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Guide: Best practices for customer interviews in product management

In customer interviews, it's important that you listen well and read between the lines.
Image: © Adam Gregor / Adobe Stock

Making customer surveys an integral part of product management

What is the key to creating successful products? Products and services that sell on the market at a profit are successful because they were developed as a solution to a problem, and because they satisfy customer needs. By and large, product management is about answering these three questions:

  1. What problem are your customers experiencing?
  2. How significant is the problem in your target group?
  3. How will your product or service solve your customers’ problem?

Consequently, market observation and analysis play a key role in the product management process. Direct customer contact is a particularly crucial factor in developing and advancing products and services without losing sight of the objective. The customer survey is part of primary market research. It provides valuable and unfiltered information to improve your understanding of the market and your target group, and to identify what your customers actually need. Remember that customer interviews should be conducted and customer feedback incorporated as early as possible in the development process, as they can significantly influence the product management process.

Getting direct customer feedback: Why responses from other departments are not enough

From sales and distribution up to support, marketing, and management, companies interact with their target group in many different areas and can utilize a variety of channels to get feedback from their customers. So, why not incorporate information and responses from those other departments? Although it makes sense to learn about your market and your customers from as many different sources as possible, the results tend to have been selected and colored by the specific focus and the experiences of each department by the time they reach you:

  • Lack of information content: When other departments conduct customer surveys, the questionnaires they use to interview customers tend to be based on their own topics and priorities.
  • Lack of information density: Surveys conducted by other departments will not ask the in-depth questions at the product level that give you a thorough understanding of the customer in terms of product development.
  • Lack of target group customization: Different departments will focus on very different customer types. Customer service teams tend to engage with inexperienced consumers, while marketing departments are more likely to address more experienced customer segments and power users.

In view of this, findings from other company departments cannot and must not replace direct customer contact in a product management context when it comes to obtaining representative feedback.

Conducting customer surveys: Selecting the right approach

When it comes to customer surveys, selecting the right approach to the people being interviewed plays a vital role. Sticking rigidly to a list of questions will make it much harder to gain the knowledge you are looking for. Ultimately, the objective is to properly categorize and evaluate customer feedback. You will only achieve this if you understand the people you are talking to and tailor the conversation to them, so that you can get the appropriate answers to your questions.

Personality typing – for example using the DISC model – is a practical tool for identifying and categorizing different customer types, allowing you to adapt your conversational style accordingly.

Planning the customer interview – setting clear objectives

What specific knowledge are you interested in gaining? What exactly do you want to learn from your customers? During the planning stage before you start the customer interviews, you need to create a clear outline of your overall objectives for the surveys. The more you can narrow your focus, the more precisely you can then formulate your key questions. Once you have developed these key questions in alignment with the objectives you outlined, you can prepare an interview script that you can use as a guide when you talk to customers.

Free guide to successful customer interviews in product management

How much time should you allow for customer interviews? What group of people do you intend to address? How do you design an interview script, and how do you structure and evaluate meaningful conversations? Our free guide gives you the answers to these key questions, along with practical tips for conducting customer interviews in product management.

Download our free guide now!
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