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Obtaining High Quality Information and Interviewing Customers

By the end of this week, you should understand:

How to conduct a problem discovery interview

How to identify the problem(s) you’re going to solve






Hopefully you have already started to interact with your customer, but this week we’re going to get into this in earnest. Interviewing is vital to ensure that you extract the most relevant and important information relating to your issue. Though this needs to be done in a manner that doesn’t lead questioning and only extract answers which conform with our preconceived notions.

Success is not delivering a feature, it is learning how to solve the customer’s problem.
— Erik Ries, The Lean StartUp

Access Week 3 Webinar HERE

With Guest speakers Frank Rijsberman, GGGI & Bobby Green, Amina Health


Interviewing Techniques


Some things to keep in mind before you start interviewing people:

  •  Let go of your preconceived beliefs, which means going in without assuming you already know the answers;

  • You’re interviewing them about their experience with the problem not about your solution because what they say might change the solution you imagine in your head. Don’t fall into the trap of asking them about a specific, predefined solution and miss out on vital information on the actual problem they’re trying to solve;

  • Try to be more open and exploratory with your approach and avoid asking too many leading questions (see below on types of questions to ask);

  • Listen more than you speak. The 80/20 rule is a good rule of thumb for interviewing: listen 80% of the time and only speak 20% of the time;

  • As much as possible, try to get people in their natural environment. This creates a genuine atmosphere for the interview as well as provide you an opportunity to observe their behaviour in context;

  • To get the most out of your interview sessions, prepare a discussion guide. This is a script of what you will use and the list of questions you will ask them.

  • Make sure you are clear on how long you have with the interviewee and adjust accordingly;

  • Prepare your interviewees by telling them why they are being interviewed; and

  • Last but not least thank them afterwards. A little gesture can go a long way, especially if you may want a follow-up interview with them!


There are three types of questions you should use in your discussion guide:


1. Open questions.

These are the questions you should use the most as they allow you to explore a topic by eliciting longer responses from your interviewee rather than one word answers. These are questions that start with “what”, “why”, “how” and sometimes “who”, “where”, “when”.


“What do you think is the biggest point of frustration?”

“Who do you think would benefit the most from this solution” - be careful, this could elicit a one word answer so make sure you follow-up with “why?”


2. Expansive questions.

These are questions that allow you to be more exploratory with your interviewee as it requires them to give a detailed response that can further elaborate on the topic you’re discussing. They allow the interviewee to expand on their thoughts and for you to pick up on interesting points that will help you dig deeper on their experiences.


Give me an example of where you encountered the problem…

Explain to me the importance of being able to solve this pain point…

Please elaborate to help me understand the steps involved…  


3. Closed questions.

Only ask closed questions when you want to clarify something they’ve said. Avoid asking leading questions which encourages a specific answer. You can ask a leading question as a form of clarification if it’s something they mentioned themselves.


Would you try this solution again?

When you said “too complicated”, did you mean this particular step?



The Five Why’s Technique

A very easy technique for getting deeper insights is to use “The Five Why’s Technique”. This technique involves asking the interviewee “why” to the last part of their response until you determine the root cause of the problem. It’s called “The Five Whys Technique” because it often takes five whys to get to the root problem but be aware that this isn’t always the case and you may need to stop your questioning early.


For example, if the interviewee said that they have to throw out food quite often then you would ask why that was. If they then said it was because they couldn’t keep it cold, then you would ask why they couldn’t keep it cold? They might say that this was because they don’t have a way to refrigerate it. You would then ask why they couldn’t refrigerate it. And they might respond that this is because electricity is unreliable in their area.

 We know have a much better idea of the problem they are facing than we did before we started asking why.


Weekly Tasks:

Exercise: Use the interview techniques identified above go out and discuss these with your target markets. Try to reach at least twenty people in your target market. Make notes on each of these interviews and submit a summary of your notes here.


Problem Identification


Now that you have spoken to a number of your customers, you are ready to start defining your customers' problem(s). Problem identification should not be speculative - it should be observational. 

As such, a problem identification should be simple and concise, for example:

  • Existing water delivery networks are prohibitively expensive in the town

  • Building materials (foundations) for existing and new houses are poor quality and require replacement every 12 months

  • Solar power generated in town has no micro-grid to be an effective method of energy distribution

  • Travel to local employment centre is difficult without transportation, which is expensive and inaccessible at present

Customer discovery and discussion takes time, so don’t feel the need to rush. What’s important to keep in mind, however, is that this process is inevitable. You don’t get to choose whether or not it takes place—you only get to choose when, and under what circumstances [1].





common terms:


customer - someone who pays for your product or service  


customer segment - a group of your customers that are distinct from other groups based on demographics or characteristics or behaviours


discussion guide - a script that outlines what you will say and the questions you will ask in an interview


field research - collecting information for a research project outside of the workplace or office setting


interviewer - the person who moderates the interview and asks the questions


interviewee - the person being interviewed and answers the questions


market validation - a series of interviews with people from your target market to refine your assumptions


pain point - something experiences by your target market to motivate them to buy your product


problem - could be the pain point or the overarching social or environmental problem you’d like to solve with your venture


target market - the group of customers your product or service is aimed at


user - someone who uses your product but might not necessarily be the one paying for it