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How to Do Customer Interviews & Gain Valuable Insights

July 23, 2019

What is the value of customer interviewing?

Customer interviews are the most effective way to validate the problem (and the solution) by simply asking customers what they want.

If we told you that 80% of businesses fail in their 12-18 months, you may think it's because their products aren’t good. But the bottom line is that they are making products that nobody wants, needs, or even asks for.

Want to be in the 20%? Then you need to design a product that customers will pay for - namely, because it solves a critical problem that they’re experiencing.

Why talk to customers?

Simply put, talking with customers helps prevent you from creating something they don't want. Who wants to spend time and money building something that no one is going to use? Talking with customers also allows you to understand the "why" behind their behaviors. It's important to remember that until we talk with the actual people we who will be using the product, we are just operating on assumptions.

Who to talk to

The ideal groups of people to get feedback from are:

  • Current users
  • Potential users
  • Former users

Current users

Current users are people that have been actively and successfully using your product. It would be beneficial to get feedback from both power users and average users.

Power users

Power users would be considered the experts within your product using all features and functionality to its full extent, whereas average users may be engaged with your product but may not know or need the full potential of it.

Average users

Talking with these users can create an opportunity to see gaps in onboarding or poor communication with feature updates.

Potential users

These are people that don't use your product, but could benefit from it. They are either unaware of your product or simply confused by what the value is. This could be a case of poor messaging or messaging to the wrong market.

Former users

These are people who tried out your product, but experienced a problem or didn't find enough value in it. They also could have not been onboarded properly. Reconnecting with them could provide an opportunity to identify gaps in onboarding, clarify your product's value, or understand where you're missing the mark with product-market fit.

designer interviewing customer about new software idea

Preparing for a customer interview

Set a goal for the interview

What are you hoping to achieve after the interviews? It may seem obvious, but this questions needs to be at the forefront of your mind during the entire process. Start by defining this out along with an outline of the questions you believe will uncover what you hope to gain through the conversation.

Here are a few questions to consider:

  • What are your customers' biggest pain points?
  • Keeping the user as the center of the problem, does your product address this?
  • What are their current workflows?
  • What are your customers currently using to alleviate some of the friction?
  • Can you provide them better solutions than what they are currently using?
  • How are they currently measuring success?
  • Will your product offer enough value to get them to stop using their current solutions and start using yours?

Prepare a script beforehand

We typically start by using the GV Five Act Interview Process, then customize it for each individual problem. Make them feel as comfortable and do your best to keep the conversation as natural as possible. This will help ensure honest feedback. Don't just jump into the questions - take the time to introduce yourself and thank them for taking the time out of their day to meet with you.

Ask dialog-provoking interview questions

You should definitely see some patterns in the interviews, but not every question or topic will be relevant to every person. So have the ability to skip the questions that don't apply and keep the conversation feeling natural. But also be sure to loop in things they share into future questions throughout the interview. Have plenty of questions prepared, even if you think you won't get to all of them.

It's always a good idea to wrap things up by asking them if they would be willing to stay in the loop with your findings and solutions. It's good to build those relationships and take users along the validation process to find out if your solution meets their needs.

How many user interviews should you conduct?

The sweet spot is five or less

Five interviews at a time will save you from spending too much energy gathering information before analyzing it. After five interviews, you should start seeing patterns form. These findings will help you move forward with new goals and decide if you want to do more interviews.

There is a study conducted by the Nielsen Group that says elaborate tests are a waste of time and resources - and that the best results come from testing no more than five users and running as many small tests as you can afford. You get 85% of the insights and patterns in the first five interviews.

Only do more interviews if goals change

After your first batch of interviews, you'll be able to refine your questions to focus on a specific part of your product and how it impacts them. If you do more with the same goal, you'll likely get the same results. Identify new opportunities to learn what data you need next with every five interviews.

designer leading group discussion in conference room

Where do I find users to interview?

Subscribers and registered users

We typically find customers to interview from our current mailing list, people who have reported an issue with the product through a customer support team, social networks, and word of mouth.

Start with a formal email asking if they are interested in sharing their thoughts on your product. If you have access to data, you can see which users are more active. This is a great way to reach out in a more personalized way.

Customer support team

A customer support team is a great way to get a curated list of problems that current users are facing or have faced in the past.

Social networks

You can most likely find users from your social networks. Take the time to reach out and ask them if they would be open to talking with you about their experience. This is also a great way to get in front of your users by simply creating a post and asking if anyone would be interested in a short conversation over coffee or something.

Ways to conduct a user interview

Face to face or video call

This is the preferred way to conduct an interview. Not only can you see the reactions of who you are interviewing, but you can record that experience for further review later. You can record locally with a video camera or remotely using a tool like Zoom (which is what we use here at Headway). It's usually best to have another person available to take notes - this way you can just focus on making the person comfortable and conducting the interview.

Email survey

These work well when addressing large groups of people and trying to gain insight into larger-scale issues. Tools like Google Forms, and Survey Monkey are good options. A downside though is that you can't ask follow-up questions, so always include an option for them to opt into a potential followup interview.

Over the phone

You can also conduct an interview over the phone. This work wells for problem interviews where the person you are interviewing is explaining their experience and how they feel vs. you observing their experience. You can also use Zoom to record this or even Google Hangouts or Skype.

User interview recording tools


Talk to your users and see how they’re using your app or website from anywhere.


Video conferencing and recording tool with screen share.

It's worth repeating that talking with potential customers allows you to understand the "why" behind their behaviors. Until you understand motivation, you won't know how to provide the best value.

You can also check out Andrew's blog post on Understanding your Customers' Journey, or Jacob's posts on Emotions that Motivate for more information on learning more about your users.

We've also included some great resources below 👇🏻

Resources to improve user interviews

Startup Guide - Communicate Your Product's ValueLearn how to effectively communicate your product’s value through customer interviews.

User Interviews: How, When, and Why to Conduct Them

Learn about users’ perceptions of your design, not about its usability.

How to Conduct User Interviews for UX Research and Product Development

Learn to construct accurate questions and plan effective interview sessions.

July 23, 2019

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