3 Secrets to improve your customer interviews

Hey I’m Ed, co-founder and CEO of Tadaa. To iterate on the problem we’re tackling with our collaborative workflow, we carried in March 50+ interviews with products teams. This was a huge success as we discussed with people working in companies ranging from pre-seed projects to FTSE 100. They shared with us 2 key elements: how they work (e.g. processes, tools…) and the pain points they endured daily. Here’s my takeaway on how to best carry interviews to refine your product/market fit, enjoy!

This article is part of a 4 chapter series.

1. Listen and shut up

Often you will interview people on Zoom you’ve never met. They have absolutely no reason to trust you. Why would they?. If you want to collect valuable insights, you’re going to need them to talk, a lot. To start, explain your initiative, reassure your audience they’re not the only one you’re interviewing etc…Enjoy as this will be the last time you’ll talk during this meeting.

People normally love talking about their work. So quickly get them to speak with wide open questions. This will help you deep dive later (see below), and help you stay silent. Yep, you got that right: stay silent. If you talk, you can turn an insightful conversation into a useless session. The worst thing that can happen is you missing the vital information. Check this conversation with a product designer:

- Okay so tell me how you build products in your company? [Basic question that is very open, allowing your audience to decide where to start]

- Well every 2 weeks, we receive a new set of ideas from our CEO that we need to focus on... [So you understand that they start their sprint at idea stage]

- Ok so wait, you don’t do any research prior to working on an idea? [Bingo, double trouble: you interrupted the interviewee (not a good sign that you’re here to listen) and you suggested that they’re doing something wrong]

- Yeah we do research sometimes when we get feedback from users [Now that’s an affirmation that you need to read with precaution. The designer might have answered this because they know it’s the right thing to say, even though they might not be carrying any research. You’re blocked here, so either dig in and it will get messy, or work your way back to the first answer]

The best way is to let your audience speak, and once they are done with their story, ask questions to clarify the points you want to deep dive on. Bear in mind that your questions must be as simple as posible, and remove any hint that could orientate their answer (like in the example above). The last thing you want to have is confirmation bias in the insights you collect.

Also, if you want to know whether you’ve asked a bad question, look at how your audience responds. If the answer is Yes/No, then you’re failing at generating a spontaneous conversation with the interviewee. The goal of this exercise is to get them to speak for as long as possible. Because the more they talk, the more honest and detailed the answers will be. And the most valuable it will be for you.

2. Don’t stick to your question list

Ok so you’ve got your list ready. 10 questions in 30 minutes, you’re all set and ready to go. This is a great tool if you’re unsure about how to conduct the interview or get stressed easily.

Remember those job interviews you did where you would get bombarded with random questions every 30 seconds? Yeah well that’s close to what your audience is about to suffer with that question list. It’s the best way to show that you’re not listening and not interested by the knowledge being shared. You’re just wasting everyone’s time by doing that.

Before the interview don’t write down a one-size-fits-all question list you will end up reading like a bad actor going through a script. Instead, write down the titles of the topics you want to discuss. This cheat sheet will help you bounce back if you’ve reached the end of a topic, formulate more naturally the beginning of a new one, and drive the conversation.

Also during the session, take a pen and paper and write down the points that raised your interest, and would like to come back to. That’s the best way to deep dive into relevant topics and have a meaningful conversation (see below).

Don’t worry, if you’re listening carefully to your audience, you will never be short of questions. And if that becomes the case, it means you’ve asked everything and you’ve collected the information you were looking for. Congrats!

3. Always ask “Why?”

Deep dive into each problem to understand where the problem really comes from. I would suggest using a lean approach when you carry such discussions.

For example, a Product Manager might admit that some tickets never get resolved because the squad lacks time.

- Why do these particular tickets get left behind? When you dig into it, you realise that 2/3 of those tickets require the copywriting skills from external members of the product squad (e.g. the marketing team).

- Why doesn’t the marketing team have bandwith for your tasks? You understand that they operate differently than the product squads, and that their goals are not aligned with the same KPIs as the Product squad.

- Why are the goals not aligned? Because they work exclusively on the campaign roadmap that is already planned for the whole year.

And there you go! Instead of thinking that time is the reason why they have a major problem at addressing all tickets, you’ve uncovered a lot more: now you know that there are different ways of working between the teams in the company (which is very common). However this is seriously damaging collaboration accross departments, and creating friction points.

One quick fix could be to include some time for the product squad in the marketing roadmap. Don’t go into solutioning during the interview, but this is a quick example to show the treasure you can unlock by simply asking “Why?” until you get to the bottom of the problem.

And Tadaa! This was the 3 main takeaways from the +100 hours I spent listening to very interesting stories and collecting new insights on how product teams work. Believe me there are no two similar squads I have talked to. Even though companies are currently undergoing Agile and Lean surgery, I still found a common pattern of pain points they suffer from. This will be my next article, coming soon!

Thanks a lot for reading this first chapter, of the Product Team series :) If you have any comments or feedback, please share! If you want to learn more about collaborative product workflow, please check the tool we’re building to make products people want.

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Co-Founder @ Tadaa: The collaborative product workflow

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Edouard Bucaille

Edouard Bucaille

Co-Founder @ Tadaa: The collaborative product workflow

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