Common Mistakes When Talking To Customers

Learn to structure and execute an effective customer discovery call.

Talking to customers is a critical activity of any entrepreneur. When executed properly, it can provide the general parameters of the road we travel in building a business. When done incorrectly, customer discovery can be a colossal waste of time.Through customer discovery we can learn the pains, desires, interests, and jobs to be done by customers. We can then translate this into our product and business design to ensure we are creating something people care about. 

Get 50% off for 1 year

We’re talking about how to talk to customers – early and often – in our upcoming Loop System: Early Business Idea Validation. Loop Systems are simple, inexpensive business systems you can quickly test to see what works for your business. By joining our paid community, we provide you with the process, tools, training, coaching, and cohort discussions during the two-week sprint. These are designed for small teams and solopreneurs, so we keep things simple and easy to implement. Check out our preview for more information.

When doing customer discovery interviews we try to strike the balance between art and science. The science is the framework we use to systematically extract the learnings we need. The art is the strategy and technique we use to implement said system. Generally, when running customer interviews, there are two areas where entrepreneurs error: 1) creating an ineffective interview framework 2) not running an impactful interview. 

Avoid making these common mistakes when speaking to customers by ensuring you complete the following: 

Creating an Effective Framework

Have A Clear Learning Goal

When meeting with a customer, you should always have a clear, documented learning objective. This objective is the purpose of the call and should drive all the questions you ask. If your question doesn’t relate to the learning goal, don’t ask it. 

Before joining the call, ask yourself, “What do I absolutely need to know from this customer?” If you can answer this question in the affirmative following the call, your conversation was likely unsuccessful. And newsflash, having the interviewee say they love your product or would buy it if created, is not a valid learning goal. 

Your learning goal should be directly tied to the most critical assumption in your project. Without clarity on this, your conversation will be far less effective than it could be. 

Set Appropriate Call Time

Our customer calls should be scheduled for an appropriate time relative to the learning we are trying to achieve, the familiarity we have with who we are speaking with, and the scope of the discovery campaign we are running. In general, if you are unfamiliar with a particular customer or market, you should schedule shorter calls. The reason is that we want to make sure our learning goal is being achieved and we do not waste our time or, more importantly, the customers’ time. By defaulting to a shorter call (20-30 minutes), we can treat the call as a sort of screening which helps us to build a better understanding of the customer base we should be interviewing. As our customer discovery campaign progresses, we can circle back with the customers who offer the most valuable input and schedule more in-depth calls.  

Debrief Each Call

After each call, it’s critical we document the key learnings and themes from the conversation. Doing this immediately ensures we don’t lose sight of our learning goal, that we can determine whether we achieved said goal and that we can begin to build a catalog of insights that we can then look across all of our conversations to identify themes. 

Use this template to help you structure and manage your discovery calls.


Running an Impactful Interview

Many of the tactics used for a successful customer interview are basic communications 101. As with any human interaction, we want to be open-minded, active listeners, and create a positive environment for our interview. Here are a few other tips for you to apply in your conversations with customers. 

Don’t Pitch

Our goal is to learn. A customer interview is not the time for us to try to pitch a customer on our idea or business. At best, this creates a negative customer experience, at worst, it gives a false green light to go all-in on an idea because a customer said, “That’s a great idea, I would buy that.”

Customers and people, in general, are ridiculously bad at predicting our future behavior. Very few people are going to tell you your idea is not worth pursuing after you spent 20 minutes pitching them on the idea. So don’t put them in that position. 

Ask For Examples

Since people are so bad at predicting actions in hypothetical situations, the best thing we can do is interviewers ask for examples: 

  • “Can you give me an example of how you solve this problem now.”

  • “What is an example of how that impacted you?”

Grounding their statements in real life instances helps us to apply context to customer pain points, desires, and jobs to be done.

Don’t Ask Multiple Questions

As mentioned, humans have a lot of biases. As interviewees we want to be conscious of our own biases and avoid asking questions that provide option answers for customers. Keeping questions open ended is critical for us to be able to be surprised. When running customer interviews avoid questions that have embedded answers. 

Get 50% off for 1 year

Bonus Question

“Is there anything else I should know but didn’t ask?”

At the end of an interview, ask this question. It’s often after customers have gotten a sense for what you are trying to accomplish that they are most helpful in their responses. Asking this open ended question gives the interviewee an opportunity to provide insights that may not be directly related to your line of questioning and therefore hopefully surprising and insightful. Not to mention, these responses are often highly useful for refining your script and perhaps even learning goal. 

You can learn more about customer discovery by listening to our latest podcast on validating business ideas here