How to Conduct Great Customer Interviews for Your App Idea

May 6, 2017

Have an amazing app idea everyone will love? Awesome! But how do you know that?

Conducting effective customer interviews before you start the development process is vital because if you spend thousands of dollars to launch your app and there is no market need for it in the first place, you’ll be out of money and customers.

Who to Talk To  

In order to figure out who to talk to create your customer persona. Who is your ideal customer? Instead of interviewing anyone and everyone, you should only speak to the types of people who will actually be using your app. If your target customer is a 17-year-old girl who is a senior in high school, you won’t get useful information from a stay at home mom of two.

Tip: It may be tempting, but you shouldn’t approach friends and family members for feedback. Because they usually have your best interest at heart, they will be very biased. The information you receive from them will be sugarcoated because they want to make you feel great about something you’re passionate about.

Early Adopters

If you think your social networking app is for everyone, that may be true, but it will not be helpful during the idea stage. You need to become very detail oriented and figure out which people would be the first to adopt your platform. You should build your app for that group first. Once the app gains traction with that specific audience, you can always generalize it for broader audiences

Take Facebook for example. Mark Zuckerberg originally intended The Facebook be built for Harvard students first. After the platform had become wildly popular, they expanded its features and functionality to be for everyone.

How To Find Them

You wouldn’t search for groceries at the library. The same concept applies to finding interview subjects. If your customer personas are specific and well-thought-out, you should already have a good sense as to where they are. Make the first step and go to them, don’t wait for them to come to you.

If you’re really stuck and don’t know how to reach potential interview candidates, start brainstorming! Use your own creativity to figure out different, unconventional ways to find your audience.

Find the Moment of Pain

Have you ever seen someone experiencing their moment of need for your app? For example, if you have a safety app that teaches small children how to cross the street, you might jump in a conversation with a group of moms talking about street safetyーif the time is right.

If you’re lucky enough to come across these types of situations, you’ll be able to observe people in their truest form and pull out valuable “real-life” information from them.  


The average American knows about 600 people, so leverage your existing personal connections! For example, if you don’t personally know any 50-year-old women that work in the music industry odds are, your friend who works at Spotify does.

Ask for referrals as much as you can, because if your intentions are pure, the people in your network will want to help you out.  You can also reach out to people outside your network. Don’t be shy! For example, after you finish an interview, ask that person if they can refer you to someone else. The more people you can get your concept in front of一 the better.

What to Ask

What assumptions do you have that need answering? These types of questions require insight as soon as possible because in most cases, they are the foundation of your business.

Here are a few suggestions from the must-read guide, “Talking To Humans”:

  1. My target customer will be?
  2. The problem my customer wants to solve is?
  3. My customer’s need can be solved with?
  4. Why can’t my customer solve this today?
  5. The measurable outcome my customer wants to achieve is?
  6. My primary customer acquisition tactic will be?
  7. My earliest adopter will be?
  8. I will make money (revenue) by?
  9. My primary competition will be?
  10. I will beat my competitors primarily because of?
  11. My biggest risk to financial viability is?
  12. My biggest technical or engineering risk is?

The Business Model Canvas is another great source for figuring out your core assumptions. Learn more about The BMC here.

After your assumptions are defined, you should then turn them into an interview guide or plan. Simply put, an interview guide is a set of questions you should have in place before going into an interview. This will keep you on track and guarantee that you ask your most important questions first. Here’s an example of someone looking to start a door to door vet business (p. 37 Talking to Humans).


  • Pet owners are frustrated having to go to a vet and would rather have someone come to them
  • Customers are willing to pay a big premium to have a vet show up at their door
  • We think busy urbanite pet owners will be our early adopters
  • We think people currently discover their vets either through word of mouth or online searches
  • We can affordably acquire our customers through targeted Google search ads
  • We can recruit enough vets across the country to make this a big enough business
  • With travel baked in, our vets can see enough people in a day to be financially viable

Interview Guide

  • Warm up: Concise intro on the purpose of the conversation
  • Warm up: Basic questions about person and pet (name, age, picture)
  • Who is your current vet? Can you tell me about how you found and chose him/her?
  • Please describe the last time you had to take your pet to the vet for a checkup.
  • Walk me through the process of scheduling a time to visit the vet.
  • What was frustrating about that experience?
  • What did you like about that experience?
  • Have you ever had an emergency visit to a vet? If yes, can you describe that experience for me?
  • Have you ever thought about changing vets? Why or why not?

It’s important to note that all of the questions are about the subject’s past experiences. The person conducting the interview doesn’t ask if they would be willing to pay for a service.

Instead, they ask about their history with vets. This allows the interviewer to see if they are trying to solve a problem that exists. “Would you?” questions are very difficult for people to answer objectively. They also sound very “salesy” which can introduce bias into the subject’s answers.

Tip: You shouldn’t bring up the fact that you are doing this for an app startup or a “brand new, upcoming app.”

If you propose the interview as part of a research project, the subject is more likely to accept the interview and answer your questions truthfully, without any bias. On the other hand, if you talk about how “cool your hot new social media app” is, the subject of the interview might feel pressured to tell you what you want to hear, not what their real thoughts are.

How to Conduct an Effective Interview

Now that you have all the pieces of the puzzle, the last step is to have the actual interview.

There are six key elements of an effective interview: conducting interviews in-person, the way you observe body language, how you record the conversation, getting your subject matter to tell you a story, poking holes into your idea, and looking for patterns.

1. Conduct the Interview In-Person

Don’t use a phone call or email to communicate, because having a one on one, in-person conversation will tell you a lot more about the person. Important elements such as body language, tone, and a flowing conversation are all crucial parts of an in-person interview and cannot be found elsewhere.

2. Observe Body Language

Body language accounts for 55% of the overall message. Pay close attention to the way your subject communicates through facial expressions and body movement. The subtle cringe, chuckles, and smiles matter more than you may think. This unconscious behavior will give you a real look into how the person feels about the question or topic.

Tip: Evaluate the person’s immediate behavior after you ask a question. The movements happening in-between your conversation could be considered normal for the subject.

Source: The Rap Sheet

3. Take Notes / Record

You won’t be able to remember the entire conversation after the interview is over, so take down important notes or record everything. Having this type of documentation will allow you to always refer to the original if needed, and you can also share the information with other team members.

4. Get Them To Tell A Story

Ask or lead the subject of the interview to share a story. How would this app fit in with their day to day life? What types of situations would they have found the app helpful had they downloaded it beforehand?

This is proven to be more effective than asking yes or no questions. Storytelling is one of the most powerful forms of verbal communication and will provide you with unique insights you can’t find elsewhere.

5. Poke Holes Into Your Idea

What we mean by this is that you should try to find problems with your idea. Why? Because if you can’t find any major problems, you’re most likely ready to go! On the other hand, if your interview subject is ripping your idea apart―you have work to do.  

Don’t beat around the bush, or ask sugar-coated questions, because the answers you’ll receive will not help you with decision making.

6. Look for Patterns

Do the people you’re interviewing have the same problems? Are there any recurring themes? By finding different patterns, you’ll be able to validate that there is a need for your app.


Don’t make the mistake of skipping over this process because you think you know what your audience wants because the real answers might surprise you!

Conducting customer interviews are mandatory for fully understanding your users and refining your ideas during the early stages of your app startup. So get to researching, know what questions to ask, and take the five key elements of an effective interview and implement it during your next or first round of customer interviews!