CommonLounge Archive

Customer Development

December 30, 2017

How do you know if you’re building the right product? How do you know if it will catch on? In order to make sure you’re on the right track, you need to maintain an ongoing conversation with your customer base (or target customers).

You need to know who they are, what they’re thinking and feeling, and what they really need. Later on, you’ll need to know what they think of your product and how they use it (or why they don’t).

This conversation with your customers is called Customer Development.

It’s a way to lessen the risk of your product failing when it goes to market. It helps you find new opportunities for products or features you hadn’t thought of. And it allows you to test and iterate your products and features to keep them in your customers’ hands.

Conducting customer interviews

The Customer Development Framework was developed by Steve Blank. It has four steps:

  1. Discovery: Discovering needs and opportunities
  2. Validation: Validating your ideas
  3. Creation: Creating the first iteration of a product
  4. Building: Iterating and improving existing products

You can use four types of customer interviews to complete each step of the process: Exploratory Interviews, Validation Interviews, Satisfaction-oriented Interviews and Efficiency Interviews.

Exploratory interviews

These show you what customers look like, how they feel and what unites them. They uncover the users’ pain points and if they’re open to solutions to the problem. This helps you to find ideas for new products and features.

What to talk about? Ask about their day. Ask about your product and how they use it. Ask what they want it to do for them.

For example, if the app helps you find directions, ask:

“What’s the worst part of your commute?” (This uncovers pain points.)

“When you get lost driving, what do you do?” (This helps you find substitutes to your idea.

Validation interviews

For these interviews, you already have a hypothesis and want to test it out on your users. The most common hypothesis is “My proposed solution will solve the user’s problem.”

In order to get good results, you’ll need to run the interview in a scientific way.

Don’t ask them if they like something, especially if they’re fans of your product or company. They will almost always say yes.

You must not create any bias in your user during the interview. Don’t introduce your product until the very end of the interview. And don’t promote your idea to them. Stay objective and neutral and get their honest feedback.

If you influence their answers in any way, all of the data will become useless.

Just let them describe their problems in their own words.

Guide them with open-ended questions, and let them do the talking. See if they find the solution on their own.

If you haven’t developed a product yet, you can ask:

“Do you ever lose things in your house?” (They may not mention glasses.)

“Do you ever lose your glasses?” (You can direct the topic to losing glasses.)

“Do you lose your glasses often?” (Find out if it’s a common problem for them.)

If you already have a product, you can ask:

“When you use our app and want to invite other users, how do you do it?”

Satisfaction-oriented interviews

These show you which parts of your products your users are satisfied with, and which parts they don’t like. You’ll also learn why they feel this way about your product.

Some questions you can ask:

“What should we stop doing?” (This will get you their biggest complaints.)

“What’s one thing I could do to make this better for you?” (They’ll give you their most important suggestion.)

Efficiency interviews

These interviews show you how well your product serves its purpose. You’ll find out who uses it, what they do with it, and when they use it. You’ll learn which parts of your product help them, which parts aren’t necessary, and which parts affect their experience negatively.

Some users won’t use your features for their intended use. Others may have found new uses for your product that you’ve never imagined.

Some questions you can ask:

“How easy is it for you to use feature X?” (Do they understand it? Do they like it?)

“If you wanted to ___, how would you do it in our product?” (Find out their misunderstandings or unique ways of using the product.)

A real interview will likely encompass more than one type. These are just guidelines to help you get the information you need for your particular situation.

How Customer Development changes over time

As your company grows and you develop your product, the way you conduct Customer Development will evolve.

Before you develop your product, you’re working with potential customers.

At this stage, Customer Development looks like this:

  • Customers don’t know you or your product
  • The focus is on pain points and validation of your idea
  • It’s difficult to find interviewees

After a product is established, you’ll be working with real customers.

At this stage, Customer development looks like this:

  • Customers know you and like your product
  • The focus is on satisfaction, usability, and new pain points
  • It’s easy to find interviewees

Implementing data from customer interviews

As a Product Manager, you are responsible for the success of a product. Because of this, you have to be very careful to make accurate decisions.

This means that you can’t make decisions solely based on customer interviews.

Customer interviews provide you with qualitative data. Qualitative data gives you insights into your customers’ lives and tells you why they like your idea or product.

But you also need to have solid quantitative data (numbers and stats) about your product.

(And you can’t expect 10 or 12 customer interviews to accurately represent a user base of thousands or more, which is why you need to compare it to other trends.)

Other sources of information that you should be considering are:

  • Feedback from your company
  • User test data
  • Online feedback
  • Analytics
  • News
  • Market trends
  • What your competitors are doing

Decide which information sources are helpful and which aren’t.

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