Product Discovery and Customer Research with Michele Hansen

This week I sit down with Michele Hansen, founder and CEO of to talk about Product Discovery and Customer Research.
## Links

Jobs to be done
Milkshake in the morning theory

Practical Empathy - Indi Young
Sales Safari
Michele Hansen's talk at MicroConf 2019: How to get Useful User Feedback
30x500 - Amy Hoy

## Transcript (powered by - Please raise any issues found in the transcript.  AI will one day get us there, but until then...)

George Stocker  0:00  
Hello, I'm George Stocker, and this is the build better software podcast. Today we're talking about product discovery and customer product research. I have the privilege of welcoming Michelle Hanson, founder and CEO of to the show to talk about this. Welcome, Michelle. Hi.

Michele Hansen  0:15  
Thank you for having me on today.

George Stocker  0:17  
Thanks for joining us. Now for people who may or may not know you, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your work? 

Michele Hansen  0:24  
Yeah, so I'm co founder of, which is a bootstrap software as a service company that my husband and I started about six and a half years ago. We started it as a side project and over a couple of years of slowly growing, listening to our customers and building for what they needed, and where the gaps in the market were. Transition to full time. So my background is in product development. And that's primarily what what I would say my background is, is in and where my heart really lies. So now running a company was just the two of us take on a lot of hats far beyond product.

George Stocker  1:05  
Yeah. And before Do you also did product research or product management type work for the Motley Fool? 

Michele Hansen  1:16  
Yeah, so I did product management and product development, which was an incredibly fun part of my career, worked with some really wonderful people and did a lot of fun research that led to some some good outcomes. 

George Stocker  1:30  
Okay, so what was so I think that the Motley Fool is a is a services company. They have financial newsletters that they that they sell subscription services to. And is a SaaS product?

Michele Hansen  1:48  
Yeah, that's right. Yeah. So so one was b2c, and the other is b2b, which has shown me some really interesting differences and what it's like to do customer research and in a consumer context versus in a business context, I think there are a lot more similarities than people might think.

George Stocker  2:06  
Okay, so let's let's dive first into the into the b2c context the consumer. And so that would that would be your work at The Motley Fool I, I believe, right?

Michele Hansen  2:16  
Yeah So So you mentioned that they create financial newsletters and a lot of what we're doing is basically how do we modernize the concept of a financial newsletter so they had gone from being print newsletters and then and then been fairly revolutionary and bringing them online fairly early. And then how do you evolve that into something that meets the expectations that consumers have now of things being customized and personalized and meeting their interests and being consumable very quickly, all those those kinds of things about that are that are very, that have been very relevant in consumer for quite some time now. How do we make the concept of a financial newsletter or a fight or a sort of financial publishing product meet those kinds of experts. Yeah. And so what was the where would an idea start? And where would the customer come in? When you were designing something new for a customer at the fool? That's a really interesting question because it came in and a lot of different places. When we first started really working directly with customers, when I was there, it was at the very end of the process, which people say is generally not when you should start talking to them, you should start talking to them before you even have the idea. But when we first started, the customer was was not in the beginning part of the process. And so it was more at the very end in terms of usability testing. And the more and more we did that, and the more and and more that we were creating things and then they weren't reaching the KPIs that we were hoping for that we started going back in the process and talking to the customer earlier and earlier and earlier, until eventually the customer was the very first start. We did a lot of different types of customer interaction from in depth interviews that could be an hour or an hour and a half to usability testing to. We did testing of products, we did testing of landing pages. We did observations through tools like hot jar and user testing, where you're not actually interacting with the user. We were fortunate to do a lot of different types of learning from our customer.

George Stocker  4:26  
Yeah. And so you noticed that there was a KPI difference. So when you talk to the customers earlier, did it did it affect your KPIs? Did they go in, they start going in the right directions. Was there a correlation between the two?

