Customer Research to Build a Better Product

Your goal is to learn more about your customers so that you can create a rock solid product, but how exactly do you do that? 

The best and most thorough way to do it is through a customer research interview. This meeting can provide you with insight that you can’t get through other means. But conducting interviews isn’t the only way to get customer insight. You can also try these other methods:

Surveys – Short questionnaires done via website, email, social media, or snail mail. Typically, surveys contain multiple-choice questions that help you get a quick snapshot of the user and their needs, wants, and opinions. Surveys are easy to give/ analyze, and inexpensive.

Product Testing – With product testing, your customers have an opportunity to try out your product and answer questions based on their first impression of your product.

Observation – Observe how your target customers interact in your market. How do they behave? Based on their behavior, what attracts them to a specific solution? 

Focus Groups – In a focus group, you’ll ask questions similar to the ones you’d ask in a one-on-one interview. The major difference is that you’ll have a group of people (between 3-12) to ask, and this group dynamic can spark interesting conversations.

While all of the above methods are valid and valuable tools for customer insight, you can’t beat a straightforward, one-on-one, face-to-face interview with your customer.

For example, surveys are great for instant feedback but they don’t always tell the whole story. Sometimes, you need to sit across from your customer to read their body language and observe their initial emotional response to measure sentiment. 

But now that leads to other questions: 

How do you conduct a customer research interview?

What questions should you ask? 

Who should you ask? 

What should you do with all of the information that you receive?

If you’re not sure where to start, don’t get overwhelmed. We’re here to help. In this post, we’ll discuss what you need to know how to conduct a customer research interview. Let’s get started.

How to Conduct a Customer Research Interview

Customer Research to Build a Better Product

Here’s a beginner-friendly guide to conducting your first customer research interview.

Develop Customer Personas

If you haven’t already, you need to develop customer personas. A persona is a fictitious profile of your target customer that focuses on their pain points, values, behavior, and motivators. Check out an in-depth post on how to create customer personas here. Develop these personas to get clarity on who to invite to your customer interviews. 

By the way, most SaaS have at least two target customer types, so you should have the same number of customer personas. 

Once you develop your personas, plan to interview between five to 10 customers for each one.

Develop a List of Questions

Now that you know who you’re targeting, it’s time to develop a list of questions specifically tailored to that customer persona.

Come up with around 10-20 questions that you can ask during your interview, but don’t feel like you’re limited to asking only those questions. It’s a script, but you’re free to deviate from the script and ad lib. In fact, you’ll likely encounter answers that you weren’t expecting, so don’t be afraid to change direction. Just use these questions as a guide.

Here’s a list of starter questions you can use in your customer research interview.

Choose the Right Customers to Interview

Who should you choose to interview? Here’s a quick guideline:

  • Choose customers who are happy with your product (based on the answers to a pre-screener survey).
  • Choose customers that align with your targeted customer persona (you can also find this out through pre-screening).
  • Choose customers who’ve purchased your product within the last six months. They have fresh memories, especially about their pain point and associated challenges.
  • Choose prospective customers who didn’t purchase your product despite going through a trial. You definitely want to learn why these prospects did not convert.

Decide on the Type of Interview

Customer Research to Build a Better Product

The next step is to decide what type of interview to conduct. You have plenty of options.

The first option is to conduct an in-person interview. This is the preferred option because you can interact more naturally with your customer.

The second option is to conduct a video-based interview. Thanks to Skype and Zoom and other video conferencing tools, this option is great if you can’t be in-person. You can observe the customer’s body language, which is a plus, although it’s not quite the same as being in the same room,

The third option is to conduct your interview over the phone. You lose the ability to see the customer’s reactions, however you can still hear the customer, which can provide more context to your interview.

The fourth and final option is to conduct your interview via chat/ text. This is not advisable because you lose any interactive edge. Instead of a chat-based interview, opt to do a survey. This will save you time and allow you to scale your efforts.

Choose the Right Length

Assuming you’re opting for one of the top three interview styles mentioned above, limit your interview to 60 minutes or less. Extract as much information from the interview without exhausting the customer — or yourself! An hour-long interview gives you the breathing space to ask all of your most important questions without rushing. 

Incentivize the Interview

Guess how many people will show up to your 60-minute, no-pay interview?

Pretty much zero.

If you want to attract more respondents, do it with gift cards. A cash-based incentive like an AMEX, Amazon, or Starbucks gift card can definitely make your hour-long interview sound more appealing. You don’t have to go crazy with the amount, either. Opt for a $25 or $50 gift card to sweeten the deal.

Expect Cancellations

Even if you’re dangling a gift card incentive, some of your invitees won’t show up. Maybe they forgot. Maybe something else came up. Things happen.

Be prepared by inviting more than you need. Ultimately, you need a minimum of three respondents per persona to get enough reliable data. Invite more than three customers and everyone who shows up beyond that third invitee is icing on the cake.

Of course, you want to limit how many people you ask because it’s also possible that everyone shows up. If that happens, you don’t want to be in the uncomfortable position of buying more gift cards than you budgeted for.

Ask Open-Ended, Non-Leading Questions

When asking questions, be sure to ask open-ended questions instead of just questions that prompt “yes” or “no” answers. This allows you to learn how people describe their pain, their challenges, and your product. You can use this same language in your future marketing.

Also, avoid asking leading questions that introduce your bias. Questions like, “How much do you love…” or “How easy is it to use…” lead the customer to answer favorably. While that may be an ego-boost, it won’t help you know how your average customer thinks/ behaves when you’re not around. 

Use New Insight to Re-Define Accurate Customer Personas

Remember that your goal is to understand your customers as much as you possibly can in order to develop a better product.

After your interview, revisit your customer personas to further develop them. You now know more than you did about your customers, and your personas should be updated to reflect this. Your customer personas should not only guide your interview content but also help you build a more intuitive product for the future.

Remember that customer personas are living documents and should be ever-changing.

Final Thoughts

To determine if your product is viable, you need to conduct customer research, specifically through interviews. Interviewing your customers allows you to learn more about them and better understand your target market. It also enables you to formulate a plan to stand out amongst your competitors. 

Before you go, check out these additional tips:

Don’t forget to download this list of questions to ask during your customer research interview.

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