A problem interview is the first strategic step in the customer development process.
The main goal is to define clients' hurt and anxiety. During the process, product managers identify the segments of the target audience with weak points where problems arise. Then working with these points, they try to solve specific problems and find successful solutions for their businesses.
It consists of several stages. You need to attract the interest of the person you are going to interview, ask him/ her about the current situation, define the agenda, ask about the goals he/ she wants to achieve, the problems that arise on the way to this goals, fix the results and draw conclusions.
All these stages can be combined into three main milestones for conducting problems interviews. Here they are:
Heating the interest
First, you need to get the permission to conduct the interview. Sometimes it is enough to approach a person and sometimes may be more difficult. In any case, for the person you are going to interview, answering your questions should be an interesting event.
At the very beginning of communication, you should give the hope for the appropriate solution. Your interviewed person should:
Realize the current problem
Believe in the possible solution
Usually, experienced product managers start the interview with a friendly smile and ask about something that a person cares about (family, weather, cars, shopping, etc).
But if the person with whom you need to talk is difficult to access - this conversation needs to be “sold” to him. Show what value he/ she will receive from the conversation, why it is suit, why he/ she should spend time for you. Remind the interesting case, the new product feature, etc.
The narrower your market and the more difficult the access to your client - the more value you need to show at this stage.
After the first stage, the person you are interviewing is ready to talk with you. The main thing that you want from this conversation is to learn something new about your market.
You should have your own hypothesis about what kind of problem the interviewed person might have.
If at the previous step you tried to attract his/ her attention by showing what you have, demonstrating your competencies, cases, and decisions - now it's better to forget about them. Do not sell your decision or your vision of the problem, let the interviewed person speak.
There are some useful rules:
Start with open questions, not required just yes/ no.
Do not ask directly about the problem but about the situation in which he/ she is.
Ask only about the current situation, real state and experience, not about what would have happened if...
Here is what can be asked:
Situation and purpose. It's about what the person strives for and what are the goals. Change the car, increase sales, update features, celebrate the anniversary, etc. Here it is also important to find out whether he/ she understands which direction to go in general, whether he/ she thinks about the problem itself or about a specific method for solving it. For example, increasing sales can be solved through sales training, or perhaps the implementation of a new CRM system.
Context. It's about the important events in the past that have affected the behavior, decisions, and priorities of the interviewed person.
Plan of movement towards the goal. How the person is going to achieve the goal or what was done if the situation was in the past.
Problem itself. What problem or missed opportunity appear during the implementation of the plan?
Desired state. Try to motivate the interviewed person to formulate a positive solution to the problem and describe the desired state.
Capabilities. What are the client's capabilities to solve the problem? Does he/ she have the resources? Ready to pay? Can he/ she change something in the situation? Who else can participate in making the decision and affect the situation?
The key point of this interview is when the client has an insight. This is the moment when the interviewed person realizes the problem and understands that it was you who showed him/ her the solution.
Examples of problem-solving interview questions
Here are just a few examples of helpful questions:
Could you describe a time you had to solve a problem?
How did you try to solve it and what was the result?
What were the challenges? How did you overcome them?
What are your main crisis-management skills? How often do you use them?
Do you prefer to solve a problem on your own or to ask someone for help?
Results and fixing if needed
At the end of the interview, you receive a client's scenario containing the following elements: the current situation, context, purposes, the plan, the problem itself, the level of client's awareness, desired state and capabilities.
If based on the results of series of such interviews you find that this scenario is repeated regularly, you get a description of the segment of the target audience that you can work with. These segment descriptions can be collected in a table.
Based on the interview results, you can proceed with the solution plan that will be directed at the problem and lead to the desired state.
After that, you can conduct a «resolution interview» and check whether this solution really satisfies all the parameters listed in the scenario.
Want to find out more about the method? These resources should be helpful:
The Startup Owner's Manual: The Step-by-Step Guide for Building a Great Company by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf
Lean B2B: Build Products Businesses Want by Étienne Garbugli