Michele Hansen  4:39  
Yeah, so where the product process would start, what for probably about the first year I was there was you you would have you know, a spreadsheet of all of the different KPIs and measures of you know, different groups of users and whether they are meeting them and you know, so if a user clicked on this, their livelihood, that they they ended up meeting the KPI was was this but if they didn't click on this, but they clicked on this and said, You know that they and sort of all sorts of permutations like that. And so it really start out with Okay, what's the what is the spreadsheet say about the users who are the most successful did these actions so then how do we make more users do those actions so they become more successful? And the problem was that was that those those actions really weren't weren't causative. And there was an awareness that those actions weren't causative. But there was a limited ability to be able, well, if we don't, if we don't use the spreadsheet, then what are we going to use? And so there could be a little, you know, well, let's bring in customer support and see what they think. And so we would you be gradually refining the products. And it really wasn't until we started interviewing the customers and diving deep into what they were trying to do. And baking usability testing into the process and bringing developers and designers into those interviews and into those usability sessions, that we really started to have breakthroughs. And so it sounds like the fool had a very robust technical process. For getting metrics from users like they, and it sounds like from what I'm hearing, at least that you took that you also but you think started may or once you focused on actually face to face conversations with with your customer. Yeah, there was an extremely strong culture of quantitative data. And where we ended up evolving the process was bringing in the, the qualitative side to explain why the quantitative data was showing us what it was because you can, you can, you know, look at Google Analytics all day, but it's never going to tell you why somebody did something. Only a person can tell you that, of course, you shouldn't just talk to one person, you need to talk to lots of them. But But we found that that really helped explain to us why things were happening as they were. And once we started working more collaboratively with the users throughout the process, then the data started to make more sense.

George Stocker  6:57  
Yeah, my background is In programming, programming and architecture, and though I've been in customer facing roles, I always get nervous talking to people who are not already, like using the software and not already customers. And I especially would get nervous thinking about, oh gosh, how am I gonna? How do I talk to these people to these people about, you know, a product or a service that they that I want to build for them? But, you know, it's not, it's not baked, it's not formed, how do you how do you reach out? How do you get past that? You know, if we share it with them, it's, it may be embarrassing, maybe not what they want, you know, how do you get past that initial bump? 

Michele Hansen  7:43  
There's so much fear and so much justified fear that when you make yourself vulnerable, and you put something in front of someone that you have created, or you've been you've been working on for years that they're going to say this doesn't make any sense. And so the first big hurdle to get over is that The purpose of the interview is understanding their worldview and how they understand things and what their mental model is. No two humans are alike. And everyone has a different way of doing things. And so what you're trying to do in an interview or a usability session is understand how their brain works. So that you can better craft what you are doing to in a way that makes sense for them. And so there's there is so much fear around, what happens if I put this in front of someone and they don't like it, or it doesn't make sense, or they're critical of it, or there there is also just as much of well, they're going to say something and I think that's dumb. And I purposely didn't do it that way. And I'm going to tell them why and you can't do any of that. Because someone giving you feedback is a gift. And until you can suspend your own judgments and your own insecurities about their reactions to what you have built. You won't be able to receive that gift and if you can put that aside and and understand that someone is taking time out of their day to talk to you about your product, they are giving you so much useful information. And if it turns out that what they are expecting is totally different than what you have built. That is some of the most valuable breakthrough feedback because that can help you overcome so many obstacles because you can understand, oh, this is why people aren't converting or this is why I get the same support ticket over and over and over and over again. Now the ways you could solve that is you could throw more money and advertising towards that landing page. Or you could throw more bodies at it in the form of customer support. Or you could fix the fact that it isn't reflecting how people expect it to behave or what they would want it to say or the kinds of problems they want you to solve. And so only through interviewing and conducting sessions with users can you really get to the bottom of 

George Stocker  9:57  
now for the Motley Fool you had existing Paid premium customers you could reach out to for new features. But I take it when you were starting to build geocoding Oh, you probably didn't have paying customers. So how did how was your process for customer discovery with geocoding?

