Lessons Learned: 8 Tips for Making the Best out of Your Customer Interviews

Sparkbox Toys (now Pley) is an online subscription service for parents to rent children’s toys.

On one of the first days of Summer Launchpad, when Frank Rimalovski began a sentence with, “The number 1 reason startups fail…,” I assumed he was going to say something along the lines of “finances,” “money,” or “capital.”

To my surprise, he said “customers.” “Start ups fail because they don’t have enough customers.” Okay, that made sense. Customers are the focus point, they bring in the revenues that cover the costs, and you need to know them well. So, in an effort to understand our customers' (and potential customers') “pains” and make sure our product addresses their needs, we're in the process of completing 100 current and potential customer interviews. Each interview is intended to validate or invalidate our hypotheses, and it's up to us to find the patterns. And, as each interview takes up precious time, it's important to get the most out of each one.

Here are the tips that the Sparkbox Toys team has picked up along the way to capture the most insight from each customer interview:

1. Ask open-ended questions. Responses to open-ended questions will provide a more holistic view of customers, getting as much information as possible regarding their habits with your product. Avoid asking leading questions, two questions in one, and yes/no questions.

2. Find out their “pains,” what their problem is, and how you can fix that with your product/service.

3. Pre-plan by organizing your questions and thoughts in advance. Make sure you have the hypotheses you want to test clearly outlined. You can practice dry runs of interviews with your partners or friends.

4. Bring your partner so you can interpret customers' answers and body language together.  Also, your partner could take the notes while you listen. Just make sure that you and your partner do not to talk at the same time!

5. Record your findings as soon as possible. You should do this immediately, if not within 24 hours. Your biases could cause you to misremember specific details and comments in hindsight.

6. Look for patterns in responses. Don't worry about statistical significance for now.

7. If you are a student, say so! People are more apt to allow you to interview them if you say you’re a student doing research. Take advantage of that as often as possible!

8. Don’t try to sell. Just get the info you need, and follow up with a thank you!

Now, with these steps, “get out of the building” and start gathering your customer insights!

This post is part of the Lessons Learned series featuring NYU entrepreneurs’ first-hand accounts of challenges faced in starting a business and the lessons learned along the way.