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Be careful with asking "why" in your customer interviews

My recommendation for what to ask instead.

Matt Foley
Matt Foley
1 min read

You likely know a big benefit of doing a customer interview is the ability to ask "why?" In fact, it’s a big reason you’d do a live interview versus a more “scalable” and asynchronous approach like a survey.

So why not why?

So why am I advising you to be careful asking "why" in your customer interviews?

Well, it's less about actually digging into the "why" and more about the tone of voice you might unintentionally be using when you ask it.

Allow me to explain with an example. Let's say you've just showed a customer an idea for a new product feature in a discovery interview and they respond (tersely) as follows:

"I don't like it."

Any interviewer worth their salt wouldn't let that response just sit. They would want to probe further with:

"Why" (or some variation like "Why is that?")

While that's great and the "correct" thing to do, the issue is that asking "why" directly like that can make people defensive if you aren't very careful with your tone of voice.

It's hard to communicate this in a written post, but pay attention to the next time someone asks you "why" and you might be able to see what I mean.

What's a better alternative?

An alternative way to probe deeper on a response in any discovery interview is to ask:

"For what reasons?"

(Or more specifically in my example, "For what reasons do you not like it?" to acknowledge you heard what they said)

Asking it this way is less likely to come across as defensive in your tone of voice. Also, using the plural "reasons" encourages them to go a little deeper on their explanation.

Give this a try and see if it works for you. It has worked fairly well for me over the years, but as usual YMMV...

Matt Foley

Customer discovery expert with 20+ years of helping everyone from entrepreneurs to enterprises talk to their customers and make smarter, customer-centric decisions.