Michele Hansen  10:15  
Oh, so we did do interviews with non paying customers. At the full weeks, we interviewed a lot of different types of customers. So we would interview customers who were on entry level products, customers who were on mid tier products, customers were on the highest end products, customers who had cancelled all of those products, people who had only subscribed to free emails for a long time, but never purchased anything people who had never heard of the company before. So that was a really interesting breadth of customers. For GeoCodio, we built it from a place of it was a product that we needed ourselves. So that was where we started from because we had a couple of key blockers with the existing geo coders out there. So the first one was that they're really unaffordable. So at the time, you You could either get 2500, free to code from Google day, which is basically an address to a coordinate or coordinate address because computers don't understand addresses and coordinate. So you can get 2500 free per day. Or you could pay like $20,000 a year for an enterprise license. And like that was it. And so we're like, well, that's not going to work. Because we had this little iPhone app that showed you the opening hours of grocery stores near you. This is before you could just type it into Google. And it would tell you six years ago, it didn't do that. The other problem we had was that we wanted to be able to store the data. Because with Google, you could only cache it or worse, in some cases, you have to reload it every time the map loads. And so you run through those, those lookups really fast. And so you're like, we just want to be able to pay for whatever we need, and then just store the data on our end. And so those two frustrations led us to creating a very rudimentary geo coder that just solved our needs. And as we talked to our developer friends about this, they were like, oh, Like I have that problem, too. And so one day, my my husband ended up going, I think he was I think he was actually on maternity leave. So he brought our daughter who was two months old at the time to a 1776, which was like a hackerspace incubator in DC. I don't know if it's still around.

George Stocker  12:19  
Yeah, I don't know, either. 

Michele Hansen  12:21  
Yeah. But it was a pretty cool space for a while. And I actually I did a hackathon there once. And so he brought it there and like, talk to some of our friends who were working at startups that were working out of there and like, got some feedback on the API. And so we built it to be very developer focused from the beginning. And on our first day of launch, which is really a sign of the demand. We ended up on the front page of Hacker News pretty much all day, which never happens. And I think today, it would be that would be the equivalent of being on the top of product on the product wasn't around yet. And so we got a ton of feedback from people. Like we got hundreds and hundreds of emails with, can you do this? Can you do that, like, I want to be able to do this, I want to be able to do that. And so from the very beginning, customer feedback was a key part of it. And I remember taking so many phone calls from people who had different needs. And one of the early ones that that came up really often was uploading a spreadsheet. So we had built this with developers in mind. But it turned out people you know, people in marketing or people who aren't developers had spreadsheets of addresses, and they needed this information as well. And the only other option out there was you could email your spreadsheet to like some guy, and he would get it back to you in a couple of days. 

George Stocker  13:38  
You knew a guy, 

Michele Hansen  13:39  
and yeah, it was like it was pretty sketchy andand there's this quote from Patrick McKenzie, that I love that see if you can find a business that where people are emailing spreadsheets back and forth to one another. That's a really good sign that there is a potential SAS out there. And so and so that was one of our first big features that was heavily influenced by customer feedback. But I would say from the entire beginning of the product, it's it's been guided by what people express to us and trying to understand those needs better and trying to eliminate frustrations in their process and their adjacent tasks make things easy for them.

George Stocker  14:17  
Do you have quantitative research that you do? Which Geocodio do or is it on the qualitative side? What's that? What's that mix look like when you're when you're dealing with product discovery. 

Michele Hansen  14:28  
So the research I do do these days, kind of in two broad categories, and I so the first is direct customer interactions. So customer interviews, usability testing, and responding to customer support. So my husband and I, we do everything, including all the customer support, which people are always surprised by. But we find that we've been able to really, drastically decrease the number of tickets that we've gotten over the years just because we're the ones seeing the issues and so we fixed them so that we don't ever have that ticket recur again.And we do customer interviews are pre pandemic, I guess we do them on a regular basis. So I would have been doing maybe four to five a week. But we've really pulled that back. Now that's the pandemic and, you know, kids are at home and everyone's schedules a bit wonky. Yeah, that wonky? Yeah. And so then on the quantitative side, so I mentioned the fool the quantitative data was very much driven by user actions. So Google Analytics, site activity, that kind of thing. And I used to do that sort of analysis. And I really moved away from that more towards broader market level research. And so for example, you know, we have customers in banking, and they might say to us, oh, there's this specific act that our customers need to be compliant with. And there are these specific types of data that they're appending and there is this tool they use from the government for it, but they don't really like it very much because it's complicated and it's clunky as already thing you can do with that. And so what I would do with that is instead Okay, well, well, what is this act? You know, how many banks are subject to it? You know, what are the tools they're currently using? How good are those tools? You know, it's more it's more market research from a macro level, then it is, you know, specific people. And these days, if I want answers from specific people, I will just go ask them myself, rather than trying to sleuth through numbers and figure out what they're trying to do. 

