Why we have this Process

User Interviews, also known as Customer Development Interviews, help to deeply understand the into (potential) customer needs / pains. Additionally it provides insights in world of the potential customer: What task is he/she is this painpoint a part of and what is the outcome of the task he/she is trying to achieve.  For a quick video example of a good interview, see the section further reading below. 

Context and Scope

User Interviews are done early in the Discovery phase, where we try to understand user needs for either a new product or just a new bigger feature (Roadmap theme).

When should the process be performed?

Recommended frequency is as part of user tests (opening questions) or at least quarterly. It's OK if questions are the same as the last time, but usually you go deeper every time based on your growing understanding of the customer needs. 

Who performs the process

Who performs the process: Product Manager (or Product Researcher / Marketeer) 
Who is monitors if process is done (correctly): Head of Product

Process steps

  1. Decide on interview learning objective (tip: Start a Topics to validate / test backlog).  Choose from these. Initially, you want to focus on the first learning objective (you can always come back to this interviewee to dive deeper into the other questions, don't rush to conclusions). 
    1. Does the customer have this problem?
    2. Does the customer care enough about this problem?
    3. Does the customer already have a solution that's good enough?
    4. Does the customer think our solution solves the right problem?
    5. Does the customer think our solution is better than existing products/services?
  2. See below for good interview questions. 
  3. Plan Interview days (recommendation: Fixed day(s) every 4 weeks). Per period interview 5 people (i.e. on 1 or 2 days). 
  4. Determine interview goals, i.e. what to interview users about. 
  5. Recruit participants (see FAQ below for tips).
  6. Schedule interviews with the users (90 minutes recommended. Offer them timeslots via www.calendly.com )
  7. Prepare a User interview script or at least talking points (see template below)
  8. Run a circa 5 User interviews  (see below for agenda)
  9. Store your detailed findings on the wiki. 
  10. Summarize and share your findings with the team.
  11. Decide if you want to continue with this problem/pain (/roadmap theme) or that either you pivot to a different or more specific persona (who has the problem) or to another problem the current persona has. 

Quality criteria


What is the optimal length for a interview?

40 mins - 90 mins. (30 minute slots are really to short). 

Where do I find people to Interview?

The first source would be emailing your current customer base (make sure you mention the reward, i.e.  an amazon gift certificate). You can also add a popup to your site, i.e. Mailchimp can create this signup popup for you and can send an email with a link to the Interview. For startups they can use communities like Linkedin groups and Slack.

Where to do the interviewing (remote/ face to face)?

I recommend combining Skype and face to face interviews. 

How to reward participants ?
An 20-50 Euro/Dollar amazon.de voucher is common, up to 50 Euro/Dollar for hard to get audiences.

Which questions to select for quick results, save time and do it the LEAN/Agile way?

The iterative, lean approach is to see interviews as part of an ongoing learning process. Each interview you quickly validate what you already learned and then move you one step further. If you assumption about the customers, or his high level needs or a certain solution is right you can go one level deeper: I.e. within a higher level need (ie save time in a certain job) you can zoom into into the job steps to figure out where the biggest pain is. 

Why Interview when I can Interview and Experiment?

Interviewing will give you great qualitative insights but a few interviews do not provide enough qualitative data to base decisions on. Based on your learnings from interviews you can create a survey to validate the findings with a larger group (at least 40 people in your target audience). 

Experiments will take you hours to create and days to weeks to run. 

Further reading

Great intro to some of the concepts behind good user interviews: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=OTkP2JDeGWM 

Video recording of a Good(ish) user interview for a new product (while watching, note how the interviewer is a bit blinded by his own idea, and does not hear that everybody is saying they have 1 specific communication issue) (also be warned: There is nothing wrong with using the tool this video is promoting, but learn about the process first) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXBaBbR04oU 

More interview example video's: https://swipemyideas.com




Google ventures Research Sprint - https://library.gv.com/the-gv-research-sprint-a-4-day-process-for-answering-important-startup-questions-97279b532b25






Interview Sections and Questions

Quickstart 1

If you just want to kick of your first interviews, without too much preparation, this is a great script to start with. To fine tune/ extend your script, look at the next few paragraphs.

  1. Over the course of the last 12 months, what has been your most consistent present problem?
  2. How do you go about solving that problem right now?
  3. What happens if you don't solve that problem?
  4. If you could wave a magic wand, or if you had a genie that could solve this, how would you solve that problem?
  5. Would that be worth paying for? If so, how much?

Quickstart 2

1. Thanks for taking my call, I’m doing some research on [main activity related to problem] (i.e. were looking to get get healthy snacks delivered to your office). Before we start, can you tell me a bit about yourself?

- Focus on learning about WHO your customer is before moving onto the problem.
2. When was the last time you [main activity related to problem]?

3. What’s the biggest challenge you face when [main activity related to problem]?
- Listen if they mention the problem you’re trying to solve.
- If not mentioned, then it may not be a big enough problem! Dig deeper into their biggest problem.
4. Why is this a problem for you?
5. How often does this happen?
6. Have you tried to solve it? If so, what did you do?
7. How did you discover that solution?
8. How satisfied were you with the outcome?
- If unsatisfied, what does your preferred solution look like? How would this solve the problem?
9. I’m actually exploring a solution to solve your problem. Can I contact you for feedback if we find a solution?
10. I’m trying to understand this from more perspectives. Do you know 1 or 2 other people dealing with this problem who I can speak with?

