Its not ” what do you want?” that creates insight

A friend and ex-colleague has opened his own business and we chat about trying to gain insight into his customers.  He’s in F&B a very competitive arena, and he’s typically too busy to take time to think.  As a result he often falls back on asking the wrong questions of his customers to try to gain insight.

He’s got a new product, and he was going to ask his customers “how much would you pay for it?”… I suggested this puts too much focus on price and insufficient on utility, and gives you the wrong information, people will always offer less than the real value.  I suggested asking how often would you buy this new product if it was priced a this or that level. This got me thinking about what questions to ask to generate real insight about your customers, and what they want.

When you ask a person “what do you want”, you open them to thinking within the total realm of all possibilities; making engaging with people much harder than it should be.

If you’re trying to create a new product or experience that doesn’t exist yet, the insight you need is to understand what’s causing people to not be able to do what they want, with the tools they currently have. That way, you can design either for an entirely new experience or an incremental improvement that helps them get the job done (to think more like Clayton Christensen see here).

Here’s what I think are 3 better questions to ask to gain insight;

  • What are you trying to get done? (Gather context)
  • How do you currently do this? (Analyze workflow)
  • What could be better about how you do this? (Find opportunities)

What are you trying to get done? … Why?
Getting background information about what a person is trying to do is critical to understanding your users and their potential needs. Things like how big their team is and how their role fits into the larger organization helps frame the scale of a job that your product can help do better.

Imagine that you are a online specialist. Wouldn’t you want to know whether you’re fixing a website or re-doing a whole online strategy? You’ll need different tools for those jobs and the scale of those jobs are completely different.

It’s the same with user interviews. You’ll want to gain an understanding of what your users are trying to get done in order to get the necessary information back to your team.

Getting down to root cause of a problem requires you to also ask why. Use the 5-Why’s model to make this easy. You’ll naturally discover a process or lack thereof by asking “why” a couple of times (you don’t have to exactly ask “why” 5 times).

Can you show me how you currently do this?

After knowing the scale of a problem,  find out how a user currently deals with a problem. This lets you step into their shoes and experience how potentially painful it is for them. Sometimes, users come up with alternative/hack methods in order to get what they want. These methods are sometimes pretty easy for us to reorganise or regularize  in order to save someone hours a week doing something.

Here’s an example. I was recently doing research for the product team on a new feature we wanted to build. But we wanted to see how painful this problem was in order to prioritize it accordingly. By interviewing a bunch of customers on how they operate internally, you are able to create a flow diagram that can pinpoint how you can either simplify the process or automate the process for them.

Knowing a user’s workflow also lets your team figure out what parts of the workflow you can improve.

Can you show me what’s frustrating about your current process?

Most of your research has already been completed before you even get to this question. This question prompts the user to give you some ideas on what areas need the most help. Also, this is when they will help you validate or disprove your team’s hypothesis on building something.

If you jump to asking users about how they think something can be better from the start, you only get their opinion, not how they actually deal with their current problem.

This is where you’ll find opportunities to improve or where customers will vent about their current solution and what’s missing. Either you find this opportunity big enough to pursue with your team, or you dismiss it as something that’s already solved and move on to another hypothesis.

This question can also help inform you about a prototype you can build to validate whether you can solve a problem. You shouldn’t just build exactly what they say they want or ask for. Remember, you’re the expert here, the insights you glean from their answers will help steer you to some ideas you can try out. Test the prototypes to see if your designs end up solving their problem. Don’t just make whatever people want.

By using these 3 main questions you can create real insight. You’ll be able to validate hypotheses for your team and customers with a very quick turnaround so that you’re able to work on things that provide long term value to our customers instead of just a bandaid to hold them over.