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Conducting Effective Customer Interviews and Observations

Aug 19, 2020 • 6 Minute Read


Your customer is your most important external stakeholder. They can share with you exactly what you should and should not be doing when it comes to your products and solutions.

You can get information from them through casual exchanges, but often it is best to conduct format interviews and observations. In this guide, we will go through some of the best ways to conduct interviews and observations

Customer Interviews

Customer interviews can be conducted by someone from your team or someone external. Usually casual interviews or conversations are conducted by an internal team, but I recommend that formal interviews are done by a third party.

Customers will be much more likely to give feedback if they know they won’t hurt anyone’s feelings. The third party is not the person who created the product or is creating future products, so the people being interviewed can speak openly. In market research, the researcher usually starts by saying they did not create the product so their feelings won’t be hurt. That is done on purpose to ensure you get the most honest feedback.

Even though you are not the one doing the interview, you still play a key role in ensuring the interview goes well. You can assume that the third party you hire knows nothing about the product or industry, so you will need to script the entire thing to ensure you get the answers and information you need.

These are the four steps you should take in order to ensure the interview is effective :

  • Pick the topic you want to interview about and decide if it will be broad or narrow in focus

  • Pick an interview team or third party

  • Pick customers to interview

  • Pick interview questions and follow up questions

You will start by picking the topic you want to interview about. Do you want to talk to the customer about a general strategy or industry? Or do you want to narrow down to a product or set of products? Or do you want to talk about a specific feature you may want to deploy?

You will need to pick an interview team. Someone geographically close to where your customers are is preferred, although virtual interviews are becoming more mainstream and perhaps easier for your customers to attend. Cost will also be a factor, and you may need to compensate the customers as well.

You need to figure out who you are going to interview. Do you want to focus on existing customers? Potential customers? A specific demographic? A lot of this depends on what exactly you are interviewing about.

Lastly, but most importantly, you need to formulate a set of interview questions. The interview should not last more than 60 minutes, and 30-45 mins is best for an allotted time so you can allow some buffer room for follow up if you run over. If you go over 60 minutes, you may lose the customers because people’s attention spans are just not that long. I recommend formulating 20 questions to start and paring down to 10 solid questions with follow-ups assigned for each question depending on what the answer is.

Customer Observations

Observations are easily tracked with customers. You can do something like this on your own or use an external source. Many times, you will take information from various internal and external sources and bring it together to analyze.

For example, some of the internal sources you would use would be around what customers are buying. You have observations and insights into what customers are purchasing and when, so you can see where you should expand your portfolio and perhaps what you should pare down.

Additionally, you can work with various media companies and other sources to figure out what your customers are reading about. You might have some white papers or assets that you have put up, and by seeing which ones are getting more traction, you may be able to tell what your customers are interested in. This holds true for assets and information that you host on your internal sites as well.

Taking all of these internal and external observations, you will be able to gain insight into what your customers need and don’t need.

Effective is the Key Word

You understand how conduct customer interviews and observations. But how do you know they are effective? Well, effective is the key word. Knowing what you are finding out and putting it into practice should yield you results.

If your customer, during the interview and observation process, tells you that they want to see certain new features and they will buy the product if these are launched, and they do buy the product, then you know the interviews and observations were effective.

You are trying to get good data that you can use to develop your products and strategy, so if your data is correct, you know that your interviews and observations were effective. It seems simple, but it’s true. The key is to make sure you use the information from these interviews and observations.


You can talk to customers all day long, but conducting effective interviews and observations is key as you develop your products and strategy. You have to not just hear what customers are saying, but truly listen and take their suggestions and experience into account.

So often, I see research conducted, but the product manager thinks they "know better" and ends up deploying things differently. Don’t let these tips go to waste! Use them, and then use the section on effectiveness to do a gut check and ensure you are using them.

Your customers want to be heard, and they know if you are listening. Make sure you put out products and solutions that show you care and want to solve their problems .