Introduction to Interviews

When creating Customer Personas "Creating Customer Personas", we spoke about the importance of validating your personas, to ensure that they are accurate.

The best way to do this is by showing them to customers themselves and asking for feedback. This module will explain how to run an insightful, structured customer interview.

Structuring a lean customer interview

We use a laddering approach to interviewing our users and customers. This involves not starting with potential ideas, but instead broadly exploring the problem area, before digging into the current state, exploring solutions, and identifying the benefit of potential specific features.

Step 1: Explore general questions about the area of focus

This is where you can gauge your customer's general feelings towards your organisation and the area of focus you're exploring, whether it's cars, coffee or tax returns.

Example questions:

  • Tell me about your experience with/around…
  • Talk me through how you approach…
  • What's your reaction when I say the word...

Step 2: Current behaviors and challenges

Now it's time to get a bit more specific and start to ask about your customer's current behaviors and challenges. You want to find out what problems they're coming up against, and how they go about trying to solve those problems.

Example questions:

  • What is your biggest frustration with…
  • What do you love about…
  • How do you currently…
  • If [competitor/substitute] didn’t exist how would you...
  • What have you tried before…

Step 3: Digging deeper for underlying motivations

Now you want to start asking a lot of 'why' questions to discovery what's really motivating your customer. This will help you to get past what they say they want, and to find out what they really need.

  • Why do think you've approached it that way?
  • What are you really trying to achieve with...
  • What are you most afraid of in the context of...
  • Can you describe your ideal experience of...

In preparation of your first interview, it is time to create a customer interview script.

Think back to the critical assumptions you made when creating your personas. What is the most important thing you need to learn from your customer? Be specific.


Interview Canvas

In this instance, we have used interviews to validate the assumptions we made when developing our personas. However, it is important to note that consistent customer feedback should be built into your workflow. This technique should stay fixed to your tool belt, to test assumptions and uncover insights, every time you face a new challenge, release a new product or improving an existing service, for example.

Interview best practice

Before you pick up the phone or step into the room with your customer, there are a few very important mindsets to focus on as you execute your lean customer research. Ensuring that you take on the ideal interviewer mindsets, avoiding bad interview practice, and making sure you're as prepared as possible will increase the likelihood that you'll gain valuable and useable insights from your research.

Interviewer mindsets

These are some of the key mindsets that will set you up for a successful interview. Think of them as hats you can put on during your customer research - for example, you're not really a novice in the topic you'll be discussing, but you'll get much richer insights if you can set aside your expertise for a little while.

The Tourist

  • Be open-minded, curious, observant. Let yourself be surprised and excited by what your customer tells you.
  • Build rapport. Your customer is the ultimate expert in their own experience, so this is their turf, and you need to show them that you come in peace.
  • Have an emergency plan - in case of technology fails, or your participant is super fast or super slow.

The Scientist

  • Note down facts, but don’t start trying to interpret behaviors. The best way to avoid bias is to remain as objective as possible about what you record.
  • Ask why? Look for clues. Don't be afraid to keep digging and ask several 'why' questions in a row if you still don't understand.
  • Hear what people are saying, but be on the lookout for contradictory body language, too.
  • Stay neutral. Try not to give your customer too much positive or negative feedback, in case they change what they tell you to please you.

The Novice

  • Abandon all preconceived notions. You probably know a lot about this topic, but you have to put that aside for the duration of the interview.
  • Don’t explain or guide. It'll be tempting to jump in and correct your customer or explain something, but instead, take note of what they were missing.
  • Let the participant be right, and let them lead the conversation (to a point). Where they guide the interview is useful data in itself!
  • Answer questions with questions: e.g. 'What do you think?' or 'Why is that important to you?'

Avoiding bad interview practice

Watch out for bad practice creeping into your interviews, particularly:

Preparing for your interview

You can use this pre-interview checklist to make sure you've done everything you can to set up for a successful customer interview:

  1. Have I picked the right space?
  2. Have I given the interviewee enough context?
  3. Do I have my interview guide ready?
  4. Do I have my incentives sorted?
  5. Am I in the right mindset?

Once you've considered the mindsets above and ticked all of those boxes, you're ready to sit down and start your interviews!