Interview Your Customers for Product Feedback

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Customers can be one of your most valuable sources of information and market research, so why not take it a step further and interview some of them?

Ideally, you want to do this in person, so you may need to offer your customers something for their time. They may be flattered that you hold their opinion in such high regard, and they may also enjoy getting a chance to help influence your product or service. If your customer base is geographically spread out, you could make such interviews a routine part of business travel to get a wider range of responses.

Consultant Michael Hawley recommends putting interview subjects at ease by assuring them of anonymity. If you can, stage the meeting somewhere relaxed and neutral to avoid distractions and interruptions. Ask your interviewee for permission to record your conversation for the sole purpose of transcribing the interview.

You’re not trying to sell anything through these meetings, so plan to spend 80 percent of your time listening. On her blog, user experience consultant Whitney Hess recommends using a journalism trick: Ask your question, then pause. It’s human instinct to fill gaps in conversations.

Stay neutral. Avoid steering your customer toward responses that you really want to hear. Instead, according to the authors of O’Reilly’s “Effective UI” guidebook, ask follow-up questions that focus on the customer’s experience, such as whether they got what they were hoping for and what they found difficult or enjoyable.

You may discover that your biggest concerns don’t even register on your customers’ radar, while unexpected problems may lurk beneath the surface.

Adapted from Can Customer Interviews Improve Product Development? by Joe Taylor Jr. at Small Business Computing.