Five (More) Excellent Questions Product Managers Should Ask Customers

by Sean Boyce
product manager asking questions laptop office

One of my more popular blog articles from last year was about top questions that product managers should ask customers.  (More on that here.)  So I thought I’d write an update to that article on what I’ve learned since then and share a few other great questions product managers should be asking on a regular basis.

Talking to customers is critical in product management.  Every time someone asks my opinion on their product idea, my response is always the same – why does that matter?  I’m just one data point and I might not even be in your target market. How many customers you interview and the amount of data you collect means everything in product management.  The products we build are for them so that’s who we should be interviewing as much as they’ll let us to make sure our products do what they need them to do. So let’s take a look at some great questions we can ask to make sure we’re on the right track.

What problems are you currently facing?

A critical mistake made by inexperienced product managers is to jump into ideas or solutions when talking to customers.  Don’t do this. Instead, focus the vast majority of your effort around identifying a customer’s problem or problems. This is where the opportunity lies to make your product awesome.  Your product must solve your customers problems.  

This question starts broad, but can quickly be narrowed down.  Hear them out and resist the urge to interrupt a momentary uncomfortable silence as they think about what they want to say.  Most product managers (let alone people) aren’t asking this question. Your customers will welcome it. The only think people like talking about more than themselves are their problems.  

How are you solving that problem today?

We need to know how our customers think and what actions they take.  Particularly when it comes to trying to solve their problems. Now that we know what their problems are, let’s find out what they are currently doing about it.  This question will also give you great insight into the severity of the problem they mentioned. If they aren’t willing to try something new to solve their problem then your product won’t have the opportunity it needs to succeed.  

What frustrates you the most about our product?

This question is great because we all go through these motions.  Wish that can opener wasn’t so slow? Wish that TV remote was easier to use?  We think about these things all the time because they frustrate us. Your customer is frustrated about the products and problems in their life as well.  The information you’ll learn will be very valuable in understanding how they think and more importantly, what specifically bothers them the most. This is a great question to help identify the next biggest problem your product needs to address to keep your customers happy.

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What’s the one thing you wish you had time to work on, but don’t?

A product manager’s job is more of a marathon than a sprint.  We need to be able to captain the ship that is our product. What’s more important than where we are today is where we’re going.  To find this out, you can ask a question like this. What this question does is demonstrate for you the problem your customer has been hoping to solve, but isn’t able to do so for various reasons.  This question will give you insight into what’s next for your customer. After you solve their biggest problem they are going to want more. What does more look like? Ask this question and find out.  

If you could snap your fingers and make the product do whatever you wanted, what would that be?

There are several versions of this question floating around out there, but whether it’s a snap of the fingers or a wave of a magic wand, it helps customers explain their thought process.  “I wish my remote controlled my TV and my cable box.” “I wish I could get my company accounting and finance data all in one place.” Whatever the customer ends up telling you is information you can use.  They might know what they want, but they have no idea how to make it a reality. This is where you step in and work your magic Mr. or Mrs. product manager.  

Interviewing customers is critical to ensure your product will be successful.  Addressing your customers problems in order of priority is what it takes to make sure your product accurately tracks the market.  Use these questions throughout your interactions with customers to get the data you need to create great products and make existing products even better.

Want to know what other questions you should be asking your customers?  Email me at sean@nxtstep.io and visit us on the web at NxtStep.

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