Customer discovery interviews are conducted with potential customers to gain insight into their perspective, pain points, purchasing habits, and so forth. Interviews also generate empathy between the customer and the entrepreneur to aid the design and ideation process. The best interviews help narrow the target market and provide a deep understanding of what causes a market need, and of the underlying psychology of the customer.
Who is our customer?
What are their pains?
Where can we find our customer?
Typical rounds of customer discovery interviews require at least five separate interviews with individual customers, but some entrepreneurs advocate doing as many as 100 before drawing a conclusion.
The time commitment can entail as little as 15 minutes per interview for consumer products, to a two hour conversation for B2B sales.
The most significant investment of time can be in recruiting interviewees, which can again vary from a five minute walk to the local coffeeshop to a lengthy cold outreach program via LinkedIn (in the case of an entrepreneur with no market access into a highly specialized vertical).
Costs are typically zero or very low. In many cases, interview subjects are offered a gift certificate for their time that can be anywhere from $5 to $50 USD.
Plan the Interview
Define the learning goal for the interviews.
Define key assumptions about the customer persona.
Create a screener survey of simple questions that will identify if the potential interviewee matches our target customer persona. Here’s an article on screener questions from Alexander Cowan for reference.
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?
Prepare a handy template to put your notes in afterwards or check on the tools to record your interview (first check legal restrictions that may apply to recordings).
Prepare any thank you gifts, e.g., gift cards.
Conduct the Interview
Frame: Summarize the purpose of the interview with the customer.
Qualify: Ask a screener question to determine if the customer is relevant to your customer persona.
Open: Warm-up questions get the customer comfortable talking.
Listen: Let the customer talk and follow up with “what” and “how” questions.
Close: Wrap up the interview and ask for referrals, or if applicable, a follow-up interview.
Debrief the Interview
Make notes promptly; sometimes a video or audio recording can be helpful.
Are you able to listen and record data based on the following?
Job: What activities are making the customer run into the problem?
Obstacle: What is preventing the customer from solving their problem?
Goal: If they solve their problem, then _____?
Current solution: How are they solving their problem?
Decision trigger: Were there pivotal moments where the customer made key decisions about a problem?
Interest trigger: Which questions did the customer express interest in?
Persons: Are there any other people involved with the problem or solution?
Emotions: Is there anything specific that causes the customer to express different emotions?
Measurement: How is the customer measuring the cost of their problem?
Confirmation bias: The interviewer can be prompted to sell their vision in case the interviewee's vision differs drastically. The interviewee feels compelled out of sympathy to adjust answers to the interviewer’s expectations.
Order bias: Sometimes the order in which you ask questions can affect the answers you get. Try to run questions in a different order in different interviews.
“1st rule of validating your idea: Do not talk about your idea.” @CustomerDevLabs
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Rob Fitzpatrick - The Mom Test: How to talk to customers and learn if your business is a good idea when everyone is lying to you.
Alexander Cowan - The Customer Discovery Handbook
Justin Wilcox - How I Interview Customers
Kevin Dewalt - Bad customer development questions and how to avoid my mistakes
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