Now and again during my career, while going through the discovery process with new clients, I noticed something interesting.
Different stakeholders in the company engage customers, even prospects, at different points of their relationships.
It might be the startups’ Entrepreneurs, Company Owners, Product Managers, or Developers that meet the company’s customers in different contexts.
What I occasionally found is that in those meetings, different tactics are being used about the product, which later provides insights that impact decision making.
Some of the tactics I noticed, were:
Presenting a new feature in the product to existing customers and explaining how it works (Functionality wise).
Asking customers If they like/ dislike something done in the system (confirmation).
Asking the customers what they want, or what would help them solve a problem.
These tactics are generated from the assumption that we know our customers and what they need, we just need them to tell us how they want it. We need their confirmation are we “doing it” right.
Relying on a specific customer’s feedback as a guideline for decision making, in team meetings like brainstorming or roadmap creation, is less recommended at the very least.
Such reliance gets much more problematic if that feedback was extracted from the customer by using the wrong tactics.
At the end of the day, it could result in costing the company a lot of money in developing the wrong thing.
Today I would like to share with you some of the techniques that are used on User Interviews, and could assist you in getting more accurate feedback from your customers.
User Interviews and Customer meetings are different
First, let’s address the “elephant in the room”.
User interviews and Customer conversations are not the same, nor should they be.
Each has its own unique purpose and objectives.
In a user interview, we try to explore the customer’s needs, motivations and feelings regarding different elements, problems, and situations.
To that end, we encourage the customer to talk openly, share their thoughts and opinions.
Later on, we can identify from their responses key insights we can implement in the solutions we provide them.
User Interviews are usually done in a small and intimate forum to get the most authentic responses as possible.
Mostly advised a 1-1 session, with possibly 1-2 observers to take notes, or (even better) view the conversation from afar/video.
The Interviews are usually recorded, with the user’s approval.
Another point worth mentioning - Users are not always the customers of the company.
Especially in B2B. The people who actually use the systems, are not necessarily the same people who decide whether to purchase the service or not.
Unlike user interviews, meetings with customers usually happen in a larger forum with different members and stakeholders in the room.
This means it’s a bit more challenging to get fully authentic responses.
Especially if the forum includes both low-level and higher-level personals in the room.
Customer’s meeting goals can vary between sales pitch, a presentation of new capabilities in the system to design partners, customer management purpose and other agendas.
Although there are differences, at its core, every conversation with a customer is an opportunity to shed light on the challenges they are facing today.
It’s a unique moment for us to discover the ways we can help them overcome those challenges with our service or product.
Techniques used in the UX discipline
Unbiased and deep answers can provide better guidance in the decision-making process of products.
Here is a list of do’s and don’ts to engage a conversation that will provide you with authentic, valuable and accurate answers from your customers.
1. Don’t ask a question, and provide a possible reply.
“How often do you use our product: Daily, weekly, monthly?”
It’s possible the response the customer has in mind, is not one of the presented options.
Asking the question without providing possible answers will provide a more authentic reply.
Once we provide options, it frames the reply of your customers to the pattern you have provided them. So it’s advised not to close their replies to specific options.
To illustrate, let’s practice this concept.
What is your favorite beverage? take a few seconds to think about it.
Now imagine I asked you: What is your favorite beverage? Coffee or Tea?
It’s possible you’re initial response was completely different from the two options provided.
When the question is framed with closed options, there is a risk the reply would be which of the options provided is LIKED BEST. Coffee or tea.
The actual response would be kept hidden.
That’s what we’re looking for from our customers, their authentic response.
2. Avoid asking leading questions.
“How much do you like this feature? Does this feature make you happy?”
We aim to get an authentic response from our customers.
Asking them if they like, or how much they like/ dislike something, creates a biased response, since they will conform to our question phrasing. “I like it” “I don’t like it”.
3. Don’t ask "yes/no" questions.
When we ask a yes/no question, we will usually get as a reply “yes/ no”.
That question format prevents us from getting the “why” behind it.
For example: “Do you feel this feature is helpful for your work?” - “Yes”...
The “why” is vital for our understanding of how our customers think, and why they choose some things over others.
Asking closed-ended questions prevents us from getting the informative answers we are looking for.
4. Don’t ask questions in the future tense.
“Would you be interested”, “Would it be helpful if”, “Would you use this”.
Asking someone a future question requires them to use their creative mind and make an educated guess.
I like this quote by Patrick Thornton:
“Users aren’t designers. They can’t conceive of the unbuilt. Our job as designers (or product owners) is to find out what people’s problems are, and then build the future.”
When being asked to predict the future, we tend to make up answers from our imagination.
It might be accurate, being an educated guess, but it’s not as accurate as talking about past experiences which more authentically express the way something did help in solving a problem.
Future assumptions are far less effective and trustworthy.
5. Don’t over-explain your solution to the client.
In explaining the solution, and specifically - it’s functionality, there’s a chance that valuable feedback will get lost in the way.
