Brian Rhea Brian Rhea

4 Questions You Should Never Ask Your Customers

There are times when some customer research is worse than none at all.

That might seem to fly in the face of everything the past decade of lean software development has taught us, but it’s true.

So, when is it worse to talk to your customers than to follow your own instinct?

When you ask them the wrong questions and are lead astray by their answers.

Do not ask:

  1. “Do you like this?”
  2. “Would you buy this?”
  3. “If we built X feature would you use it?”
  4. “If we added X feature would you be more likely to sign up?”

The thing that all of these questions have in common is that they’re not based on the person’s actual behavior.

The answers to these questions can give you the false hope that yes, in fact, building X feature will increase sign-ups and revenue.

Unfortunately, people are aspirational about their future selves’ likelihood to change a habit and try something new.

Instead, the right questions to ask are tied to the person’s past behavior, their current hacks and workarounds, and their current spend to solve the problem.

Instead, ask:

  • “How are you currently solving that issue?”
  • “How frequently does that happen?”
  • “Are you satisfied with how you’re dealing with that?”
  • “What solutions are you paying for to deal with that problem?”

You can get all kinds of false positives from the first batch of questions because they’re just opinions. “Sure, I like it. I’d totally buy that and I could see myself using it!”

But when the rubber meets the road, they’re quite likely to stick with the status quo.

This second batch of questions though, while it’s possible to get some false negatives because the bar is set a little higher, you’re definitely going to protect yourself from building features nobody ever uses or starting a business nobody is asking for.

When you find a problem that occurs frequently, with low satisfaction, and an existing budget to attack it, you’re on the right track.

Obviously, when you’re talking with your customers, the conversation is going to go in all sorts of different directions than just those four questions I listed above can cover.

Keep these guiding principles in mind to be sure that wherever the conversation may lead, you’re collecting reliable feedback that won’t lead you astray:

  • Never ask a question that can be answered with an opinion.
  • Do your best to only ask questions that can be tied to past or present behavior.

Hope that helps! Let me know if you’ve got any specific struggles or questions and I’ll be happy to chime in.

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