers. Sometimes, customers are not even aware of all the consequences.

So, have in mind all the chain of consequences the problem can cause to your customers. When customers are talking about the problem, pay attention to everything that happens after the problem emerges:

  • Do they get angry? Frustrated?
  • And what does that anger make them do?
  • And by doing that, what happens next?
  • And so on…

4. Customers’ Wording

The words your customers pick to describe their thoughts and feelings about the problem are magical.

When you know these magical words—and understand their meanings—you start entering your customers’ minds.

Once these magical words find their way back to your customers’ eyes (in a sales page, for example) or ears (in a podcast episode or a video) these customers get instantaneously sucked into your narrative.

Therefore, avoid doing your own interpretation of the words you hear. For example, don’t hear ‘exhausted‘ and register ‘fatigued‘. Nor write down feeling ‘upset‘ when your customers said ‘miserable‘.

5. Current Alternatives (to your solution)

To understand how amazing your solution is to your customers, you must first understand what alternatives to your solution they have on their hands.

And I suggest you look for alternatives in three different categories:

  1. Products and services that solve—even if partially—the problem you’re addressing.
  2. Adaptations or self-made solutions your customers might have created to solve the problem or reduce the effects the problem has on their lives.
  3. Doing nothing: Yes. Doing nothing about the problem and accepting its consequences must be considered as an alternative. Sometimes, simply facing the consequences is preferable to investing time or money in any kind of solution.

6. Level of Excitement About Your Solution

The more excited your customers are about your solution, the higher the probability they’ll pay for it. And you can capture this level of excitement by paying attention to customers’ keywords such as:

  • “How much is it?
  • “Where can I buy it?”
  • “Is it already available?”
  • “I would love to use it even if it’s not finished yet.”

These and other statements that clearly show your customers’ strong intention to take action, should be considered too.

CAVEAT: Statements like: “This is a great idea.”, “You’re brilliant!”, “You’re going to earn a lot of money from it.”, “This is what the world was missing.”, “How hasn’t someone come up with that before? SHOULD NOT be considered as evidence of excitement (especially if they’re coming from your mom or best friend).

7. Rationale and Friction Points

Finally, customer interviews will help you to anticipate your customers’ rationale to decide if they’ll buy your solution or not. Inside this rationale, you’ll find several potential barriers that can make them say ‘no’—instead of ‘yes’—to your product, like:

  • “It’s too expensive.”
  • “It’s too complicated/hard to use.”
  • “It’s too boring.”
  • “It’s too big/small.”
  • “It’s too ugly.”
  • “I’m not sure it will solve my problem.”
  • “It’s too unstable.”
  • “It’s too risky.”
  • “It’s too laborious.”
  • “It’s not good enough.”

Every time you hear one or more of these negative statements, don’t be sad. Use them to start digging deeper into your customers’ rationale and to find ways to overcome these barriers.


Okay. Before investing a lot of money, time, and energy in building a solution, go talk to your customers and build THE solution they’ve been looking for.

How Relevant Is The Problem You Are Solving?

Probably, in your own life, you’ve faced the problem you’re trying to solve—in your work, with your husband, your wife, your kids, your hobbies, etc. And for that problem, you didn’t find a good solution in the market.

Maybe you are familiar with a bad situation that happens with other people and you feel compelled to help them with your knowledge on solving that issue.

You know this problem quite well. Right?

However, when you decide to build a business based on a solution you’ve created to address a problem, it is not about you and your thoughts anymore; it’s about your customers’ lives.

Continue reading “How Relevant Is The Problem You Are Solving?”