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Customer interviews : a guide

The third step of the customer discovery method is interviewing them. Some tips to get the most out of it.

If you’re reading this article, it means you’ve decided to interview customers. Well done !

Mario + fleur = mario qui crache du feu

Reminder : The discovery interview allows you to de-correlate the conversation from any business or service topic, and to have the customer or prospect talk not about a hypothetical future, but about what he or she has done in the past. Most importantly, the customer interview helps to identify the “job-to-be-done” for which your customer bought the product/service or an alternative.

The fundamentals to keep in mind

The customer interview has two objectives : discover why people hire your product / service (or an alternative), and how they’ve come to that decision.

  • What is the “Job-to-be-done” they seek to fulfill.
  • What is the transformation they hope for.
  • What was the journey from the discovery of the need to the choice and use of the solution.

Because that’s what it’s all about: we don’t ask the client what they would like to do or think they would do. We ask them what they have actually done. From the first trigger to the use of the product, from the information received unintentionally to the active research, from the word-of-mouth to the promotional emails… We appeal to his memory of past events, not to his projection into a hypothetical future.

The elements to look for

The goal of the interview is to identify the elements that make up the customer journey, from the awareness of the need to the use of the chosen solution.

  • The trigger: the moment when the need began to be felt. Internal or external stimulus? Provoked by a change in situation/life?
  • The goals: what was the purpose of the solution sought? Functional, emotional, social… By digging a little, we can also go to the hidden objectives, the selfish desires. For example, a social goal to appear more competent than a colleague in addition to a functional goal to produce illustrations faster.
  • The pains: what problems with the way things were before the solution was purchased?
  • Alternatives considered during the customer journey – direct competitors but not only.
  • Fears or apprehensions before the final choice.
  • The most important value proposition that played into their purchase decision.
  • The elements of satisfaction with the solution.
  • The friction points still present in their journey to the solution or their current use of the solution.
  • As a bonus, you can also find out which communication channels the customer pays attention to, what influences them, and which information sources they prefer or trust.


Interview guide

  • Introduction : this step is short, but should put the interview in context. Reassurance on the objective (no sales pitch) and duration (depending on what you have announced in the previous steps, 20 to 45 mins), thanking you for your help, asking for permission to record… and a bit of chit-chat to break the ice (where you are, what is the weather like where you are…)
  • Kick-off : start without saying that you start, directly from an ice breaker question.
  • Crux of the interview : I detail the questions to ask below. This is a guide and not a script, so feel free to adapt the questions, change the order according to the answers… The conversation should remain fluid and natural.
  • Conclusion : thank them of course. I also advise you to summarize to them a few key points that you found really useful during the interview to support the interest it had. It is customary to ask if the person has any questions : it happens that some people ask what the interview will be used for, or if they can be kept informed of the next steps for your product or service. If this is the case, please take note!

Detailed guide

  • You use this solution. How do you use it? What problems does this solution address?
  • If we go back, what happened the day you realized you needed a solution for your problem?
  • Once you decided to find a solution, how did you research what was available on the market? Could you describe the steps one after the other in as much detail as possible?
    • It’s around these answers that you can dig into the communication channels, the sources of information… You mention such and such podcast, do you listen to a lot of podcasts? You had asked a colleague for advice, you prefer recommendations from someone you know?
  • What other solutions did you identify / investigate further?
  • What were the selection criteria on which you evaluated these other solutions?
  • Now that you are using the product/service, what is one thing it brings you that you did not have before?
  • What was the #1 reason for choosing this product over another?
  • Before you bought, what were your apprehensions / fears?
  • Now that you are using the solution, does it completely meet your expectations? What are you still missing from the problem? If you could change one thing with a magic wand, what would it be?
  • About the problem solved, what are the things that still concern you?

The right mindset

A client interview is a live conversation, not a script that you read headlong. The key is to react to what is said and to non-verbal cues.
So you need to be in a position of active listening – hence the advice to record rather than take notes, and be ready or willing to dig into each answer. “Interesting, can you tell me more?“. “You seem to have really struggled with this, can we spend a little more time on it?“. “You seem to have enjoyed this, why was this so important?“.

Some tips

  • It’s best to have individual conversations. Every experience is different, and a group session may miss specific points of the journey, especially from an emotional standpoint – decisions are rarely entirely rational, in fact. The presence of a group may bias the way one shares one’s experience (some may want to post-rationalize their choices).
  • It is recommended that you record the interviews so that you don’t miss anything, and so that you remain immersed in the discussion without taking notes. Of course, you warn the interviewee and guarantee that the recording will not be used other than to allow you to transcribe and analyze it.
  • Video or face-to-face interviews are more relevant because seeing the person allows you to rely on non-verbal elements. On the phone, pay close attention to silences and other onomatopoeia to help you understand when it is time to dig deeper and bounce back. Face-to-face but recorded in audio, you can take some notes with the time/movement you have spotted. Normally each clue will trigger a bounce question, so that will be heard as well.
  • Write down right at the end of the interview the things you remember spontaneously. These are probably the most important or new elements of this particular interview. During the final analysis, you can bring out these notes. The rational analysis will probably match your intuition at the time, but it may be that an important element mentioned only once was forgotten.

It’s not over yet

Conducting the interviews is the 3rd step of the customer interview method

Dont’ forget the 4th step : you still need to analyze all the interviews to get insights and translate them into positioning, channels, content, copywriting…

If you’ve never heard about Job-to-be-done, the iconic source

Job-to-be-done definition (5 mins)


Crédits photo :
Title : Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash
Mario : found on Google
Steps : original creation

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