A Brief History of Product Management: Starts With a Spark
Product management was originally seated in marketing but has evolved. It's still misunderstood but it's now getting the recognition it deserves with product people...
As product managers, we all know we should talk with our customers more. You can improve the quality of these insights by asking the right questions. In fact, a few well-phrased customer interview questions can yield fantastic insights.
At ProductCamp SoCal, I reviewed several tips and awesome customer interview questions that product managers should ask. We used these customer interview questions to help us develop ProductPlan.
Here are some characteristics of great questions:
Here are 12 customer interview questions that I’ve used to gain better insight for products and features:
This is by far the most important question to include in your arsenal. Unfortunately, this question isn’t used often enough. I’ve heard customer interviews where a customer provides an answer to a question, and the product manager takes that answer at face value. It’s a missed opportunity.
Product managers should think like investigators. They should be trying to figure out the real reason for an answer – Why did a customer say yes? Why did they really want a particular feature?
For those of you familiar with the lean startup methodology, you may have heard of the Five Whys. It’s a great technique for getting to the underlying reason, the real reason, behind a customer’s motivation.
Make sure to ask Why after the following 11 questions…
Asking this question works well if a customer asks for specific features or capabilities. Or if they are using competitive products. In particular, it’s fantastic for in-person interviews for learning a job to be done.
An extreme example is Intuit’s Follow Me Home program where product managers watch customers in their homes using the software. In the early days, the founder Scott Cook would pay for the software for customers in the store in exchange for letting him follow them home.
Understanding how they accomplish a task today is quite important.
This is a great question for understanding motivation because it may be different than you expect. Often these metrics apply to the business world, but could also work well in the consumer world.
This is one of the best customer interview questions to ask the business owner who ultimately would be purchasing the software product. Sometimes the success metrics may be financial, or they might be lifestyle such as more time with family.
I try to be empathetic when I’m asking questions and try to get inside the head of my customer. Asking how they feel about their current solution, the price, or whatever is a great way to open up some insights. Of course, this is not a question that you simply ask right off the bat, but is rather after you’ve established rapport. And how you listen to the answer is just as important.
Trying to understand what is most frustrating to customers will often elicit some great responses. You can also ask this about other products if you’re considering displacing a competitive or alternative product or feature.
Answers to this question may help you hone in on potentially differentiating features. I used this question extensively when I validated GoToMeeting.
This question is similar to the “what if you could wave a magic wand” question. It’s a fairly standard product management question. You want to try to understand how things might be different with a particular product or a job function. Then following up with “why” is a great way to get more insight into the value that this capability might bring your customer.
This question is a good one for understanding the before and after scenarios. You want to understand how your customer’s life will be different if they adopt a particular feature or product. Are they going to save time? Are they going to make money? Are they going to be happier? Now of course if a customer can’t answer this question, you should probably wonder why you’re introducing the feature or product to begin with. The feature should make a difference in some way.
Of course, this question doesn’t always have to focus on money; it could be time saved or hassle avoided. If you are introducing a new product or feature, you want to understand how it’s going to make money, or save time, or relieve pain.
If a customer asks you for a specific feature or capability, asking for an example is a good way to shed light on what they really want. At ProductPlan, we regularly ask for examples because it helps us better design our visual product roadmap software.
This question is one of my favorites for new product development. Of course, as with most product management, there is never a black and white answer. Rather, answers from customers are often nuanced and biased.
But this question is still a good one to ask. If you are proposing a new product or new premium feature and ask whether they would buy it near the end of the conversation. Then sit back and wait for the answer. And let there be some uncomfortable silence.
This is similar to the ultimate question (for those familiar with Net Promoter Score) and a good for win/loss interviews. You can also ask the inverse of this: Why wouldn’t you recommend our product?
I have always found that when you are proposing a new product or feature, customers are often excited about it. You’re giving them the vision, and people tend to get on board and want to support you. This question helps you understand their likelihood of actually taking action based on that excitement.
If solving the particular problem is number 4 or 5, you’re probably okay. If it’s further down on the list (or not on the list), you might have some challenges ahead of you.
Ultimately, asking the right customer interview questions is the fastest way to discover the right features to include on your product roadmap.