September 30, 2023

Customer discovery interview

Learn about customer discovery interview and their importance on early stages of product development and the most common errors.
Customer discovery interview

Customer discovery interviews are integral to the early stages of product or business development, helping entrepreneurs and product managers understand potential customers, their needs, and how best to serve them. These interviews can provide invaluable insights and help in refining product ideas, value propositions, and go-to-market strategies. Here's a guide to conducting a successful customer discovery interview:

Preparing for the Interview:

a. Set Clear Objectives:

Understand what you want to learn. Are you trying to validate a problem, understand user behavior, or test a hypothesis?

b. Identify the Right Participants:

Find individuals who belong to your target demographic or exhibit the behavior you're interested in studying. Your user persona prepaired on early stages will help with it.

c. Prepare Open-Ended Questions:

Avoid leading or biased questions. Instead, ask open-ended ones to foster discussions and glean insights.

During the Interview:

a. Set the Tone:

Begin by explaining the purpose of the interview, ensuring participants that you value their feedback, and there are no wrong answers. Start with some questions "about weather" or make some compliments to make sure that atmosphere is relaxed. Don't forget to smile and jokes during the interview.

b. Listen Actively:

This is not the time to pitch your idea or defend your hypotheses. Listen more than you talk.

c. Dive Deeper with Follow-up Questions:

If a participant shares an intriguing or ambiguous point, ask follow-up questions like, "Can you elaborate on that?" or "Why do you feel that way?". Use 5 why's approach to get deeper to the problem.

d. Take Notes:

Capture as much detail as possible. If you're conducting the interview remotely, recording (with permission) can be beneficial.

Key points and questions to ask:

When conducting interviews, it's essential to discuss each customer benefit hypothesis. For each benefit statement, consider posing the following questions:

  • What does this mean to you?" (This gauges their comprehension)
  • "How could this be advantageous for you?"
  • "If a product offered this benefit, how significant would it be to you?"(They can answer with: no value, low value, medium value, high value, or very high value)
  • If they indicate the benefit has high or very high value: "Why is this so valuable to you?"
  • If they indicate the benefit has low or no value: "Why doesn't this hold value for you?"

These inquiries not only clarify if your benefit description resonates with users but also gauge the benefit's worth and the reasoning behind it. Understanding why customers find certain benefits significant is invaluable; it offers insights into their mindset and priorities.

You'll observe during customer discovery interviews that various customers might phrase the same concept differently.

Their statements can range from being very broad to highly detailed. For instance, when asking two customers their opinion on New Presentation Sofware , one might express, “It simplifies the presentation preparation process,” while the other might point out, “I appreciate its error-checking feature”.

When conversing with customers, continually probe with the question, "Why does that matter to you?" until you don't uncover any more new insights. This strategy helps shift the conversation from specific, detailed benefits to overarching ones. This research method is termed "laddering." or "5 why" in Lean Six Sigma. With each successive question, you're ascending the steps of a ladder that maps out related benefits. As you advance, these ladders might merge, leading you to the central benefit of that chain.

To illustrate this, let's examine a hypothetical scenario. Imagine we're exploring the reasons some drivers favor sports utility vehicles (SUVs) over minivans. During an interview, we ask a customer this exact question. He mentions they don't like sliding doors as a reason for preferring SUVs. Probing further, he explains that he's inclined towards vehicles with a sleek design. When asked again, he expresses his desire to feel fashionable. Digging even deeper, we find that his primary motivation is a longing for peer acceptance. We pass all way from doors to actual desire to increase peer acceptance.

More about 5 why's you can read here:

Common errors you should be aware of:

Here are some of the most common errors made during customer discovery interviews:

  1. Leading the Interviewee: One of the most frequent mistakes is asking leading questions, which can unintentionally guide the interviewee to a predetermined answer.
  2. Talking More than Listening: The primary goal is to learn from the interviewee, so dominating the conversation can defeat the purpose.
  3. Being Defensive: Sometimes, feedback about a product or idea can feel personal. It's crucial to avoid getting defensive and remain open to criticism.
  4. Not Clearly Defining Objectives: Going into an interview without clear objectives can result in a lack of direction and missing out on vital insights.
  5. Only Focusing on Confirmations: It's a natural human tendency to seek validation. However, only focusing on data that confirms your hypothesis and ignoring contradictory information can lead to confirmation bias.
  6. Being Unprepared: Not researching or understanding the interviewee's background or not having a structured set of questions can lead to a less productive conversation.
  7. Not Taking Detailed Notes: Relying on memory can lead to missed or misremembered insights. Always document the conversation either through notes or recordings (with permission).
  8. Overloading with Too Many Interviews: While it's essential to get a varied perspective, there's a point of diminishing returns. After a certain number of interviews, new insights can become minimal.
  9. Making Assumptions: Preconceived notions can cloud judgment and prevent truly unbiased learning.
  10. Skipping the Follow-up: Sometimes, clarifying a point or diving deeper into a topic mentioned during the interview can lead to significant insights. Not doing so can result in missed opportunities.
  11. Focusing Only on the Positive: While positive feedback can be encouraging, it's essential to dig deep into negative feedback or challenges faced by interviewees, as they often provide the most actionable insights.
  12. Not Setting the Right Context: If interviewees don't understand the context or the objective of the interview, their responses may not be as relevant or helpful.
  13. Ignoring Non-verbal Cues: Facial expressions, body language, and tone can provide a wealth of information about how an interviewee truly feels about a topic.
  14. Not Validating Insights: Drawing conclusions based on one or two interviews can be misleading. It's essential to validate findings across multiple interviews to ensure they're representative.


a. Review and Analyze:

Go over your notes and identify patterns or recurring themes.

b. Refine Your Hypothesis:

Based on the feedback, adjust your product idea, value proposition, or any other hypotheses you're testing.

c. Plan Next Steps:

Decide whether you need more interviews or if you're ready to move to the next phase of product development or validation.


Remember, the primary purpose of these interviews is to learn. Avoid making assumptions, and be open to having your hypotheses challenged or disproven. This will guide you toward creating a product or solution that genuinely fits the market's needs.

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