How do you know whether your product idea is something users actually want? Use the following customer discovery questions to find out.
•Published: Dec 15, 2021
User interviews are an excellent approach to product discovery. Speaking to customers directly helps you collect valuable insights on their needs, so you can figure out whether your product ideas match their expectations.
However, running compelling customer interviews involves more than just asking customers a couple of basic questions. It’s essential you ask the right questions to avoid bias getting in the way, says Vivianne Castillo, former senior design researcher at Salesforce. “I think the hardest part about asking the right questions in the right way is being able to clearly identify any bias and internal/external influences you are bringing into the research project.”
That’s where customer discovery questions come in. They’re questions carefully designed to remove bias during user interviews, fully validate pain points, and understand customers' actual challenges.
Interviewing customers with the proper discovery questions can save you plenty of time and headaches building products the market doesn’t need. It helps you get a clear view of your users’ problems and whether your product idea aligns with their needs.
Here are the best customer discovery questions you can ask during user interviews, along with some tips and resources you can use to maximize all your user interviews.
Questions Surrounding the User’s Problems
A key component of user interviews is understanding the customer’s pain points. The following customer discovery questions aim to get the user to open up about their challenges and how it affects them:
1. “Can you describe the last time that you experienced [following problem]?”
This open-ended question helps you understand the context and circumstances behind the customer’s problem.
According to Jason Evanish, head of product at Lighthouse, “Your goal [with this question] is not to lead them to the problem. The less you lead them while listening to the problem, the more validation you have. If the problem you think you’re solving comes up naturally from your interviewee (while discussing), you’re on the right track!”
This question prompts the customer to share their story of how they ended up running into their challenges. You can then use their responses to create user story maps to understand the customer journey better.
2. “What is the hardest part of this problem and why?”
This question prompts customers to explain the most difficult parts of the challenge they’re facing and how it makes them feel.
Understanding the “why” behind the customer’s pain point helps paint a clearer picture of the challenges they’re experiencing. You can also use the “why” and the customer’s own words to improve your product positioning so it resonates with more users.
Different customers often face different challenges. Asking this question helps you adapt your future messaging to various segments of your target audience and maximize reach.
3. “What are the consequences of not solving this problem?”
This question aims to understand how significant the challenge is for the customer and whether you’re solving a big enough problem. The more severe the consequences are if the issue is not solved, the bigger the pain point.
If the customer has a lot to lose by not solving the problem, it’s a sign you could be on to something. If it’s not really a big deal for the customer, it might be best to move on with a different product idea.
Questions on Competitors and the Market
Next, you want to understand what solutions customers are actively using to solve their problems, along with who your competitors are in the market. Knowing what you’re up against helps you find the best ways for your product to stand out in a crowded market.
4. “What current tools are you using to solve this problem?”
Asking what tools the customer is currently using to solve their challenge identifies who your competitors are. Also, if the customer has made an effort to look for solutions, it’s another indicator that they’re experiencing a big-enough problem.
5. “How did you learn about these solutions?”
This question helps you determine how your customer does research, giving you inspiration for future marketing campaigns. For example, if they’re finding out about these solutions via search engines, focusing on an SEO and content marketing strategy is essential. If they're doing research via social pages, then you’ll need to develop an effective social media strategy.
You’ll instantly know which channels to maximize to reach your ideal audience once the product is ready.
6. “As you were researching solutions to the problem, which steps led you to the purchase? What features were you specifically looking for?”
By discovering what led the customer to choose these solutions, you can find ways to replicate the steps in your future funnel. These insights on customer behavior will serve as a roadmap for converting the most customers into your pipeline.
Asking what features customers were looking for before choosing a solution gives you clues about what to include in your product to satisfy users. Once the product is ready, you can showcase these features in your messaging to attract the most attention from potential prospects.
7. “How much are you paying for this solution?”
Understanding how much the customer is paying for the solution gives you a solid idea of your own pricing strategy. It gives you insights into how painful the problem is — if they're paying a lot now, it's likely a more painful problem that you can consider charging handsomely to fix with your product.
8. “What frustrates you the most about these solutions? What do you wish they had?”
Use this question to figure out where your future product can stand out and meet the unfulfilled needs of your customer. It will be vital in developing your unique value proposition in the future and getting customers to choose your platform over others.
Questions to Ask at the End of the User Interview
Once you fully understand the customer’s pain points and the state of the market, there are still more things you can discover. Here’s how to end the user interview on a good note and continue to learn more about the customer’s needs and expectations:
9. “What did I forget to ask?”
Use this question to prompt the customer to provide additional insights that could help you during your research. It also shows the user that you value their feedback and demonstrates that you’re taking the time to understand their needs to develop the best product possible.
10. “Where do you hang out online?”
The more people you find to interview, the more user insights you can collect. Asking where the customer likes to spend their time online helps you discover other places where you can find people with a similar problem.
11. “Who else do you know that I could interview as well?”
Another excellent way to find more interviewees is through word-of-mouth. As you end the user interview, don’t be afraid to ask if the customer has any referrals for potential interviewees that you can talk to as well.
Extra Tips for Running the Best User Interviews
Aside from asking the right customer discovery questions, here are more tips for getting the most out of your user interviews:
Have a Hypothesis Ready Before Each Interview
Compelling user interviews always start with a clear understanding of what hypothesis you’ll be testing. It helps you keep the interview on track and determine which questions are most valuable to ask.
Don’t Pitch Your Product Idea
The goal of user interviews is to listen to your customer, not pitch them.
When you’re pitching instead of learning more about your user’s problems, it’s easy to miss their true pain points, misleading you into believing you have a winning solution. Customers, to be polite, will often say that your product idea sounds great when, in reality, they might be ambivalent.
As Julia Austin, lecturer at Harvard Business School, says: “[What] you really want to do is have your interviewee do most of the talking. When you’re interviewing, you’re not trying to sell your product or even raise awareness about it.” According to Austin, the more you talk about your product idea, “the less likely they’re going to be to give you the information that you’re really looking for.”
Avoid Future Tense or Hypothetical Questions
User interviews should focus on the past or current behavior of users. Questions that start with “would you” or “will you” make the customer predict their future actions, which are often inaccurate and misleading.
“People have the tendency to tell you what you want to hear, or they imagine how they might do something, but rarely do they do what they said they might do,” continues Austin.
Be Open to Getting Your Assumptions Crushed
No matter how great your product idea might sound, always be open to being completely wrong about your assumptions. It might not be kind to your ego, but it'll at least prevent you from building a product that the market doesn’t want.
Here’s what Tanya Zhang, founder at Nimble Made, has to say about the importance of hearing negative feedback in user interviews:
“We view [negative feedback] as an opportunity to learn about the issues that really concern customers, as well as the demographics of our target market. Indeed, as a general rule, we should always ask at least one question that has the potential to kill the company as we currently imagine it.”
The Right Customer Discovery Questions Help You Build an Awesome Product
As Paul Adams, SVP of product at Intercom, says: “A solution can only be as good as your understanding of the problem you’re addressing.”
Using the right customer discovery questions in user interviews helps you better understand the customer’s problems. In return, you’ll be able to determine whether your product idea is solving a true problem, so you can build valuable products, have more successful launches, and make stakeholders happy.
Want to learn more about getting the most out of your user interviews? Check out these extra resources on running the most effective discovery process as you’re talking to customers: