Even the most creative product manager in the world would do well to get direct input from their customers now and again. Interviewing your customers is the best way to keep track of the market. Often, your customers will tell you things you haven’t even thought about. They are also likely to tell you some things you know, but they may frame them in ways you’ve never thought of before. The value of anecdotes from customers is captured in this quote:
The thing I have noticed is when the anecdotes and the data disagree, the anecdotes are usually right. Jeff Bezos
Before you start interviewing your customers, keep this in mind – the success of a customer interview hinges on one crucial technique, and the sooner you master it, the better off you’ll be. What is it?
That’s what you do in an interview, you listen. Most people think an interview is all about asking questions. But if you don’t listen, why bother asking questions?
In order to listen of course, you need to get the customer talking. And in order to do that, you need to ask good questions. Here’s a quick overview of how you can conduct an effective interview.
Before the Interview
- Know your participants before you do the interview. Do some research on them, look them up on LinkedIn and Google them.
- Define clear goals of your interview and align your interview questions to these goals. Make sure your questions yield answers that are actionable. And watch out for leading questions (questions where you lead your participant to answer in a particular way).
- Pilot the questions with some test subjects first. Believe me, you’ll have plenty of changes to make after your pilot.
During the Interview
- Your interview is a conversation, not just a Q&A. And while you have to make sure you stay on target, you should also have enough flexibility built in to allow your participants to freely express themselves. Let them talk. That’s where the interesting insights come from. Make them feel comfortable. Remember that legendary smile of yours? It’s a good time to flash that!
- Keep your goal in mind at all times. Don’t get distracted. Your participant doesn’t know your goals, but you do. They can stray wherever they want but you need to bring them back.
- Watch out for biases. I could write a book about this but I’ll follow my own advice and stay focused. I will tell you this – if you don’t think you’re biased, think again
- Never do an interview by yourself. Have a note-taker with you. It could be a designer or an engineer. Involving them in the interview will make your job that much easier.
How many interviews should you conduct? I’d recommend a minimum of 6–8 per user type. With interviews, you can keep doing them until you reach “knowledge saturation” – until you feel that you’re not learning anything new any more.
After the Interview
- Have your team with you when you begin your analysis. You are still the owner of this research study and it’s up to you to ensure that the findings from your interviews are actioned. But it’s also your responsibility to make sure other stakeholder perspectives are considered, and not just your own.
- Remember that every interview is like a case study. This is a qualitative technique, so technically, you can’t aggregate your findings. You should never represent findings from an interview in the form of percentages, because your sample size is too low. But you can look for patterns, in fact that’s where interviews are most useful. They go deep into causal factors. And while you want to retain the richness of information, you also want to identify patterns. That’s when the interview findings become actionable.
- Lastly, make sure that you come up with a plan to act on what you find. This goes back to the goal of the interview (the very first step). You need to tie everything you find back to the original objectives of the interview. Your research isn’t complete until your findings make it into your backlog.
- To finish up, make sure you produce a report on what you did and save that for posterity. It doesn’t have to be a detailed report. Just enough that people who read it know what happened and how certain decisions were made.