George Stocker  16:33  
So you'll fire up an email and send it out to a customer. 

Michele Hansen  16:36  
Yes. So for example, if say we are we're looking for we're working on these specific data pens. So our niche in the market I should probably explain is not only the geocoding, but unlocking pieces of data that are only accessible if you have the coordinates. So for example, let's say that you have a charity and you want people to contact Congress about an issue that is important to your supporters. So if you're a To use any other service, in order to send an email to that person with their Congress person's phone number, you would first have to hit one API that gives you their coordinates, then you have to go ahead another API that goes coordinates to the congressional district number, then you have to go to another API, that is congressional district number two, the congresspersons phone number, and then you have to throw all of that and MailChimp or whatever you're using, and what you do, instead, you can just send us the address, and we'll give you all of that information back in one.

George Stocker  17:28  

Michele Hansen  17:29  
So we'll also do that with with census data or, you know, if you if you want the median household income for an area or you need time zones, or you know, all sorts of other things are very often people or if you need to connect to government datasets, they're at this designation called the FIPS code. And so all the government data is at those levels that is basically down to sort of the the neighborhood block level. And so we make it easy to add all those types of data to eliminate steps simples process. And so if we're like, you know what we are creating Adding on these. So for the banking, for example, we're considering adding on these appends that are the customers who are already using this type of appender. Using that I would fire off an email to, you know, let's say 200 people who have used it recently, and see if I can get five of them on the phone. That's usually my rule of thumb is five people. The real rule is you stop interviewing when you start hearing the same thing over and over again, whether whether that's when you're when you're putting a landing page in front of someone or you're trying to interview people about a specific discrete question, though the most interviews I've ever done for one question is 11, I believe, of course, there can be a lot more for exploratory research.

George Stocker  18:44  
So for that, for those 11 just ballpark how many ballpark did you have to reach out to to get 11 people to talk to you, you said before was 200 to five is that? Is it roughly linear from that?

Michele Hansen  18:56  
Yeah, that was a project at the fool so I'm not quite sure how many People, because I was not involved in the recruiting. I think in my recruitment emails to pull up the stats on it, I want to say I usually get about a 5% response rate. So I had I have an email that fires off to two people after they make their first payment, trying to figure out why did they come to us? What are they switching from? What are they trying to do? You know, what, what caused them to switch services and come to us. And I have been, you know, tweaking that every month to try to get that response rate higher, and about about 5% is the best I've been able to get from, and that's for b2b. That isn't that isn't b2b. And so it really depends on on where you're recruiting from. So I've recruited from a lot of different places from users who are already using the product to people who have expressed interest in it to people have no idea that it exists, and I got them off of Reddit or Twitter. It's really run the gamut.

George Stocker  19:58  
So do you you do sleuthing on Reddit and Twitter to find to find people to interview. 

Michele Hansen  20:05  
Yes. So and and just observing what people are talking about can be such a great way to understand what's going on. If you're familiar with Amy hoy, she has a whole course on sales Safari. And this is one of the tactics she talks about is see what people are already complaining about. What are what are they saying they're trying to do? And they're frustrated by it? What are they tweeting at your competitors, I have found Reddit to be a great place to recruit users who, who don't have any biases about your product, they will tell you, you know, and it's so great for honest feedback when something isn't working. And, of course, you have to provide an incentive, I generally find that a $25 amazon gift card is more than enough for people who have no association with the product. And And that applies in consumer as well. Though, oftentimes, because it's in b2b, and I'm one of the founders of the company. I Find that people are often so grateful to have a company that is willing to listen to them that a monetary reward is not necessary because they're just so excited that there's a company it's going to listen and not just ignore them. And so usually I send them a nice handwritten thank you note and a pair of God of socks.