If something is unclear to your customers in the meeting, it might remain unclear when they sit in front of the interface while using it.
Once we explain a function verbally in the meeting, we prevent them from highlighting it as a “Pain point” we should address and fix beforehand.
This might cause “Friction” when using the system later on.
This is an important issue, and one that I encountered often.
When showing a product or a feature to customers, explain the high-level purpose of this capability, but not the “How” to operate it.
Try as much as you can avoiding explanations of the technical or functional aspects.
6. Don’t be afraid of the truth.
Showing our hard labor to customers can be intimidating, and it’s difficult to hear negative feedback.
But hard as it may be, it’s essential for us.
It can help us identify “red flags” that we should address before releasing a product live,
and save us a lot of time and effort.
Even if, in the worst-case scenario, the customer mentions they have no use for this type of service (the service you are providing) it provides you with 2 essential takeaways -
1. Either the product you are creating might not be the right one.
2. OR, The customer you are meeting might not be the right target audience for your product.
Don’t you prefer to have those understandings before you create new features and waste expansive development time?
7. Don’t take feedback personally.
Even though we spend hours and hours on perfecting the solution we show customers, It’s vital to maintain neutrality.
Don’t treat feedback like it’s directed at you, or to your product.
Neutrality will enable you to truly listen to the customers as they bring up needs.
There is no price tag on honest feedback. Even if it may be hurtful, it’s also a valuable list of opportunities.
1. Ease them into the conversation.
If you wish to engage a conversation with the purpose of exploration and a better understanding of the other party, I recommend going from macro to micro.
Starting off with easy and straightforward high-level and basic questions that the customer can easily reply, will make them feel comfortable.
For example: “What does your organization do and how does your role fit in there?”
Paying attention to their answers can provide a lot of insights about the company, team, and dynamics.
2. Ask habits and behavior questions.
We want to understand the problems our product can solve for our customers.
For that, we need context.
I recommend, if possible, adding to your inventory of questions the following: "What does your typical weekday look like"?
It can provide you with priceless insights as to how the team’s workday looks like.
It can also introduce you to new insights like, when are they using your product, why are they opening it, for what purpose, and additional valuable information.
3. Ask Open-ended questions.
Asking open-ended questions, allows us to get more information from the customer, that may have been missed if we asked closed-ended questions.
Remember the “Yes/no” questions rule of thumb?
For example, instead of asking “Is this feature helpful to accomplishing your task?”
Try “In what way is this feature helpful in accomplishing your task?”
4. Follow-up questions.
Sometimes there is more beneath the surface, so we need to ask for more information.
Asking follow-up questions, that are open-ended, allows us to gather more helpful details.
For example, “That’s interesting, can you tell me more?”
5. Look for specific use-cases and context.
If a customer describes a task they need to do on your platform, try including their use-case in your question.
“Is this feature useful to the task you are trying to accomplish?” Specifically to this user’s case.
Asking questions about the product/specific feature in a specific context will provide you with a more informative and contextual response.
6. Let them see the feature for a few seconds before diving in.
Like mentioned earlier, explaining the product or feature in extra detail prevents us from getting valuable insights.
By explaining, we prevent our customers from constructing their own authentic opinion on the product.
When they reply to our questions or tell us their perspective, they reply to the things we say, and not necessarily to the things they see.
An optional statement when showing a new feature or product to a customer is saying beforehand “I want you to view our new capability for a few seconds and share your thoughts with me”.
You can also add a confirmation to reassure them.
In User Interviews I usually state:
”We are not testing your knowledge or capability to understand this.
We are testing together with you if the product is clear enough and helps you in accomplishing your goals. We want to hear your thoughts so we can improve it.”
It encourages customers to share their honest opinion, with confidence that they won’t be judged.
7. Take detailed notes.
In order to create an effective conversation, you need to be fully attentive.
Taking notes while customers are telling you vital information could cause a brief summary of important notes, which might be misinterpreted later.
Appoint someone from your team to take notes (Who said what, in reply to which questions), and make clear they are only observing the conversation and not engaging it.
This will enable you to “lead” the conversation to get the information you need, instead of being reactive in it.
8. Shut up. Listen.
After asking a question, stop. Embrace the silence and let the customer think, and answer.
Don’t be quick to feel the gap with additional information, clarifications or anything else.
Be attentive and focused.
The most basic understanding we embrace in the User Experience discipline, is “You are not your users”.
In the same manner, “You are not your customer”. Don’t assume you know what they need. Be curious and figure it out. Curiosity is a key-value.
The motivation that should drive you in conducting a conversation with your customers should be: “What types of problems are you facing - that we can solve”,
Instead of "How can we solve your problems".
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I hope this ToolKit will save you from browsing the internet for hours on end, looking for all the proper tips and information you need.
If you feel I’ve missed anything, or just want to say, “Thanks for this amazing Toolkit for UX in meeting with customers”, please feel free to contact me!
Good luck! and may the force customers be with you ;)