Customer Discovery: What Do You Ask, with Justin Wilcox

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hey next attendees I'm Justin Wilcox I'm

the founder of Nimbus health a software

company where we help hospitals automate

medical record processing now that's

what I do for work but what I do for fun

is actually customer dev labs it's a

blog where I and other founders take our

customer development experiences and we

write them up and share them so that

other people don't fall into the same

traps that we did getting started so if

you like what we talked about today

definitely go check out the blog

speaking of which what we're talking

about today is for customer discovery

hacks these are the four things that I

found hardest to get started with

customer development all right now that

we've got our interview set up we need

to figure out what are we gonna ask our

customers and this is something that I

really struggled with when I started

customer development so that's why we

have hack number three what to ask so a

couple ground rules for interviewing

number one no pitching this is about

listening if you find yourself ever

proposing a part of your solution just

to get some feedback on it

stop your pitching and we don't want to

do that the reason being as soon as you

start pitching your mind changes gears

it goes from learning and absorbing

information into trying to pitch

something in sell a product and this

time is all about learning so this is

all about listening to your customer all

about listening to their problems you'll

have plenty of time to pitch later okay

rule number two

past and present questions are fantastic

that's what we're gonna ask questions

about the future like would you ever or

will you ever hypothetical questions

those are no good we want to ask

questions like have you ever or tell me

about the last time things that have

happened in the past and are in the

present now the reason is if we ask

about future questions we're getting our

customers predictions and those are

basically useless in fact they can be

worse than useless because if they tell

us something that we want to hear

would you ever pay five dollars for blah

blah blah and they say yes we might

mislead ourselves into thinking we have

a real product the truth is they don't

know - the answer to that question and

it's gonna be misleading so we don't do


the other reason is as soon as you're

asking would you or will you questions

you're probably starting to pitch a

solution and we don't want to do that

okay so with those ground rules in place

let's talk about what you ask your

customers the script that I use looks a

little something like this number one

tell me a story about the last time

problem context so for example tell me

about the last time you were late to an

appointment now the reason why we asked

this question first is because it's very

open-ended it's asking for a story and

it's asking our customer to sort of go

on whatever tangents they want and what

we're looking for here are things that

are particularly difficult or annoying

for our customer so your job is to ask

this question listen intently and then

dig in when you find your customer talk

about something that's interesting to

you that you don't know about or you

don't fully understand dig in ask

questions why was that hard what was

annoying about that why is that that way

this is where you're gonna spend most of

your time

now if during this conversation it's not

obvious to you what was the hardest part

about this context you're gonna ask them

explicitly what was the hardest part

about this problem that you ran into

then they're gonna tell you the hardest

part and it's exactly what we want and

now this question number three this is

golden it's also very awkward you're

gonna ask them why was that hard let me

give you an example of why it's gonna be

awkward so tell me about the last time

you were late oh you know I was I had to

feed the dog and I had to pick up my

keys I couldn't find them and then I ran

into traffic

what was the hardest part about ah

traffic was so annoying it was

frustrating and then I'm gonna ask why

was that hard and they're gonna think oh

of course

I know why that's hard it's hard because

it was frustrating and we're gonna ask

him they say you know why it was hard

because I had to drive across a bridge

and I was afraid was gonna run out of

gas and I'm stuck in traffic and we

asked because the Y is exactly what

we're gonna pair it back to our

customers when it's time to go pitch our

solution we want to use our customers

own words when we market to them so that

we know it will resonate so in this case

why was it hard afraid to run out of gas

we can say afraid

to run on a gas because you're running

late that might be the best marketing

message so this is really important even

if it's awkward to ask make sure you

understand why this was pretty pretty

hard number four we're gonna ask how do

you solve this problem now so I might

ask how do you solve this lateness

problem now they might say oh you know I

just am NOT late at all I just don't

care I don't do anything in that case we

know this isn't a real pain for our

customer because they're not trying to

solve the problem if they are trying to

solve the problem you know I set my

clocks forward fast and and I I try and

get reminders from Google and blah blah

blah then we can ask the next question

which is why is that solution not

awesome if they say oh you know what I

know the clocks are set fast and I just

ignore the ignorant reminders we've got

a problem they're trying to solve so

it's a real problem and their solution

is not awesome so maybe we can solve it

in a better way alright so this is the

outline for your interview these are the


bonus points though if you can do any of

these three things number one emotions

take real note of the emotions your

customer expresses during the interview

frustration anger guilt greed happiness

whatever it is note those down because

those emotions that's how you're gonna

connect with your customer when you can

empathize with your customer they can

feel that and that's how we're gonna

actually move our solution number two

three-peat once you get through this

process you can start all the way over

at the beginning

tell me about another time you were late

if you can get through this process

three times you'll learn something new

every time and you'll really understand

your customer through and through

finally five why's if you can ask why

five times why was that hard why did you

do it that way why is the world like it

is you will understand the core crux of

why someone is doing what they're doing

and why it's difficult if you ask five

times you'll get down to the core

emotion the core motivation of what it

is that they're trying to solve

alright so that's my script and now it's

your turn go ahead and write your

version of this script and then go to a

neighbor and interview him or her

when you do make sure you're not

pitching and you're always asking

questions about the past and the present

and never about the future good luck

so all this information is documented up

on customer dev labs comm go check it

out I'm Justin Wilcox let me know what

you learn