Section 1: Introduction

An Interview introduction is essential to break the ice. (i.e. where are you from, could you easily find our office, how long have you been living here?)

Section 2: Getting to know you

Asking some questions about who the participant is will help you later identify what persona has a certain point point. Also this will make your marketing, research and product development far more effective as the customers with the biggest pain will become your most eager and helpful early MVP customers.

If your Interview also targets non-customers or users of competitor products these answers will help you segment your results and gain insights if your or competitor products are actually reducing certain pains.

In this section, you also ask qualifying questions to see if the participant is relevant to your company (i.e. does he/she indeed manage a team). Limit this to the max five most important questions.

  1. Are you male or female?
  2. How old are you?
  3. What is your job title?
  4. In one sentence what is your core job responsibility (i.e. “Outbound marketing for Canada”)?
  5. [Specific questions relevant to your product, i.e.] B2B: What are your company’s revenues (ranges)? How many monthly uniques visitors does your website have? Do you use process x / tool y within your company?
  6. Industry your company operates in [see the Interview template for a industry list. See process step 3 for the link]
  7. Company size in terms of [employees or revenue]
  8. [Any qualifying questions to see if they are relevant to your company, ideally combine it right away with a usage question i.e.:] How often do you conduct outbound sales at your company?
  9. [Conditional question if previous answer is “I don’t do this know”] What is keeping you from doing X?
  10. What products/services do you currently use, or used before, for [process your investigating]?

Section 3: Understanding your Challenges

This section is about understanding challenges a participant has in relation to the task, i.e. hiring a freelance developer or doing employee performance reviews. To prevent overlooking potential needs make sure you focus these question on the whole task, or the bigger outcome, i.e. hiring a freelancer, and not ‘vetting freelancers’. However also don’t make it to broad, i.e. ‘finding talent’ as this will deliver too diverse and generic pains to start with.

Section 4: Improving Our Product

This section will help you understand what current customers think your product is missing. If you don’t have a product yet (for this process) you can either leave this section out or use it to see where a competitor product is dropping the ball.

Section 5: Improving Our Product — Part 2

This section goes deeper into your current product functions to find out, in a quantifiable way, which area needs the most attention. The bigger Job/process is split into smaller steps for which each the user need is measured. This section is based on JTBD (Jobs To Be Done) style questions which are always a importance and satisfaction question pair as shown below. I recommend also recommend include the step the user has to do just before, and just after, using your service, to look for opportunities to extend your product.

Section 6: Feedback on Product Ideas

This section will show you the best way to test any feature ideas that you might have. I highly recommend splitting up any solution idea (feature) into a question about if the participant has the related problem (need) and if he would like the solution. This allows you to identify important needs which need a better solution.

  1. How relevant is this to you? [Here goes the PROBLEM you are trying to solve, based on a insight you have on your (potential) consumers. A well-written problem speaks to what the consumer thinks, feels, or believes before he/she knows about your product. Example: When finding freelance onsite developers it is hard to find freelancers who would partially work for equity. ]
  2. If a product delivered this benefit how relevant would this be to you? [Here goes your SOLUTION idea including the benefit(s) of your product. It can be functional or emotional. When possible give proof to they will actually be able to achieve the benefit and consider adding a visual. Shortened example: Based on your requirements we will find the the right freelancer for you and negotiate a contract for you and take the paperwork out of your hands].
  3. Based on the description how would you rate the value of this product (service)?
  4. Is this idea unique and different?
  5. How likely would you share word about this idea with your peers?
  6. How much time (or money) would this feature save you? Or how much is -some outcome, i.e. a lead- worth to you? (and take 15% of that value as a price).
  7. What do you think the average [job role, i.e. broker / hiring manager] would find a fair and reasonable price for [this service product?] [This is not a great predictor nor great question, especially for uncommon/new services.]

Section 7: Feedback on Feature ideas

Let’s say using earlier research you discovered that the product area ‘selecting a freelancer/bid’ is the biggest sub-problem in your product. You can now dive deeper in this area to figure out of your hypothesis of the problems are correct and test if the participant likes your solution. Like the previous sections splitting up problem and solution hypotheses will help you find valid user problems that just need another solution. Problems can be both functional (i.e. too something is too time consuming) as emotional (uncomfortable, embarrassing, uneasy, overwhelming, concerned, etc).

  1. How relevant is this problem to you? [Example: It costs me too much time to evaluate the years of relevant experience of the freelancers who bid on my project]
  2. How relevant is this problem to you? [Example: It don’t know how to optimally …. I don’t have the experience to optimally… It is overwhelming when… I don’t know how to best start/implement/etc]
  3. How relevant is this problem to you? [Examples: It is uncomfortable for me to / too costly to / ….]
  4. How relevant is this solution to you? [Example: Evaluate all interested freelancers for me and propose a top 3.]

In Closing

The closing page should thank the participant and provide information on how and when an eventual compensation will be handed over. It’s also a great please to recruit people onto a mailing list for your customer panel mailing list that you can use to recruit people for beta tests, in skype interviews, etc.

Thank you for completing this Interview. Your feedback helps us create an even better product for you. You will receive an 10 Euro Amazon Gift Card within two weeks from today.

Questions that Don't belong in this type of Interview

Internal note

Process  module 010+User+Interviews+and+Sales into this page