Archive for February, 2009

Learning from customers: 3 ways to improve

Over the last 3 weeks, I’ve spent quite a bit of time doing interviews with potential customers of the product i’m working on.  I’ve done seven over the last 3 weeks and plan to do several more in the next few weeks.  I’ve had an awesome time doing all of them so far and learned a ton, not just about my product, but also about being good at doing interviews :)

After reflecting for a bit on what went well and what didn’t go so well, i think i have a few ‘take-aways’ that i’d like to make sure to remember for the next time around

1. The less I talk, the better

In an interview format it never ceases to amaze me how amazingly easy to lead a subject.  I don’t do this intentionally of course as my goal is to learn from them, not to lead them to whatever “answer” i think i have.  Unfortunately, on several different occasions, I asked a question or made a statement and then watched in horror as the person I was interviewing stopped, thought about what i said, and then changed course.  Ahh!  sometimes i open my mouth too quickly and unfortunately once said, you can’t take that thought back

2. Allow for “digressions”

Being the all-too-often linear person that i am, i generally get annoyed by digressions in conversation.  after all, in the case of an interview, I’m there for a specific reason right?  Well.. true but with interviews like these, digressions are actually a really powerful tool for two reasons.

First, it puts the interviewee at ease.  A quick question about something on the wall or the history of the building might not be what you take away from the interview, but it’s important to remember that the interviewee is usually nervous.  They aren’t sure if you are judging them or if there are going to give the “wrong” answer.  Digressions help them to relax.

Second, remember that there are 3 categories of knowledge: things you know, things you know you don’t know, and things you don’t know you don’t know.  If you never digress, you will never uncover things in the latter category.

3. Never answer questions (at least until the end)

Usually the interviewee is really nervous about doing something “wrong”.  They often become self concious and will start reverting to asking questions.  I do my best to resist the temptation to answer them.  Many times, questions will come regarding the product (if you are showing them one), but the topics can range a great deal.

It’s best to pretend you are a politician and just deflect the question.  “what do you think that means?” or even at times a little white lie like “i’m not sure” will help avoid the inevitable leading that will occur if you answer a specific question.  after all, you’re not going to be sitting there with them when they are actually trying your product :)

anyway, I’m still definitely just a beginner at customer inteviews, but i hope that this is a skill that i can continue to develop as i know that deep customer insight is a key ingredient to innovation, and speaking with customers is the main ingredient to deep customer insight!