Seven Tips for Effective Customer Conversations

Lane Halley ·

On July 18 I was the guest speaker at Startup UCLA, a summer accelerator program for UCLA entrepreneurs. I presented a new talk “Seven Tips for Effective Customer Conversations” and led the group in some exercises to practice core interview skills.

Here’s a summary of the seven tips presented in this deck:


  1. Have a plan – Use your time effectively. Know what you’re trying to learn from your customers and plan as a group so you can operate independently.

  2. Pair interviews – It’s hard to take notes and give your full attention to someone at the same time. Use two people: one leads the conversation, one takes notes. Switch roles between interviews. It also can reduce arguments later if two people on your team were there.

  3. Keep it comfortable – Focus on creating a conversation. You’ll learn more by getting people to tell stories than grilling them with a long list of questions.

  4. Avoid leading questions – Questions like “How will you use our product?” and “How much would you pay for this?” are examples of leading questions. They assume that someone wants your product and will pay for it. People will tell you something to please you, or feel smart, but their answers are not good predictors of what they will actually do. It’s better to focus on observed behavior. For example, what problems do they self-report? What do they do now to solve them? What are the costs (in cash or lost opportunity) those solutions represent?

  5. Listen for needs and goals – Entrepreneurs often tell me that conversations with several customers result in a long wish list of features that are difficult to categorize or prioritize. You can collect more useful information by going deeper into the feature request to find the need or goal it’s based on. When someone says “I’d like this feature” say “If you had this feature, what would it allow you to do?” The next thing they say will usually be a need or goal. Once you identify needs and goals, you can figure out how to address them with the right features.

  6. Listen first, then show the demo – If you’re going to show a demo, take the time to learn about the person you’re talking to first. How well do they match your target audience? What problems do they have? You can get better (and more credible) information by asking them to show you how they would use your product for real activity or problem they have just described to you.

  7. Share what you learn – Customer engagement should be an ongoing activity, not a special occasion. Make time and space for the team to share what they are learning through customer conversations.

For more coverage of this event, please see The Dish Daily

Lane Halley
Lane Halley

Lane Halley is a product designer at Carbon Five.

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