Good Customer Interview And The Rules Around It

Customer development is usually associated with validating your business idea and assumptions. The way to do this is by talking to your customers. This is the value and purpose of performing customer interviews.

The main issue about customer interviews is to make sure you are getting good information from them. What this means is to know how to ask questions and what are the right questions to ask.

The Rules

1. No Pitching

The difference between a sales pitch and customer interview may not be obvious at first. In the end, you talk to your customers with the purpose of understanding them better, to be able to sell them more of what you are offering.

The simplest way to determine and differentiate customer interview and pitching your product is that at the end of a customer interview you are not asking them for money.

For example, asking them “I am building this great product, which solves this and that problem. Would you want that?” – sounds like you are pitching them and trying to sell them your product. By thinking you are selling them something, customers will most likely not open to you and will be giving you answers you either want to hear or answers that will not put them in the position later to actually buy (or need to reject) your offer.

This means you haven’t really validated any of your assumptions. They may have answered ‘yes’ just because they wanted to be nice.

2. No “cookies” questions

There is no real person in the world who would say “no” to the question “Do you want cookies?”. There may be people concerned about eating a cookie, but the answer is still “yes”.

A question like this doesn’t really give you any information, because you know that the majority of people will say “yes”. It may only make you feel like you have validated your assumptions, but in fact, the outcome of the question was already pre-determined by the nature of your ask.

3. One interview is not a survey

Talking to a single customer is not a survey. The “yes” and “no” to any of your questions is nothing more but an opinion of a single person at this point. You are not looking for opinions, You are looking to be able to drive conclusions about your business and your assumptions. To make this a real survey, you need to talk to many customers and be diverse in your selections.

To be diverse simply means you need to understand at least a bit who your customers are and make sure you pick representative sets from each of your customers’ groups (segments).

4. Pull information, don’t push information

What does this mean? Well, you need to make sure you are not asking a question that implies an answer that is favorable to your assumptions.

For example, if you are making a dandruff hair shampoo, you should not ask “Don’t you wish you had a shampoo that removes your dandruff?” This is a good example of a “cookie” question as well. But the point is you already have given them answer you want to hear. Instead, you should be asking questions to reveal their habits and rituals when washing their hair. Like “How often do you wash your hair?”, “When do you wash your hair – in the morning or evening?”,  etc. This will help you eventually discover other problems and offer potential solutions, around the issue your product is solving. You may even discover that what you see as a problem is in fact of no concern at all to your customers. Time to pivot.

5. Don’t build your business around “New Year’s Resolution”

Past customer behavior is the best predictor for future behaviors. In other words, don’t expect customers to behave in a certain way, because they said they would.

If they say for example they regularly go to the gym, start asking more specific questions, like how many times a week they are in the gym, what routines they follow and so on. This will help you discover if they really are going to the gym as they say or they only think they do.

So, by looking at what your customers have done is a very good indication of what they will do. Exceptions are going to happen, but since you are doing a survey, those exceptions will be properly reflected as outliers.

This will also make sure when discovering data about your customers that they are not describing their “ideal self” vs “actual self”. You need to understand they are not projecting something in the future or what they might or could be/do, but rather describe what they are actually currently doing because that is the problem you are solving.

6.  Look for stories, not statements.

This is connected to the previous rule. By asking customers to tell a story, not a statement, you will be able to hear more of what they need and what their rationales are behind the decisions they make when looking for a solution.

Instead of a statement “I regularly go to the gym” ask questions in such a way so they tell you a story about when, how, and how often they go. Do they go alone or with a friend. What do they do after the gym – go home, go to meet friends, go to dinner (or breakfast?). Do they take supplements and what kind, and so on. This will help you understand your customers’ behavior and you might even discover how your marketing campaign should look like.


Customer interviews are a very important activity that every founder needs to do. This is the only way to understand your customers and to make sure your product or service is solving a real problem. If you don’t talk to your customers you risk wasting time and resources on something that is a problem only for you and no one is ready to pay for what you have to offer.

Customer interviews have statistical nature and you need to make sure you define your questions in a way to help you discover information, not confirm your assumptions. This requires to be very careful in your surveys and watch out for the pitfalls described in this article.

It also is very important for the founder to do this himself/herself. You are going to build a product and lead a team, that is why you need to understand what the real need is to communicate it to your team. You might employ a company to do this for you, but you will be missing critical communication with your customers,

The last thing to remember is that customer interviews are needed to be performed often. Market changes, business environment changes, people change. You need to do this often to be sure you are in synch with your customers’ needs.








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