George Stocker  21:19  

Michele Hansen  21:20  
, never underestimate the power of a handwritten thing.

George Stocker  21:23  
Or the socks. I'm a big fan of socks myself.

Michele Hansen  21:25  
Yeah, those were a new thing that we got, like six months ago. We wanted to get some like fun swag, and you know, t shirts. You know, it's tough because you got to get sizes and be the socks have been a huge hit a lot. It's been kind of fun. And so your God, his business model, is that paid all the way through? Are there free trials? What's the, you know, what's the model look like? We have a freemium model, which I've heard people describe as it's not a pricing model. It's a marketing strategy, which is totally accurate because our our, our free tier does the marketing for us. So everything low level, you can get 2500 free per day, which we started that level because that's what Google was offering at the time. And so we basically, we had to offer that in order to be competitive. And then we have a pays you go plan. So you can just pay for whatever your usage was, which was the big thing that we really wanted beginning. But then we've had to add on a variety of other tiers to meet other needs. So we have an unlimited tier, which is a non rate limited plan for people who need to process up to 5 million addresses a day, which is a monthly subscription. We we also have sort of more custom, you know, on premise options, we launched a HIPAA compliant product about two years ago. So there's a lot of different options for people depending on what their volume security needs are nice. From a from a feature perspective.

George Stocker  22:55  
You know, how often do you find yourself needing to do research for new features? versus, you know, just go ahead and building it is is the is the interview now an integral part of every time that you want to release a feature? Or is it sometimes you're like, no, this is safe, we'll just we'll just release this?

Michele Hansen  23:13  
The features always come out of customer feedback, always. And so whether that's it's come up in interviews or in support requests, features are always coming out of a feature requests or feedback from users. We're never doing the, you know, gather the smartest guys in a room with a conference table and have them come up with something largely because we don't have a conference table. And we're not all guys. And but that's a very common, you know, product development process and a lot of companies is let's just, you know, get our smart people together and they'll figure something out. And we have thousands of customers who have been so generous with us on their own, their own feedback and sharing their own vulnerabilities of where they're frustrated with their own processes. We have more than enough to, to inspire us to move forward and to make improvements. So for example, we added zip plus for data for mailing purposes. So if you know you have your zip code, and then there's the plus four, that's more specific. For the USPS, we started receiving requests for that probably five or six years ago. And we just launched that in May. But that came out of years and years of customer feedback and learning very intimately, what people wanted and why they wanted it and how it fit into their process. So that it came time to build it. We had a very clear idea of it. And we also do, if there are questions about especially about interfaces, that's where usability testing really comes in handy.

George Stocker  24:47  
Interface like API or UI or other types?

Michele Hansen  24:52  
Yes. Yeah. So the API or any sort of other interface rather than this sort of conceptual level of the need, you know, how do you take tangibly translate that need into something that someone can interact with usability testing is really helpful there. And most of the time we do usability testing in advance of that unless it's a very straightforward change. So for example, we're currently converting our dashboard to tailwind which my husband's been really excited and wanted to do for a very long time. 

George Stocker  25:24  
That's a CSS framework.

Michele Hansen  25:26  
Yeah, yeah, it is.

And, and so we're not doing usability testing on that, but that's because we're doing a one to one copy over that right now. And then once we get it into tailwind, then we can do the usability testing on top of it because it's running on bootstrap three right now, and it's not a delight to work with. So we probably put off work on that, but now that it's in a much more workable framework, we'll be doing more iteration on 

George Stocker  25:54  
modern software development we focus on generally avoiding talking to people A-B testing is big? 

Michele Hansen  26:01  

George Stocker  26:02  
you know, if you were going to rank the methods of getting customer research, product feedback, and and doing product discovery, kind of what, how would you rank them in descending order?

