How My 5-Year-Old Helped Me Better Understand Customers

Immersed in their own work flow and priorities, clients might not communicate directly -- without some of these techniques.

learn more about Kumar Srivastava

By Kumar Srivastava

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Interacting with my kindergartner has made me a better product builder.

Communicating her has helped me define and learn strategies to really empathize with other people -- namely my customers -- and, in the process, build great products.

My 5-year-old gets distracted easily. That's also true for many customers. Busily immersed in their work flow, they are building and running their own businesses.

They might be distracted as new issues, problems and opportunities arise so entrepreneurs must understand, respect and adjust their messages depending on the situation.

My kindergartner has a singular approach: She cares about puppies, flowers and monkey bars. Likewise, users have a focused world view that forms the context for their interest in a given product and their willingness to have a conversation with its developer.

Even though users might have multiple, nested problems, they might anticipate that a given product will help them overcome only a few specific issues. Thus any product messaging or features that don't hit the mark won't be interesting to them.

Users expect a product to focus on capabilities that solve their problems. Other features that aren't relevant will not appeal to them.

Expect users to be single-minded and driven by a single purpose at any given point in time.

This is significant since any actions or questions by you that ignore the purpose are bound to be shot down or ignored by customers. Appreciating the single purpose and aligning your interactions with customers accordingly can go a long way in building trust.

Anyone who has spent time with a kindergartner knows that really connecting with one is no child's play. To truly understand how my 5-year-old is feeling and what she's thinking about requires some specific interview techniques. Luckily, these techniques are highly relevant for an entrepreneur seeking to better understand and serve users and customers. Here are some interview strategies for approaching customers:

Related: My Mentor Is 30 Years Younger Than Me (and Taught Me 5 Incredible Lessons)

1. Avoid open-ended questions.

By the late afternoon, getting my kindergartner to describe her day is tough. She often ignores such open-ended questions.

Users are the same. Asking them to describe their problem in an open-ended fashion often does not work.

Instead ask users precise questions that will prompt them to delve into their specific pain points and use cases.

2. Use specific questions.

It is easy to get my kindergartner to talk about things she doesn't like. I'll ask, "What did you not like about lunch?"

Similarly, users might respond to probing questions that get them to describe their pain points. Indeed pain points are frustrating. They often evoke passion in users. Channel this passion to really understand why the pain point exists and what it's preventing users from achieving. That's the key to having empathy for customers.

Related: 5 Negotiation Tactics You Can Learn From Kids

3. Connect to motivations.

My kindergartner responds well to questions that are framed about something that motivates her. Typically, at this age, it's her friends. I might ask her, "What did your friend do today" to generate a reply.

Asking users questions about something of significance to them might prompt better, more insightful answers. Conducting user interviews with the customer's motivation in mind can make the interview more precise and the answers more insightful and relevant.

Related: The Joy of Raising a Teen Entrepreneur

Kumar Srivastava

Senior Director of Product Management

Kumar Srivastava has extensive experience in product innovation, design and management and has built several products and services across security, social networking, mobile apps, etc.

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