How to get the most out of your customer visits

Helpful tips for product managers.

Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

“There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” — Sam Walton

The epicenter of any business is customers. They can be either existing customers or prospective. They are the boss and drivers of the business. Especially for product managers, getting to know their problems, needs, pains, and frustrations is like mining the gold mine. Every bit of information gained from this process is the gold. So, how do we mine this gold? What do the top customer-centric, most successful product managers do to gain better insight from customers? The answer is;

Customer Visits

Why customer visit when you have tons of tools, processes, virtual connection options available to collect data? You may wonder why. The idea of getting to know the customer starts with the face-to-face interview.

“Spend a lot of time talking to customers face-to-face. You’d be amazed how many companies don’t listen to their customers.” — Ross Perot

I am not against doing quantitative and qualitative research using other methods. They have their importance given the situation. However, I feel customer visits are priceless, especially to get a deeper insight into your product.

1. Prepare Well

Before you visit, ensure the customer is the most representative of your persona of target customers. Prepare a list of questions as a side note. If possible, go with an engineer and designer as recommended by Marty Cagan in his book “Inspired”. It certainly helps to understand the customer problems in a better way. Most importantly, inform Sales that you are meeting the customer to ensure their future discussion is intact. It goes without saying — dress appropriately and be on time.

2. Match and Mirror

When you meet your customer, the very first thing you should do is to make them feel comfortable and slowly break the ice for the conversation. Look around and see what their manners are and match up with yours. Studies have shown mimicking mannerism makes the person feel comfortable. “Mirroring” is another good technique from the book “Never Split the Difference” by Chris Voss. Try to get them on board by simply mirroring their thoughts.

2. Avoid Biased Questions

I think one of the biggest mistakes the interviewers make is asking biased questions. They can easily ruin the very purpose of doing the interview. This means you should avoid questions like — “You really like this menu on the top. Don’t you?”. This way of questioning simply forces them to stick with what you think. The most important thing is to understand what’s in their mind.

3. Ask More Open-ended Questions

The key to open-up customer’s minds is an open-ended question. These questions are generally skipped in online surveys. But, customers enjoy answering them during casual conversations. So, use this opportunity to get the customer talking by asking questions like — “Tell me about..”, “What do you think of..”, “Why do you believe that..”. Remember, questions that lead to the black & white answers such as “yes” or “no” are closed-ended.

4. Be an Active Listener

It is most important that you let the customer talk and your ears are always open to consume what the customer has to say about the product. Remember! You are visiting the customers to hear their stories and observe how they do things. Let them talk more by asking, “In what way?”, “Tell me more”, “Then..”. This will keep you in the active zone, and the customers feel that you respect their thoughts, and it pushes them to provide honest inputs. The key is to remain curious.

5. Ask Great Questions

Although listening to the customer should be the primary goal, you must pivot the conversation with great questions when you have an opportunity. Remember! You are the driver of the interview. It is better to keep the list of questions asked in a note by the side and navigate the interview through those questions keeping in mind — total time allocated for the interview.

  • How big is the problem, and how does it affect them?
  • How are you dealing with the problem currently?
  • What are your goals or jobs to be done?
  • Who makes the buying decision?

6. Retrain Sales Pitch

When your ultimate aim is to sell the services or products to the customer, your questions may sound like you are trying to sell something. This is called a sales pitch. Customers normally do not appreciate that and may not provide you good insights on your product. So, it is better to avoid and stick to the great questions as mentioned above.

7. Avoid Script

As Dustin Walker mentions in one of his blogs, don’t do a robotic telemarketer interview, asking one carefully crafted question after another. Instead, do an in-depth unstructured interview, which is having a casual and relaxed conversation. This is when a customer feels comfortable and more open to getting deeper into the subject.

8. Observe How They Do Things

Your customer visit should bring in two important items; customer insights and workflow. Insights are the ones you extract through the interview process. However, the workflow cannot be understood by interviewing. You must have the customer try your product in-front of you. Watch out how they perform a specific task, their frustrations, what process they feel complex/easy, etc. These observations are going to be priceless.

9. Show Interest

During the interview, it is natural customers may digress from the main topic. Show sincere interest, spend some time talking about it, and slowly navigate the conversation to the main topic. This shows the customer that you respect their thoughts and think like them. Eventually, it makes them feel they are experts.

10. Maintain Composure

If your products are crappy with many bugs, the customers are most likely will be unhappy and show reactions. If they are satisfied, they can also be ecstatic. Regardless of their state, make sure you maintain composure and empathize. Avoid promising anything to the customer at that state. Make a note of all the issues and discuss them with your designers and engineers later on how to address them.

“Imagine your customer is your best friend — listen to their concerns, be a shoulder to lean on and then shift the focus from what went wrong to how you can help make it right.” — Rachel Hogue

Lastly, never ever, ever promise the customer that you will deliver if you are not 100% sure.

Takeaway

I hope this article helps you to get the most out of your next customer visit. Of course, there is no standard process to achieve the best results. Knowing these little nuggets of best practice will certainly help you a lot.

Product Manager and Certified Scrum Product Owner https://arjunken.com

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