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Why I am learning to interview customers?

Why I am learning to interview customers?

This month I have enrolled in a 4-weeks online bootcamp to improve my interviewing skills. No, this is not interviewing someone for a job or landing the job one aspires. This is also not like a journalist trying to understand the views and opinions on a subject of interest.

I am interviewing a customer, to discover more opportunities. As part of the product development, we try to talk to customers: understand their pain points, address the product’s blindspots, get to know the missing opportunities. It is also called customer development or user research. I believe, this is an important skill to have to grow the business and have the impact.

Talking to customers is quite an ordinary skill that everyone develops. If you are doing sales or customer support, you know what to speak and what not to speak. There are ton’s of materials on etiquette on talking or templates for emails. People have a playbook for their fields.

Interviewing customers as part of a product discovery process is a different beast. It is easy to fall prey in asking questions we want. Customers will also answer them. But something will be hugely amiss.

For example, if you are working for Netflix and you wanted to learn about when and where people watch Netflix. The immediate thought will be to ask people:

  • When do you watch Netflix?

  • Where do you watch Netflix?

But it turns out that it is very wrong. The above questions are called “Research Questions” that we want answers. But the questions to ask the customer are “Interview Questions”, which needs to be framed differently.

In the next days, I will explore more on these topics and my learnings from the course. Hope you guys find it interesting.

Week 1: Key Learnings

I had a wonderful week in learning "Continuous Interviewing". I get a couple of videos to watch and three long-form articles to read. The best part is that after the learning is: I get to practice it in a day of a week, with a group of students online. Everyone in my group is a product person. They are either part of the product marketing, UX design or product management teams. All have a goal to improve in doing customer interviews for product discovery.

Listing down the key lessons:

  • Ask for a story - Instead of interviewing customers about the topic, we need to listen to customer's stories. Set a context for the customer and ask them to tell what happened in a recent instance.

  • Focus on the past, not the future - Instead of asking the customer, "Would you do this?" or "Will you buy this?" ask, "What have you done in the past?" or "What purchase have you made in the past?". Past experience or stories can be much more useful because everyone likes to project their ideal self in the future. It's just that it's not accurate or useful.

  • Have a nicely crafted opening question - Your opening question or the first question to the customer should make them feel comfortable to share their experiences. Best interviews always look like a friendly conversation.

  • Set the context and give a quick brief - Take the first two to three minutes on setting the context, explaining the agenda and get them comfortable.

If I had mentioned, making customers comfortable more than once, that is deliberate. The key lesson of Week #1 in a single sentence is: Make the conversations with customers comfortable and get them to tell stories.

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