Living Entrepreneurship Blog / Babson Entrepreneurs

How to Interview Customers

Keith Hopper at Summer Venture Program

Keith Hopper at Summer Venture Program

Unsure how to get honest feedback from customers? Keith Hopper, a Summer Venture Program advisor, recently led a Lunch and Learn workshop focused on this very task. His preferred method? One-on-one interviews. Keith believes that structured interviews help provide validation that you are solving a real problem, and that you are approaching it in the best way. He then shared his favorite tips for conducting an effective interview.

The session began with a Venn diagram consisting of three circles labeled “desirability,” “feasibility,” and “viability,” all of which are vital for product success. Customer interviews are ideal for the first section, evaluating your product’s desirability. Interviews allow you to determine whether someone is a potential customer, if there is a need for your product, and whether your solution is the best.

It is important to begin the interview without telling the customer what your product is. For example, an interviewer from Burger King may simply state that they are in the fast-casual food service industry. This strategy ensures the most organic feedback, as it sidesteps customers’ instincts to tell you what you want to hear.  You should also avoid asking predictive questions, such as “How likely are you to buy this product?”  People are not good at anticipating their behavior!  Instead, ask about past actions, for example “When is the last time you did this?” These questions are even more valuable than “what ifs” because they elicit honest answers, which will help you to better understand the market.

The overarching goal of an interview is to have customers mention that they face the problem you are working to solve. However, if you have conducted several interviews and nobody has seemed to agree that there is a problem, you are either speaking to the wrong market segment or not solving a relevant problem.

Towards the end of an interview, if the customer has told you that they struggle with the problem your business addresses, you may choose to introduce your product. This must be done with caution, however, because people will give you positive feedback by default. Rather than asking how interested they are in the product, frame the question in a way that encourages honesty. Keith’s favorite way to gage interest is by asking, “From 1 to 10, how disappointed would you be if I didn’t build this?” From his experience, people will give (sometimes brutally) honest answers. This allows you to dig deeper into what exactly they would change about what you are selling.

Lastly, develop an interview style that helps people feel comfortable telling their story. Keith’s style is to be excited by what people say, but his colleague instead takes on a friendly and comforting persona. While these are different, both are effective. Find what works for you!

We can’t wait to use Keith’s advice to collect more qualitative data! Visit to learn more.