Product managers wear many hats, and the job description varies with each company depending on size and product type. But most product managers must understand how (and if) their product solves customers’ problems, and identify new features and functionality that will be valuable to their users.
Interviewing customers is a top way to learn how a product supports a customer’s bottom line, workflow, team communication, and more. However, these interviews also serve another purpose that is just as — or even more critical — than product research: building and maintaining customer relationships.
“Customers get excited about talking to product managers,” says Veronica Hudson, senior product manager at ActiveCampaign. “It gives people an opportunity to feel like their voice has been heard and their problems are being addressed by the product now and in the future.”
Here are Hudson’s dos and don’ts when structuring interviews to build strategic product roadmaps and solid working relationships with customers.
Do: Understand what type of interview you’ll conduct
Is your interview’s purpose a general conversation to learn more about your customers and understand their day-to-day tasks? Or do you need feedback on a specific aspect of your product, such as a new front-end design? Perhaps the interview is intended to address an issue with an unhappy customer. Understanding the intention of your interview informs how you prepare for it.
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Do: Know the basics
Particularly if it’s your first time interacting with a customer, research the company before starting the interview.
What’s the size of your customer’s business? How many employees do they have, and what is their business’ main focus? What product or products of yours do they use?
Having a working knowledge of your client’s company will show you value their time. Don’t ask questions that can easily be learned with a quick Google search.
Do: Ask strategic questions
Before the interview, Hudson recommends that product managers write down a list of things they would like answered and then formulate strategic questions around them. For example, if you want to know how your customer structures their day, instead of asking what they do every day, ask what your customer did yesterday. “It’s a lot easier to recall what you did yesterday … your interviewee will go into specifics rather than gloss over their general responsibilities,” says Hudson.
If you’re interested in learning what customers think of your product’s new UI/UX, have your customers walk you through how they would upload an image, or set up their profile. “I like to think about the actual problem we’re trying to understand, and what level of detail or lack of detail is going to get us there,” says Hudson, who adds that often, more specific answers require broader questions.
Don’t: Wait to meet your customers until there’s a problem
Sometimes, product managers don’t meet customers until there is a problem with the product, and the customer is already frustrated. This starts your customer relationship off on a negative tone, and can hinder the development of a positive relationship later in the customer lifecycle.
It’s important that your organization values connecting product managers with customers before there is an issue, so you can begin your customer communication on a high note — for example, during the onboarding process.
If there is a problem down the road, your customers will feel confident to be honest with you because trust has already been established.
Don’t: Undervalue the power of empathy
Connect with your customers early on with a few minutes of small talk before you dive into your main questions. Light banter can bring levity to the conversation and help your customers open up. As many of your customers are likely working from home (or did work from home in 2020), asking where they are located is an easy way to break the ice.
Aim to be empathetic throughout the interview. “If a customer is talking about a struggle they are having with our product, I sometimes say, ‘I understand, I’ve heard this from so many people. Here’s our plan to fix this,’” says Hudson. “I try to place myself in their shoes. Empathy can lead you down a deeper path of discussion about a specific problem.” Displaying empathy makes customers feel like you’re on their side, and will help solve their business blockers.
Deeper Customer Relationships
Chatting with customers isn’t just a way for you to build better products. Consider customer interviews as valuable time to understand your core users on a deeper level and help them develop a more meaningful relationship with you and your company.
Maintaining a solid working relationship with your customers will help them feel more loyal to your brand, and inspire them to evangelize your products to other potential customers.
Meet the Author
Jenna Blumenfeld is the product content strategist at Stream, maker of enterprise-grade chat and activity feed APIs. Stream is the fastest, most scalable solution on the market today, enabling application product teams to increase user engagement and retention and decrease time to market. See how Stream’s chat and activity feed APIs can transform your app or website today! Sign up for a free, 28-day Chat Trial.