“Customer is the HERO” -so when do you bring in the king into your Start Up. After the product is ready or even before you make the product? When you know what’s best for the customer then you know what is best for your Start Up. So, it’s important that you find out what a customer really needs. The difference between a Start-up and a Corporate is that a StartUp does what the customer says that he needs while the corporates say to the consumers what they need.
So how do you know & understand what your customers need? One of the best way is to conduct interview with your customers. Asking questions around the customer’s ideal state to understand the gap between “current” & “ideal” will throw in a lot of usable data. It is especially important for an entrepreneur to find the consumers who could be your early adopters as data shows that 9 out of 10 Start Up’s fail around the world. Founders must brush themselves off after an idea fails and try continuing the process with a new idea having faith that it clicks.
Founders need to understand that it is possible to minimize risk and increase possibilities of success. Through customer interviews it is possible to verify if the idea is a good one before investing time and money into it. But this step is often overlooked by many founders and skipped entirely. The first step is to identify the problem you want to learn about & form questions that will encourage your customers to describe their current reality. It is imperative that you form questions that will encourage your customers to open up about their problems.
Customer interviews provide not only invaluable insights in the early stages of product development but are also extremely helpful to improve an existing product or understand why your customers leave you or are loyal to you. At any stage of your business don’t ever treat your business hypotheses as facts. Instead get into the field and minds of the customer & truly understand their real problems, issues & challenges.
What needs to be uncovered?
It is important to ask and gather the right kind of information so that it helps you in building your business, product, and service.
Reality –build a rapport with the customers & then get into the questions relating to the business. Use questions like “Can you say more?”, “Can you explain about it?” or “Why is that the reason?”. This will persuade the potential customer to keep talking. People will not tell everything at once, particularly when talking with strangers, so it is essential that the interviewer use fact-based questions that can discover precious information buried beneath the surface.
Time –it is important to understand the amount of time a problem has existed (which shows the level of frustration a customer has), and how frequently or rarely the problem occurs for a user. “How long have you been dealing with ABC?” or “When was the last time that happened?” will let you know time-based answers.
Money – “How much has that cost you?” or “How much have you spent trying to find a solution?” will help understand if customers are willing to spend money to solve the existing problem. If the answer is in affirmative then you can work on the idea and take it to the next step but if the customers are doubtful about spending money you need to reconsider if you are looking at it in the right direction.
The psychology behind buying decisions will help us understand that most people buy based on emotion and later justify that with reason. Using the “Reality, Time, Money” framework, intuitive and logical ground of consumers are covered. It is important that you spend time in your ideal customer’s head to get the right answers.
How to get your customer speak
Be prepared with the questions you are going to ask. Let it not be a formalised standard questionnaire. It is important that you are flexible with the process of the interview. Don’t forget that the purpose is to understand what the customer needs so, don’t be rigid during the interview process. If needed have follow up questions that may serve the purpose. Listen intently & show real interest in what the customer says. This valuable information is the foundation for your product development.
Your objective must be to fully comprehend the problem before solving it. The potential customer that you are interviewing might be pouring his heart about the problem and spewing his frustration. But this is not the time to sell your idea and give them your solution. It’s the time to hear, ask, understand the real problems & pain points of your potential customers. Make sure you have the issues that make the customer unfulfilled. Pose questions with a view to understand & not with a view to collect data. In future when you have your Minimum viable Product ready you will have plenty of time to test your product with early adopters.
Have meaningful real conversations
Interviews are opportunities for you to learn, not assume so focus, and listen to the potential customers without any bias and be objective to their inputs. Ask questions that allow you to validate the problem. Conduct the interview without any ulterior motive and create a relaxed atmosphere. Let it be a real conversation of finding the facts rather than playing a game of 20 questions. Don’t throw questions on the customer’s face but seek for answers one at a time giving enough time for the customer to respond & be patient until he responds. Do not prompt for answers or finish the sentence for the customer. Avoid questions that lead to subjective or speculative answers. Tailor questions to better understand a customer’s uncovered habit. Ask open-ended questions to create space for what you don’t know.
Be clear that you are there mainly to listen so, let the customer speak more than you do. The questions should facilitate a smooth flow of thoughts, beliefs & behaviour from the part of the consumers. Summarise the answers that the customer has given so that there is no misunderstanding. If there is even an ounce of doubt clarify immediately.
Interrogate, Iterate & Implement.
The interviews are only useful if they are analysed honestly. Report the findings as they are and not what you want the findings to say about your product/idea. The collected information will help you shape your product or service into a Minimum Viable Product. Understanding your target customer’s current state and their desired state, will let you know what product features matter for them and those that don’t. it will also let you know what customers will be willing to pay for and what they will not.
Is the problem worth solving, what if it is invalidated?
The problem is not worth solving if after interviews it is found that no potential customer is motivated to pursue a solution. If the customer does not have the problem and you are the one who is mentioning it that is a sign indicating that the problem isn’t urgent or important. It goes on to show that no matter how good features your product/ service has the consumer might not need or be ready to pay for it.
Don’t panic if your idea is invalidated; instead, think about how much time and energy was saved before building a hopeless product. Go back to your findings see if there is a different problem that needs to be solved. Pivot and form a new hypothesis with a pressing problem that could be tested.
Your visionary customers will travel along with the evolution of your product from the beginning. These early adopters are people who face the real problem and are aware of that problem and are seeking a solution and are willing to pay for it. Have in mind, that it’s really the future of your product that you are marketing in the beginning stages. As you interview your potential customers, collect their contact information, and keep track of prospects who would be willing to test your MVP and become your early evangelists. Often evangelists will see your product as their own and spread the word of positivity. There is no better evangelist to your Start Up than a satisfied customer.
Usable data from your customer interviews will pave the path to revolutionise your Start Up. This will help you to come up with an appropriate Customer Development Framework that helps you discover & validate the right market for your idea & build right product features that solve customers needs.
Customer interviews many a times lead to unanticipated discoveries about the problem, the target consumers, psychographic profiles and much more. Be open minded to what your potential customer has to say and use this information to refine your venture. Don’t let your passion blind you. Try not to push your products to your customers. Listen to their problem, understand & develop products that will satisfy their wants.
Incredible things will happen to your Start Up when you listen to the consumer. It is important to find out why a customer will want to spend his money for your product/service than somewhere else. Your most unhappy customers will help you bridge the gap between what you offer & what the consumer expects & tell you exactly what is that you need to do & improve.
Make the customer the Hero of the story -behind your product/service, as a satisfied customer is the best business strategy. Customer is the Hero and when you treat your customers as Hero’s & deliver quality products they sure will not bargain as Hero’s never bargain they get what they deserve.