Want to Really Innovate? Talk to More Customers: A Winning Playbook for Customer Interviews

If I had to pick one thing that every product team should do that would unlock the most inspiration, insight, and growth, it would be customer interviews. When clients ask me what they should be doing to build better products, I always tell them “Just start talking to customers!” Once they do, it becomes a wellspring of enlightenment, inspiration, and innovation.

Customer interviews, when conducted properly, are an invaluable asset to founders, executives, and product owners. You will hear how customers describe problems in their own words. You will get a better understanding of your competitors, and why they fall short. You’ll be able to understand and communicate to your team which problems to focus on, and whether or not your solutions would really meet their needs.

I have been leading software development teams for over a decade and have seen first-hand the difference it makes to thoroughly understand pain points before writing code. The challenge for software teams, ultimately, comes down to understanding the customer problem well enough. Teams that are given full context about the problems they’re trying to solve end up creating more innovative and effective solutions.

This is where customer interviews come into play.

Why Do Customer Interviews Matter?

Customer interviews are a key research tool to improve the usability and functionality of your software product – before a single line of code is written. Interviews help you understand what motivates and frustrates your customers.

Well-run interviews also help your team look at the full set of competitive alternatives. In addition to other software tools, there are a large set of possible solutions to their problems. Always consider that often your biggest competitor is doing nothing, or simply getting by with a spreadsheet.

Interviews can uncover barriers to adoption, such as your software not integrating with the right tools in the stack or not fitting a specific part of a company’s workflow.

Lastly, customer interviews allow you to build personal relationships with your most engaged and vocal customers. These handful of power users can become advocates for your brand. They have tremendous value for product, marketing, and customer success teams.

After conducting interviews and summarizing results, I recommend sharing the findings with everyone in the team. Yes, there are direct implications to designers and engineers but there is also value for marketing (positioning), finance (pricing), customer success (common pain points), and more.

Gain Access to Your Target Customers

If you’re in the B2B space, you can leverage to target potential customers, and use outreach automation tools like CopilotAI to connect with them and ask for a brief interview. If you are in the D2C space, you can target potential customers with Facebook ads. In either case, offer them a $20 gift card for a 20 minute interview, and send them a link to Calendly to schedule a call.

If you already have a product in the market, you can turn to an email drip campaign tied to your onboarding process. Once a user has a few weeks of experience with your product, you could send an email and ask them to join a product feedback session. This can all be automated with email automation tools like Sendlane, survey tools like TypeForm, and scheduling tools like Calendly.

The product owner should also shadow sales and customer success calls. These calls are already being scheduled and provide an easy opportunity to learn how customers talk about problems and solutions.

Brands with engaged followings can also turn to social media, conferences, or trade groups. There are also paid recruitment services, such as Userlytics or SurveyMonkey Audience.

Plan and Run Customer Interviews

Now that you have several meetings booked, it’s time to plan the interview.

Planning the Interview

The interview process will change based on company stage, product stage, and the goals. For example, certain interviews could focus on the user experience of an application to make sure things are clear and easy to understand.

Another interview goal could be walking through a demo of a minimum viable product (MVP) to understand if that solves a pain point and is worth paying for. I think a customer interview should only have a single primary goal. There will always be other opportunities to discuss more, so go deep rather than broad.

Customer Interview Goals

  • Discover customer problems and unmet needs
  • Validate your concept
  • Gather feedback on design prototypes
  • Refine your user experience
  • Gauge interest in new features

During your interview, you want to capture details about the following key focus areas:

  • Persona: Who are they and what do they value?
  • Pains: What problems do they struggle with, both with your product and with others?
  • Gains: What key value do they get from your product? What aspects of other products do they value most?
  • Gaps: What’s not on your radar? What are your unknown unknowns?

Get my Customer Interview Guide

I’ve created a customer interview guide with all the questions and templates you need to conduct great customer interviews, and turn your learnings into clear, actionable insights.

Thank you!

Conducting the Interview

When talking to customers, there are a few clear do’s and don’ts. 


  • Allow the conversation to flow freely
  • Listen more than you speak
  • Ask follow-up questions, such as “Why?” or “Tell me more about that”
  • Allow them to fill the uncomfortable silence


  • Don’t ask leading questions that will bias the answer such as: “That is true, isn’t it?”
  • Don’t try to befriend them by relating your shared experience. Keep it about them.
  • Don’t ask them to give feedback on a vague idea. Be specific.

Capture and Analyze the Data

When having conversations, it’s important to capture data in the right way. I like using Dovetail or EnjoyHQ to house all of my customer research. This makes it easy to organize and access in the future. These tools allow you to automatically upload and transcribe your videos, quickly tag the interesting moments, and create highlight reels to share with your team.

For usability testing in particular, Lookback.io is a great solution that lets you not only see their screen as they walk through your app, but also lets you see their face to let you pick up on non-verbal cues, like a furrowed brow.

When it comes to analyzing the data, first you should tag interviews based on the goal. Then, you should identify patterns and start to group similar interviews. For example, did a group of users find onboarding too difficult or found a particular feature to be lacking in substance?

Next, pull key quotes and pain points. You want to use the same words that your customers use to speak about problems and solutions.

Of course, your team should also spend time looking to turn problems into opportunities. This is how you turn raw customer research into valuable feedback to improve the quality of your product and product management process.

Communicate the Value Externally

Now that the research is conducted, find ways to communicate the value both internally and externally. The product and design teams are obvious beneficiaries of the research. But it doesn’t end there.

You’ll want to summarize your findings into an Insight Brief. Sign up below to get a copy of the template.

The insight brief should include the patterns and findings from your interviews, each including the following information:

  • Finding: Statement that identifies a pattern discovered during research, e.g. “Users liked that the recommendation engine was tailored to their preferences”
  • Evidence: Occurrences or percentage of respondents who experienced/identified the pattern, e.g., “10 out of 15 respondents said personalization mattered to them”
  • Key Quotes: 2-3 quotes or clips that exemplify the pattern in their own words

You should share positioning and copywriting suggestions with marketing as well as pricing and packaging information with the finance team. Customer support and success teams should be made aware of challenges that users face so they can improve their self-help docs.

Moreover, customer research can double as a valuable piece of content or collateral. You can create highlight reels, case studies, and testimonials (with customer approval) from these interviews.

Don’t think of interviews as an expense. Think of them as an investment that should bring the team closer to your mission, and make it obvious to your audience what you do.

Get the Insight Brief Template

Here’s another great template to help you synthesize your learnings from your customer interviews, and turn them into clear, actionable insights.

Thank you!


Customer interviews are a great way to better understand customers’ needs and build exactly what they want. The key is to build better, not simply build more. Over my career, I have seen the value in focusing on a specific problem and becoming an expert.

If your team needs help, I offer executive coaching for CTOs and CPOs. I specialize in helping fast-growing tech companies deal with their growing pains, maturing their teams and processes, and scaling up effective product teams. I have a deep background in engineering and product management, and focus on bridging the gap between product and engineering.

My methodologies will help your organization level up and I’ll guarantee a 10x return on your investment in coaching. If you would like to chat, email me at eric at fullcycleproduct.com.

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  1. Get a free copy of my book, Build the Right Things, and learn how to discover and solve a BIG problem, save hundreds of thousands of dollars in development costs, beat out your competition with a winning product strategy, and scale up quickly with data-driven product management.
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