Brian Rhea Brian Rhea

The Worst Question to Ask a Customer in Product Development

“Would you use this?” is probably the worst and most expensive question you could ask a customer.

I made this mistake plenty of times early on in my career when I thought I was doing what it takes to filter out the bad ideas from the good by showing customers a demo and asking what they thought.

The problem is, people have a very generous idea of how ambitious and open to change their future selves are going to be. And when I say “generous” I mean, “dead ass wrong.”

How many times have you commited to a new diet or exercise regimen, only to have Future You flake out when it gets inconvenient?

Anticipating that customers will change their existing workflow — even if it would be good for them — is no different.

So, don’t ask people, “would you use this?”

They’ll say yes either because they can see the advantages or they don’t want to hurt your feelings. But, when they’re in their day-to-day context, just trying to grind out their work and keep the shit to shoe-level, they’ll fall back on their default workflow the majority of the time.

Instead of asking about their future aspirational behavior, ask about their past actual behavior.

“What solutions have you tried to fix that problem?”

“Have you paid for any services that might address that?”

If the answers to those questions are, “None” and “No” then you’ve saved yourself a ton of time and effort compared to a “Yes” that might have come from a sexy design you might have put in front of them.

In his book, “The Mom Test,” Rob Fitzpatrick lays out three simple rules to follow during every customer interview:

  1. Talk about their life instead of your idea
  2. Ask about specifics in the past instead of generics or opinions about the future
  3. Talk less and listen more

This is good advice because it puts all of the focus where it should be, on your customer. As entrepreneurs, we tend to be outwardly confident, very convincing, and great at pitching. These are all terrible traits to bring into a customer research project if you intend on doing any actual research.

I’ll say it again for the folks in the back. The things that make you a great entrepreneur will make you really terrible at conducting customer interviews.

Check your confidence at the door. Suspend your undying faith in your idea. Never ever pitch. Ever.

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