Customer Discovery: Problem Interview in 30 Minutes or Less

Customer Discovery - Problem Interview

Customer Discovery: Problem Interview Template

Before You Get Started

Tools needed: Paper & Pen
Location: In person or over the phone
Time Requirement: 20-30 minutes (max)
Prep: Lean Canvas (initial draft), C-P-S Hypotheses (at a minimum), Customer Prospect List
Goal: Confirm Problem(s), Confirm Magnitude of Problem(s), and Identify Current Solution:

  • What problems do the customers see as important?
  • How important or painful are these top problems?
  • How do customers solve these problems today?

Bonus Outcomes:

  • Confirmation of their interest in a follow-up Solution Interview
  • Problem Interview, Solution Interview, and Solution Referrals

Welcome (Set the stage) – 2 minutes

Everyone likes to know what they are getting into and what to expect. Briefly cover the Customer Discovery project and set the stage for how the interview will work:

Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us today. It should take us less than 30 minutes and it’s an important of our Customer Discovery process.

Before we start, I’d like to stress that a) we do not have a finished product yet, and b) our objective is strictly to learn from you — we’re not selling or pitching anything today.

We are currently working on a (tool / product / service / business) for (customer segment) that (UVP (unique value proposition)). The idea came about (tell the story of how and where the idea came from). [ e.g. Cospace – We started Cospace because we, as entrepreneurs, needed a place where we could work and share the cost and resources with other entrepreneurs.]

The point of this interview is to confirm with you that the problems we have identified are important enough that a new product/service is needed to solve them.

The way the interview works is simple: I’ll describe the key problems we are tackling and ask you if they resonate with you as problems and how painful or important they are to you to have them solved. I’ll also ask a few follow-on questions and that’s about it.

It should take us 20-30 minutes, tops.

Does that sound good? Any questions?

Collect Demographics (Test Customer Segment) – 3 minutes

Ask some introductory Customer Discovery questions to collect basic demographics about this interviewee:

Before we go on to the problems, can you give me a short 30 second bio of your background and your role in this organization?

[ Response ]

Thank you.

Confirming the Problem(s) (Test Problem Hypotheses) – 3 minutes

Illustrate the top problems in this Customer Discovery project with a story and confirm whether each is (or isn’t) a problem for them:

Okay, let me give you a context of the problem(s) we’re tackling. 

The first problem we encountered. (tell the story) [ Example: AlumniCharger: The first problem we encountered for alumni association leaders is managing contacts and communications with active members. With the advent of social media to go along with email, it has become very difficult for alumni association leaders to maintain accurate communication channels for their members. ]

Is this a problem for you?  Yes or no.

[ Response ]

The second problem we encountered (tell the story…).  Is this a problem for you?  Yes or no.

[ Response ]

The third problem we encountered (tell the story…). Is this a problem for you?  Yes or no.

[ Response ]

Are there other problems you are experiencing that we have not identified? Please describe.

[ Response ]

Ranking the Problem(s) – 2 minutes

Restate the problems and ask for their ranking of the problems:

Okay, let’s drill down a little bit. Of the problems we just confirmed, let’s discuss how much of a problem they are for you. Here is the scale we’ll use: 

  1. Must-have problem; solving this problem is important, if not critical, to the success of your business
  2. Nice-to-have problem; solving this problem is important, but you have a work around for the time being
  3. Not-a-problem; you don’t see this as a problem at this time

The first problem was (headline of problem) [ Example: AlumniCharger: Accurate communication channels ]

How would you grade this problem — must-have, nice-to-have, not-a-problem? [ Response ]

Repeat for each of the confirmed problems.

Okay, great. Now, of all of your top problems, #1’s, which of these are the most important to solve first?

[ Response ]

Keep track of all responses in your notebook for future transferring to a Customer-Problem-Solution spreadsheet.

Explore Current Situation (Test Competition & Solution Hypotheses) – 10-15 Minutes

The next step in your Customer Discovery: Problem Interview is to explore the customer’s current situation. This is the heart of the interview and the best part? There is no script.

Go through each of the top problems in turn. Ask them how they solve the problem today. Then sit back and listen.

Let them go into as much detail as they wish. They more they talk, the more you learn. Ask follow-up questions but don’t lead the witness by trying to convince them of the merits of a problem or of your solution hypothesis.

In addition to their raw responses, judge their tone and body language (if you’re doing an in-person interview) to confirm the pain-level of the problem and how actively they are pursuing a solution.

Wrap Up (The Ask) – 2 Minutes

Have you earned their interest and trust? If so, they may commit to a follow-up interview and refer you to others. Here’s how to bring that up and wrap up the interview:

I want to thank you for your time and participation in this interview. It’s extremely beneficial for us to ensure we build a great product that people actually need. I have two last questions for you:

1. Can I follow-up with you in [ N ]  1-3 weeks [ however much time it takes to have mockups or a prototype of your proposed solution ] to share our proposed solution?  [ Set the appointment ]

2. Would you be willing to introduce me to other people you may know who may be experiencing this same set of problems?  [ Jot down the names and let them know you’ll follow-up to get their contact information ]

Again, thank you for you time today. Good-bye.

Follow-Up (Thank You / Next Steps) – 3 minutes

Send a follow-up email within 24 hours to say ‘thank you’ and confirm next steps (solution interview and referrals).

To: [Name]

Thank you for your time  today/yesterday. I appreciate your support and feedback.

As we discussed in the interview, you mentioned you would be interested in participating in a solution interview to review our proposed solution. What day/time works for you?

Also, you mentioned [Names of Referrals] would be interested in participating in a problem interview. Could you please make a short email introduction? If it’s easier for you, I can forward you a brief paragraph explaining our project that you can include directly in your email.

Thank you again and please let me know if there is anything I can do for you.

All the best,

[Your name]


Special thanks to:

Ash Maurya, “Running Lean”
Steve Blank, “4 Steps to the Epiphany”
Eric Ries, “Lean Startup”

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