Most Effective Questions for Customer Interviews

Most Effective Questions for Customer Interviews
Right questions lead to right insights. (Image source - Unsplash)

Initially in my career, I used to survey customers, which was quick and easy and generated valuable results. Customer interviews were limited to senior managers, who I thought knew little more details than that was already covered in surveys. Boy oh boy! I was so wrong.

Later when I started doing customer interviews, it was an eye-opening experience. They gave far more insights than I thought and most importantly, helped generate empathy. So whenever I got the chance, I would ask a lot of questions. However, after a few years, I realized, it is much better asking fewer but right questions and listening more.

In no way, I am comparing and surveys and interviews. Both of them play pivotal roles in making product decisions along with quantitative data. And though, each of them has their limitations, when used together, we have far more chances of success with more customer knowledge than before. To compare them –

#. Quantitative data mostly tells ‘what’ and not ‘why’. Also, for enterprise SaaS, it is difficult to get data at scale. However, nothing represents true hard facts about the product other than quantitative data.

#. Surveys help by uncovering the directions where we need to investigate more. They are great for knowing the customer’s perspective at scale.

#. Customer interviews help us dig deeper and discover insights that are not evident with surveys. Moreover, they make you empathize and fall in love with their problems.

Before we start asking the questions to our customers, there are a few best practices that every interviewer should know like making it a conversation than a question-answer session. The most important of them is just letting the interviewee speak what they feel – without interrupting, without guiding and without judging. These questions won’t help in discovering insights if the customer can’t speak up their mind.

Here are the most effective questions for customer interviews a product manager should ask, based on my personal experience:

Most effective questions for creating MVPs

  1. Tell me about you, your typical day and the process of doing x? Or tell me about the last time you have experienced this problem?
  2. What is the hardest part of doing x?
  3. Why it is hard? (5 Whys)
  4. What do you do then? how are you currently solving the problem?
  5. What you don’t like about alternatives?
  6. How much are you willing to pay for a solution? or How much does this problem cost you?

The first three questions will help us understand if the problem is real, urgent, and required to be solved. The next two questions will help us shape our bare-bones MVP. And, with the last question, we would come to know if it is worth it.

There are other questions as well that we can ask to learn more about the problem, estimate market and validate our hypothesis. However, these six questions are good enough understand the problem well without draining the customers.

Most effective questions to understand market fit and product’s value

  1. Can you please describe the product in your own words?
  2. How would you compare product x with alternatives?
  3. How did you finalize the product or what process did you use to decide the product? Who was involved in the decision making?
  4. Why did you choose this product? Why did you switch to this product?
  5. Whom would you recommend this product to?
  6. What would make you tell your friends about the product?

The objective here is to seek the customer’s perceptions of the product. The benefits that these customers are getting with the product, in comparison to the alternatives is the real value of the product. This value should match with your product’s solution to the customer’s underserved needs else we won’t have Market-Product Fit. Answers to these questions can help you in formulating marketing and product strategies too.

Most effecting questions for new feature development

  1. Tell me about your job responsibilities and your typical workday?
  2. Please explain the entire task end-to-end when you use product x along with other products in the process.
  3. Can you please give me a walkthrough of the process of using product x?
  4. Where do you struggle with the product and what are the workarounds that you use?
  5. What changes will you suggest to help you complete your task or help you with your job?
  6. Suppose product x is not available for a few days. What would you do then?

We could have asked customers for their OKR or goals that they want to achieve in the first question, and then build our features aligned to it. However, I have experienced that people want to work towards their goals in their setting. Products that enable and not force them with tasks to achieve their goals enjoy better loyalty.

Typically, a product manager would get new feature requests from a variety of sources. The objective of these questions is to discover the customer’s pain-points and understand the reason why these features are requested. A feature request should never be seen in isolation, but as a whole i.e benefit for the customer to help them do their jobs or satisfy a customer need. The last question is particularly interesting – it tells what are the other alternative products which have a similar feature that can become a threat.

Most effective questions to ask during usability testing

(Assuming the user is already given a task to complete)

  1. What do you think would happen when you click on this button/link? What do you think should have happened here?
  2. What is going in your mind as you view x? Please speak aloud your thoughts as you move through the screen.
  3. Why did you perform that action? Why did you use x?
  4. If you were looking for x, where would you expect to find it?
  5. If you could change one thing here, what it would be?

Usability testing is mostly about observing user’s interactions, understanding what they expected and where they struggled. The beauty of these questions is that they can be used with paper mock-ups, wire-frames and prototypes. The more advance and high fidelity we go, the more detail-oriented questions we can ask on copy and interaction.

Most effective questions to understand churn risk

  1. What do you think about the recent updates and product evolution?
  2. How important is the product compared to other products that you use?
  3. What were you expecting when you brought the product? What made you purchase/switch the product in the first place?
  4. If you could no longer use the product, how would you feel?
  5. How will you describe the product to your colleagues?
  6. What do you think of ‘Return on Investment’ from the product?

I have not worked extensively on projects aimed to reduce churn, however, I have often found that these questions help us in understanding churn along with NPS and product usage statistics.

Closing thoughts

While analytics and quantitative data are core to evidence-based decision making, it is customer interviews that give purpose and empathy. And, they also make good stories to remember. However, it is important to ask questions that just do not scratch the surface but gets true insights.

Hoping that you will find these questions as useful and effective as I found during different stages of product management. Lastly, sharing my favorite of all – “Can you tell me more about this?”.

Side Notes –

Apart from these specific questions, there are other few questions that I sometimes find useful but more importantly, customers find them interesting –

  1. What would change if you did not have this problem?
  2. Why did you stop using similar/related products?
  3. If you had a magic wand that can solve this problem, what would it look like? (mostly bad responses, but sometimes surprises)
  4. What might prevent you from using this product?
  5. What do you think would happen to this problem in the next few years?

Most of the time, these questions result in bad responses but sometimes they give pleasant surprises. And, they also help to keep the conversation a bit fun and engaging, which is how they are supposed to be.

May 11, 2020

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