Harpreet Singh

Tip to conduct great customer interviews - Be an intern

16 Jan 2017


Last week, I visited a CloudBees customer with Kohsuke Kawaguchi (Jenkins’ founder) to interview them. The goal was to understand their key challenges and concerns.

Over the years, Kohsuke and myself have done innumerable customer interviews together and somewhere along the way we have hit on a formula that makes for great customer interviews.

The formula is “Be an intern” (credit: as is usually the case with Kohsuke, belongs to him).

An advantage of tag-teaming is that one person takes copious notes while the other asks questions. The interview goes something like this (replace “software delivery process” by the key problem(s) your product solves):

The Interview

Us: Think of us as new interns on your team, now walk us through the entire software delivery process.

Customer: We were using your software and ran into so and so bug with your software.

Us: Hold on. We will definitely get to that. Right now, tell us why that is important as an intern. If not, lets go through your software delivery process

Customer: Uh ok, I guess it is not important as an intern. Ok - so we have a very typical software delivery cycle. We push the code and then we do a “official build” which is then tagged by QE as golden build.

US: Hold on - who is “we” - is this one team or many? What do you mean “typical” - is that in your group, across teams or standardised across your company”. What’s an official build - who calls it official? What does a golden build mean? Who is impacted with golden build? How long the process take?

And so on. You get the idea. The interview becomes very open ended and helps us be part of their team.

Advantages of this approach:

If you are product manager, I encourage you to use this as part of your quiver when you meet customers.