If you do not interact directly with customers, you as a product team lose the ability to advocate for their needs. Receiving customer feedback only secondhand will decrease effectiveness in making customer-centric product decisions.
The product team should ideally aim for 1-2 customer interviews per week outside of dedicated research projects. But how do you find users to interview on a regular basis?
One important thing before jumping into the tactics. You will be asking people to give you their valuable time, so make sure you are making it worth it. Provide them with an appropriate incentive or fair compensation.
Recruiting existing customers and users
- In-product outreach
One of the most efficient ways to get a regular stream of customer interviews is by leveraging the existing user base. You can reach out through email or better in-product widgets that show up directly in the product provided by 3rd party tools like Intercom, Drift, Appcues, etc. In-product widgets perform even better when you automate that outreach to happen at a relevant point in the user journey, e.g. started paying, deleted a project, or used a specific feature. Which trigger to choose depends on what part of the user journey you want to understand better.
If you do not have access to such tools, think about ways and places where you could add some static call-outs asking for time, like documentation, community forum, page footer, navigation, etc.
- Marketing outreach
The marketing team is already interacting with your user base on a regular basis. See if you can leverage existing communication channels, like the customer newsletter, or feature announcements. Try to get your request for customer interviews included in that communication, maybe as a P.S., secondary call to action, or even just as a little sidenote.
- Sales / Support / Customer success
Your sales, support, and customer success team have existing relationships with your customers. Respectfully leveraging their connections can provide a great avenue to get interviews on your calendar. Make sure you set clear expectations with your stakeholders when it's best to involve you for customer interviews and what you will be discussing as well as the goals of your interviews, which is learning and not sales. Differentiate between sales calls, support calls, and customer interviews led by product management.
How can the sales team help?
Work with the sales team to define the best time for engagement. Usually, this is outside of a sales cycle. Try to have the sales team introduce you to customers after a purchase or renewal, or when the customer shows interest in the roadmap or plans for a specific product area.
How can the customer success manager/account manager help?
The customer success team can be a good source for customer interviews. The important thing here is to provide mutual value for customers and the success team. Try to share a list of topics and capabilities that you would like to discuss with customers and ask the account team to loop you in if the customer is interested in these areas. This can be as simple as you sitting in on existing meetings and getting the last 10-15min for a couple of discovery questions.
How can the customer support team help?
The support team is dealing with customers' questions on a daily basis. You might be able to leverage these communication channels by having the support team introduce you as a follow-up to user feedback or feature requests. Be mindful that the support teams often deal with frustrated users. Additionally, they have to work through a large volume of tickets on a daily basis and are measured by how quickly they can respond, and how satisfied the users are with the support provided. They have existing workflows that are optimized for the above outcomes. Work out a model of engagement with the support team that fits into their way of working and is not in conflict with the support's team objectives. For example, define a process where you can follow up on specific tickets or get introduced to specific users, that goes through a different flow than the usual support ticket once you take over.
Respect a "No". These teams might be managing through a tough situation with a customer or the sales team might be in an active sales cycle (new sale, renewal) that requires full focus. Provide support during these times, so that when an account is stable you can engage with the customer for interviews.
If you struggle to get the buy-in from these teams start with baby steps. Build the trust. Explain the benefit of customer interviews. Define a model of engagement together that both parties feel comfortable with. This helps your stakeholders to deepen the relationship with the customer, allows the customer to discuss their needs, and gives you the opportunity to learn directly from the customer - win win win :D
Rich Mironov highlights others ways how to address Sales concerns and barriers.
In order to fill your interview pipeline, one of the strategies above alone won't be enough. You will need to set up and test multiple streams to get interviews with existing customers on a continuous basis reliably.
Also, it won't be enough to only talk to existing customers. You also need to regularly talk with potential customers and the wider market to uncover new opportunities. In part 2 we will talk about ways to recruit potential users for user interviews.