The Power of a Single Question in Understanding Customer Needs | TechWell

The Power of a Single Question in Understanding Customer Needs

Question mark drawn on a blackboard

In a previous article, I commented on the value of “What’s unique about” questions in gathering information from customers. People tend to see their circumstances as more unusual, difficult, or troublesome than anyone else’s. As a result, by asking what’s unique about their problem, priorities, or responsibilities, you can gain important information about their situation and how they perceive it.

Another question that can be useful in understanding the customer’s context is “What’s a typical day like for you?” This is an especially valuable question in interviewing new or prospective customers. Even if not everything they tell you is useful, much of it is likely to be. In asking this question of various customers, I’ve learned about their frenetic schedules and their unjustly juggled priorities. I’ve learned about their successes and their conflicts, frustrations, and fears. I’ve learned more about both the powers-that-be and the powers-that-hope-to-be than I might have otherwise.

The best part: When I’ve used this typical-day question in interviews with each of several customers as part of a needs assessment, many of them thanked me afterward for giving them an opportunity to vent.

The reason this question works is that in this busy, fast-paced world, hardly anyone ever takes the time to ask others about their particular woes, so when someone does, it’s an invitation to unload. When someone asks what their day is like and then listens without interrupting, many people respond with great and grateful enthusiasm.

Variations of this typical-day question might also work well. For example: What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to deal with recently? What makes a typical day a challenge for you? What would an ideal day be like for you, and how does that compare with a typical day? Use your imagination to come up with other open-ended questions that give the customer a chance to vent.

Even if much of what you hear isn’t useful to the work you’ll be doing for the customer, every relevant tidbit you pick up is a tidbit you might not have learned about otherwise. And when you’re interviewing multiple customers, these questions can quickly reveal pressing issues and hotspots that you definitely want to know about.

You can get gobs of valuable information—all from asking a single question.

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