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Customer Discovery During a Pandemic

The goal of customer discovery through I-Corps programs is for teams to conduct customer interviews to understand the needs of consumers, so that they can identify a target market to commercialize their technology. It relies largely on Steve Blank’s principle, “There are no facts inside the building. Get out of the building.”

What teams have been figuring out this year, is what does that mean when we are all often confined to our home? Customer discovery does look a little different, but not as much as you might think. It’s still not a time to do group interviews or a/b testing. Instead, make the virtual interviews count by focusing on quality. Here are some tips for teams on how to do customer discovery virtually:

  • Conduct the interview over a video call. Sure, it might seem like less pressure to hop on a phone call. But that’s less pressure for the person on the other end of the call too, who is quite possibly doing their laundry or scrolling through emails during the interview. Instead, get on a video call so that you can see the other person and you both stay focused.

  • Take note of the body language. One advantage of being on video is you can identify what the person might be thinking by their physical queues. This can show when they might feel nervous, thinking through an answer, or even if you catch them by surprise. These body queues can be as significant as their answers, and can help guide the interview.

  • Less observation and intercept interviews. Due to safety, observing behavior and intercepting people at their place of work for a short interview may be harder to make happen. For instance, we know teams that in the past have sat in the hospital cafeteria to grab time to chat with doctors. That can’t be done during a pandemic, so be patient and think about how that could be done in the future or other ways to grab their time. Also identify if there are safe, outdoor places for observation.

  • Be creative, and flexible! Some interviews may be harder, but having access to virtual interviews also opens up the number of interviews that you can do since you are no longer confined to a geographical location. An hour can be a lot of time to ask for a virtual interview, so conduct shorter interviews when deemed appropriate.

While a lot has shifted, much about the interview remains the same. It’s important to ask good, non-leading questions in real-time and hear what the interviewee has to say. While there are barriers, virtual also provides more opportunities for interviews. Enjoy the process and remember that you are here to learn what market need exists and how you can bring value with your technology. Be prepared to adjust your course as you listen to your customers.


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