Only customers can make you understand your product better

Umair Mahmood
4 min readMay 3, 2020

There are different methodologies to reach your users/customer’s thoughts but one of the pure and authentic methods is the interviews, especially when done one-on-one, live in-person. You get so much information not just by the words but also their body language and expressions.

I did 6 sessions for Centrepoint.com Redesign (Each session includes 5 in-store customer interviews, in total 30 Interviews ). There have been few learnings in my work experience on WITH and WITHOUT Customer Insights and I would like to share some tips that may help.

Multiple factors can limit you to dig customer insights:

  1. Shortage of Budget. (No one likes to give their feedback/opinion for free unless your customer service fails enough to make them scream about your problems)
  2. Your management does not understand the importance of customer’s words.
  3. Shortage of Time (You may consider scaling down your research instead of completely skipping)
  4. Resource Limitation. (e.g. Professional Researcher)

From the day I started doing user interviews and testings I started believing in the design outcome even more. I think when you empathize with your users/customers it attaches a history to your work and gives it a solid purpose of its existence.
Also, user interviews and testings give you a glimpse of how your product/feature is going to perform even before it goes live.

Diego and myself while doing the customer interviews and usability testings.

Few disadvantages that may alarm you to listen to your customers:

  1. You will take decisions in your own knowledge bubble.
  2. By not allowing yourself to listen to your customers will put you in a habit of trusting your own assumptions. At some point, you may lose the difference between your assumptions and real facts. You will start defending your assumptions (funny! isn’t it?) I’ve been there.
  3. You will spend the whole time fixing a problem that maybe doesn’t even exist?! or that problem is because of some other issue that you are not seeing?! Or the problem is just your assumption and your customers don’t necessarily care about it?! and so on…
  4. You will end up designing for yourself but not for your customers which end of the day may cost you double of solving the problem from the customer’s perspective.

How User/Customer Interviews help to discover more than you know.

  1. If you are re-designing/defining any product or feature you must get to know your customer’s history with it. They will tell you their concerns and those should be your first challenges.
  2. Customer interviews will polish and verify your hypotheses.
  3. If you will talk to your customers before creating prototypes, your prototypes will give you better results in usability testings.
  4. There is nothing better than knowing your users. You will discover new opportunities or sometimes solutions from the customer’s perspective to fix any particular problem.

Some tips for interviews:

The room that we used for interviews in Centrepoint store.

In the first interviews I treated the talks like a social conversation but interviews are different. You do the interviews to learn and that should be the goal of your whole conversation. You will lose track which is fine but you should have the goal in your mind to get back to it.

  1. Setup everything before you invite someone to your interview room. There should not be any distraction, people sometimes get uncomfortable seeing a lot of devices pointing at them especially cameras.
  2. Make sure you ask for the permission of your customer/user to record the audio/video of the interview.
  3. Try to ask questions in a natural conversational way. Don’t just throw them on the face.
  4. Let your customer speak as much you can.
  5. Don’t give any clue.
  6. Speak only when you think the silence is being awkward.

Here is a quick video by nngroup.com on “Intentional Silence”. Trust me it’s easy to watch but you need good practice to make it happen.

Tip to approach people in-store:

We spent full days in stores asking customers if we can interview them and we were just getting 3–5 customers in 9–10 hours. There were multiple reasons for that:

  1. People go to the mall shopping, nobody likes to get stopped by a stranger asking “Can you give me your 30 Minutes”.
  2. Sometimes people are in a hurry or with kids.

Anyway, I will just recommend few things that really worked for us:

  1. Inform the store cashiers about your reason of visit and what you are offering to customers in return. Ask cashiers to invite customers for interviews by offering them discounts/coupons while they are paying for their shopping.
  2. Instead of asking customers in-store by yourself, ask the sales staff to approach people because they do it hundreds of times in a day (they are experts) and also people don’t get hesitate to talk to them.
  3. Wear the sales staff uniform if you think you have good skills to approach a random person.

I am beginning towards user research, hoping to learn and share as much I could.

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Umair Mahmood

Lead Product Designer, I write my experiences on design, whatever I learn new or think something needs to be shared. Personal Website: www.umairmehmood.com