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How to do great customer interviews

Proven tactics to get the information you really need

Cindy Alvarez

Customers often can’t accurately tell us what they really want. But you can learn the tried-and-true interview tactics that reveal how prospective customers are behaving today and what drives them to choose - or not choose - your product.

What you'll learn-and how you can apply it

You’ll learn how to focus on solving customer problems before jumping into solutions, how to identify your biggest product risks, and how to ask questions that provoke honest, unbiased insights from your prospective customers. Even better, you’ll be able to use what you’ve learned from your customers to avoid building things people don’t want.

This training course is for you because...

  1. You’re a product manager, entrepreneur, engineer, or designer who can’t afford the time or expense to build products that customers won’t buy or use.
  2. You’re launching a new product or addressing a new market segment and don’t yet understand what your customers need or how they behave
  3. You’re working to reduce customer churn, increase usage and retention, or gain advantage over a competitive product


No user research, psychology, or HCI experience is required. Participants should be comfortable writing and speaking with customers.

Pre-Course Work

During this course, you’ll participate in several hands-on writing and discussion activities. Read the following articles in advance and you’ll be better prepared to jump into the activities.

These documents are read-only. Click the link, then do “File > Make a Copy…” from the Google Docs menu to create your own copy that you can edit and save.

Writing Your Problem Hypothesis (should take 5-10 minutes to complete)

  • Who are your customers, and what problem do you think you’re solving for them? - in advance of the course. There’s a good chance you aren’t sure who your customers are. Take your best guess!

  • Your product may have more than one primary customer - for example, a multi-sided market, i.e.

  • eBay - needs to attract buyers and sellers
  • Yelp- needed to attract people to generate review content and businesses to buy ads)
  • Any scenario where the buyer and user of the product are different audiences (think healthcare, education, or parents buying products targeted at children).
  • If your business has multiple primary customers, write a problem hypothesis for each.

Writing Your Interview Questions (should take 2-5 minutes to complete) - You’ll be starting with the templated questions, so all you need to do is fill in a high-level description of the problem you’re trying to solve.

About your instructor

  • Cindy Alvarez is the author of Lean Customer Development: Build Products Your Customers Will Buy. Her background spans psychology, interaction design, product management, research, and enterprise change management. After many years designing and building products in startups, Cindy now helps internal Microsoft teams level up their product development, customer discovery, and devops practices and build a more responsive, inclusive culture.


The timeframes are only estimates and may vary according to how the class is progressing

Lecture: What is customer development; what should I be learning from customers; and why are they willing to talk to me? (10 minutes)

Group discussion: Share the hypotheses you wrote before the course - what are your goals? What are your assumptions? (10 minutes)

Lecture: Where are my customers? How can I get them to talk with me? (10 minutes)

Exercise: Write and send at least one request for an interview (10 minutes)

Lecture: What you should be learning—and how to construct questions that lead to honest, unbiased answers (30 minutes)

Lecture: How to run an excellent interview, end-to-end (10 minutes)

Exercise: Interview (15 minutes)

Group discussion: Debrief - what did we learn? How would we improve for next time? (5 minutes)

Lecture: Summarizing and sharing what you’ve learned (10 minutes)

Q&A (10 minutes)