When Do You Kickoff a (Customer) Problem Discovery Study?

Answer: Continuously - throughout the product development cycle.

As product development has become easier, the battle for attention has become harder.

More products = more choices for customers = more switching behavior.

It helps to think of innovation as either causing a switch or preventing a switch.

  • When you acquire a new customer, you cause a switch — from their old way (existing alternative) of getting a job done to your new way.
  • When you retain a customer, you’re effectively preventing a switch — away from your way (their now-existing alternative) to another new way (your competitor’s).

The best way to cause and prevent switching isn’t by imposing draconian policies that make switching harder. It’s by helping your customers achieve their desired outcomes better, i.e. get the job done with the least amount of struggle (friction).

You do this by continuously outlearning your competition — first to uncover problem/solution combinations to cause a switch, then to uncover problem/solution combinations to prevent a switch.

This is the essence of continuous innovation.

And it’s done continuously throughout the product development cycle versus just at the outset of the product launch.

And, so it follows that if you want to stay relevant to your customers, you need to build a keystone habit around continuous discovery / continuous interviewing.

The Universal Goal of All Problem Discovery Interviews

At a macro level, the universal goal of all Problem Discovery interviews is to understand

  • what causes people to start a job (job trigger),
  • what are they trying to achieve (desired outcome), and
  • where they struggle (problems).

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to conduct hundreds of interviews to uncover these insights. There is an 80/20 rule to problem discovery where 80% of the insights typically surface after just 10-20 interviews.

A Catalog of Possible Types of Problem Discovery Interviews

While the universal goal of problem discovery interviews is the same, what’s different over the product lifecycle is

  • who you study,
  • which products you study, and sometimes
  • what aspirational jobs you study.

In the next few sections, I’ll catalog five different Problem Discovery interview types broken out by situation, motivation, and desired outcomes, which should answer when, why, and a bit of how you run them:

  1. Aspirational Job Discovery Interview
  2. Existing Alternative Discovery Interview
  3. New Customer Discovery Interview
  4. Best Customer Discovery Interview
  5. Lost Customer Discovery Interview

Let’s cover each one.

1. Aspirational Job Discovery Interview

This type of interview is typically used at the ideation or business model opportunity mapping stage of a project. It could potentially be used to launch a new epic feature, although I find the next interview type to be a better fit in most cases.

JOB STORY:

When I am searching for new business model opportunities and constrained by a customer segment (or industry), I want to serve e.g. people with a chronic condition,

I want to understand how this customer segment attempts to get an aspirational job done e.g. lives with/copes with the chronic condition,

So I can uncover unmet needs and wants (struggle) to feed into my business model design blueprint.

TYPICAL PROCESS TO DRIVE A BUSINESS MODEL OUTCOME:

  • 2-4 weeks (1-2 sprints) of broad-match problem discovery
  • Target people who have recently attempted this job
  • 2 weeks of business model design

2. Existing Alternative Discovery Interview

This type of interview is used to find opportunities to cause a switch from a customer’s existing alternative to your product.

JOB STORY:

When I am

  • launching a new product, or
  • launching a new epic feature,

I want to

  • understand my customer’s unmet needs and wants (struggle) with a specific existing alternative they currently use,

So I can

  • build a better product and cause a switch.

TYPICAL PROCESS TO DRIVE A BUSINESS MODEL OUTCOME:

  • 2 weeks of broad-match problem discovery
  • Target people who have recently hired this existing alternative
  • Home-in on single job story to explore prioritized by struggle
  • 2 weeks of narrow-match problem discovery
  • Deeper exploration of job for problems
  • 2 weeks of solution design/mafia offer assembly
  • 2 weeks of mafia offer optimization until you achieve Problem/Solution Fit

3. New Customer Discovery Interview

This type of interview is used to understand new customers that buy your product.

JOB STORY:

When

  • I have just won a new customer,

I want to

  • understand why they hired our product (big hire) and what they fired (their old way),

So I can

  • ensure we can deliver on their desired outcomes,
  • formulate better positioning messages,
  • discover new channel opportunities.

TYPICAL PROCESS TO DRIVE A BUSINESS MODEL OUTCOME:

  • Use a continuous new customer trigger for interviewing select new customers
  • Review results monthly
  • Prioritize problem/solution combinations to optimize your product

4. Best Customer Discovery Interview

This type of interview is used to model your product after your best customers that have recently been successful with your product.

JOB STORY:

When

  • I want to improve a particular customer lifecycle metric e.g. conversion to paid,

I want to

  • understand how my best customers use my product,

So I can

  • uncover where customer value is generated (aha moments),
  • discover non-obvious jobs (little hires),
  • ensure I am targeting the right kinds of customers (segments) and the right sub-jobs.

TYPICAL PROCESS TO DRIVE A BUSINESS MODEL OUTCOME:

  • Identify a metric / sub-job to study
  • Use a best-customer filter to identify customers to interview that have been successful with this sub-job
  • 2 weeks of interviews
  • Prioritize problem/solution combinations to optimize your product

5. Lost Customer Discovery Interview

This type of interview helps with identifying areas for improvement with your product by studying customers that leave. It can also be used to identify partnership opportunities with follow-on products.

JOB STORY:

When

  • I have just lost a customer,

I want to

  • understand why they fired our product and what they have hired instead,

So I can

  • understand if anything needs to be fixed,
  • fix those problems to prevent future switching, and
  • if the customer is leaving because they are happy (job done), help them with their next jtbd summit.

TYPICAL PROCESS TO DRIVE A BUSINESS MODEL OUTCOME:

  • Use a continuous lost-customer trigger for interviewing select or all lost customers
  • Review results monthly
  • Prioritize problem/solution combinations to optimize your product

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