How to ask the right customer interview questions

November 18, 2021

This is how you ask the right customer interview questions

What makes a good relationship great? Communication.

Yet so many business leaders and marketers struggle to communicate effectively with their most important people: their customers. 

You see, to build an innovative growth strategy, you don’t just need to talk to your customers, you need to be hyper curious about them. 

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That means you want to know what keeps them up at night. What are they worried about? What excites them? Where do they get their information? 

But unless you’re having conversations with your customers, you can’t expect to know these things about them — and these insights are key to growing your business. 

So, how do you have a good customer conversation? By making sure you’re asking the right customer interview questions.

A good customer interview framework is one where your main role is to listen. 

Now you might be reading this and thinking “I talk to my customers all the time, but it’s still not helping!” But what we often don’t realize is that our customers are — bless their hearts — people pleasers.

Why is this a problem? Because that means your customers are often telling you what they think you want you to hear. In a world where we feel awkward telling our best friend when they get a bad haircut, there’s no way in hell we’re telling strangers we don’t like their business. 

Unfortunately, this dishonesty, kindhearted as it may be, can seriously skew your insights and send you off course. 

To get customer insights that are honest, we break down the three things you need to do to ask the right customer interview questions first. 

What you need to know for better customer conversations

1. Focus on your customer's pain

If you were to straight-up ask Susan if she’d buy your self-cleaning litter box, she’d probably say “of course!” to avoid any awkwardness in hurting your feelings. 

But, if you instead asked Susan to tell you about the issues she faces when cleaning her cat’s litter box, you’re more likely to get some honest insight about her experiences. 

What we’re saying here is that you want to avoid talking about your product or your service in your customer interview, and instead focus on the issue it solves for your customer. 

If there are enough people with the same problem, there’s potential for your product to become the solution.

2. Observe past user behavior

Tell me about a time when you had a bad shopping experience.

Bet that got your gears turning, right? 

You see, when you ask people specific questions about their experiences and behavior you’re more likely to get an authentic answer from them. 

That’s why you want to try avoiding questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. You especially want to focus on the past because people tend to romanticize the future. 

You want people to tell you how it is, not how they wish it would be

That’s why questions that start with “Tell me about a time when you…” are a great way to gain insights on people’s behavior. 

3. Be a passive listener

Just because Kevin loves golf it doesn’t mean he wants to buy your LED golf balls. And yet, confirmation bias is present in all of us. 

We often like it when people tell us what we want to hear. It’s easy to assume someone’s answer means what we want it to mean. However, to get good, valuable insights from your customers, you need to take your ego out of the equation.

Try not to make assumptions or ask leading questions when you talk to customers. Instead, ask questions that start a conversation. Be open to listening to their answers and ask for clarification where needed.

Look, we get that it’s awkward talking to strangers, but talking to your customers is the best way to discover new growth opportunities. 

Now that you’ve taken the steps to learn how to ask the right customer interview questions, we figured we’d help you kick things off with a template to guide your conversations.

Check it out below, copy + paste it to your own doc, then go ahead and book those customer conversations. Because there’s no one better to guide your business than the people you’re building it for. 

Your customer interview template

Before you kick off your customer interviews, you want to be clear on your goal for this conversation (i.e. to gain insight on which new features to add to your software, or the products your customers love most). 

You also want to offer an incentive to your customers — and, please, try to make it something that your customers actually care about (vs. the generic Amazon gift card). If you’re in a financially tight spot, what can you offer your customers in-kind? Could it be a 1-on-1 with your CEO, access to early features of your product, or a discount? 

From there, you want to reach out to 10-20 of your customers for 15-20 minute long conversations. Whether you connect on a video call or phone call is up to you — our advice? Let your customer decide, because you want them to be comfortable enough for an honest conversation. 

With your interviews set, here’s how to make the most of them. 

1. Keep it casual 

Since you’re speaking with strangers, give them some time to settle in. Start with small talk to get your conversation to flow naturally. Ask your customer questions about themselves, how they’ve been doing, and what they’ve been up to.

2. Introduce yourself 

From there, be sure to introduce yourself — as a person, not just your business — and how this conversation will go. Be clear on how you’re going to use the information they’re sharing with you, and address any potential privacy concerns. 

3. Talk about their life, not your idea — and listen more than you speak

This is where the magic happens. Again, you want to make this conversation feel as natural as possible, so use these questions as guideposts to stay focused on your customers. You may find that your conversation naturally answers these questions, in which case don’t worry about reiterating them verbatim.

This doesn’t mean you don’t want to repeat the same kind of question: as your customer gets more comfortable with you, they’re more likely to answer your question honestly. So feel free to follow-up to get a clearer picture. 

Here’s some questions that will help you get to know your customers and their problems. Note that you don’t need to use them all, nor do you have to use them in the order we’ve laid them out below. Take only what’s useful.

Customer interview questions

As a [customer role, that relates to your product/service], what’s the biggest challenge you’re facing? 

Tell me about a time when you faced [problem related to your product/service] in the past. 

What are things that you have looked to in the past to solve this problem?

Did you pay for that solution? If so, how much did you pay?

Are there other things that you’ve bought to solve this problem?

When you experienced that problem, what are the words that you searched for in Google to try to solve it? (Note: if they can’t come up with anything, that probably means that they haven’t searched for it before).

4. Wrap it up

Your customers took time out of their day to speak with you. Regardless of what incentive you’ve offered them to do so, you want to wrap up your conversation graciously: acknowledging their time, reiterating how this content will be used (and how their privacy will be protected), and checking-in to see if they’d be open to a follow-up. 

This follow-up depends on what your goal is with this customer conversation. Are you launching a new product, or iteration of your software? Then offer to add your customers to an exclusive list that will be the first-to-know about these updates. 

At this point, you’ve also established some positive rapport with your customers, so don’t let it go to waste. If you can, let your customers know that they can reach out to you, and make sure to send a follow-up note thanking them for their time. 


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