Michele Hansen  26:15  
I think there's space for every tool. But I think there are a lot of tools that get used in scenarios where another one might be more appropriate. And, you know, maybe you're using a chainsaw when all you really need is an axe or a hammer. And, and so it's about understanding where those tools fit. And there are a lot of companies that are very, you know, we're very AV testing and this this is this is what we do, and then they don't do other ones or if I mean, if even if there was a company that just did interviews, you need other pieces of information from your users at a high level at at a large scale and at a micro scale. And so I think you need a holistic view of all of the different ways of listening to your customers. Whether that is literally listening to them in a conversation or listening to them in the in the form of which landing page or are they reacting to, but those landing pages coming out as a result of lots of interviews and done usability testing on them, and then you do the A B test, because you're unclear on which, you know, design is really going to work better, even though the copy from that directly flows from your interviews and from the research, the broader market research you've done, and you've tested them for the other other elements. I think a lot of companies skip steps or they see that they say that interviews and usability testing are time consuming, so they just don't do them. And or they're harder to articulate the benefits of them to upper management and so they get shelved. And I think companies are and leaders are doing this over a real disservice when they do that and under estimating the power of usability testing and interviewing. And and AV testing is also quite exciting as well. You know, I think the really underappreciated piece about user feedback, again, whether that's a B testing, or usability testing, is the power it has to invigorate a team. So some of my most exciting times working with other people, whether that's my husband or on teams with people before other jobs was when we're seeing how something is going, you know, sitting in a room with people who are not just product and UX people, but also the developers and the designers, seeing if someone can complete a top task analysis and everybody shouting at them to find you know, of course, then us on mute, hoping that they find the button that we want them to find.

You know, I mean, it's so exciting. And then when they do and everyone cheers or you know, you're running, I think about running A-B tests on on login pages, and our logins went up 5% and the bounce rate went down and everyone's cheering and, you know, or you're in an interview when someone perfectly articulate the problem that The team thinks that solving but has not heard the user actually physically articulate and they do. And, you know, I've seen people throw up a touchdown in the in the middle of them. It's so exciting. And when you have those experiences as a team, and you're really connected with the user, and you've heard from them yourselves, or you've seen what they're going through yourself, it's so powerful. And it makes your your meeting so much easier, because you don't have to explain, well, this is our user persona for this type of person. And this is what they're trying to do. Because that's kind of boring. And it's really hard to build empathy for, for that user for that person that is trying to do this. If you can say, Well remember when we talked to Susan last week, and she was talking about how this, this and this? Well, we've seen that in our data of these thousand users. We're also trying to do that. And so here's why we're going to do this test or here's why we're going to redesign this particular page. And everything just clicks for the team so much faster and and and I felt like it just boom So much life and into the team and put the wind in our sails because everyone was moving in the same direction.

George Stocker  30:06  
Now, you actually had me thinking back to when I was doing customer interviews, it was a long time ago. It was for the army. And it was software to that allowed them to basically manage, set what the armies for string, fourth force strength would look like, and what units would be assigned, what they would have equipment and personnel wise. And we went out and we, you know, we've been getting complaints that the software was slow. And of course, it wasn't slow to us. But we went out there. And we spent a week at these different places talking with users, and you went in day to day and watch them just watch them use the system and watched and what they were expecting. But one of the things that we didn't have is we didn't have the analytic side. So when it came time to, you know, try to solve these problems. It was hard because we didn't Have the analytics were the qualitative, but the people in the decision making were quantitative people. But we had all this nice qualitative data, you know? How do you how do you deal with when there is the person who wants to make the decision? And either I don't want to say it doesn't believe the data or you know, prefers the type of data you don't have? How do you? How do you get around that? Do you? Do you build the quantitative side? Or do you just say, Oh,

Michele Hansen  31:27  
I think you really need both kinds of data. And what I found to be really, really powerful and helping people understand the value of qualitative data was to bring them into the room themselves. So you know, we had scenarios where there were people who really didn't didn't deal much with the tech side. So for example, you know, a portfolio manager who was used to interacting with people who used it, but but not really in that in that kind of a context. And we would just have them sit in the room as a silent participant in the interview, and it can be so powerful for them to just Hear these things because you could see like the wheels turning for them, and them having break for those Oh, so that's why, because I'm willing to bet that even those those people who arm themselves with data are can oftentimes be doing it out of a place of vulnerability because they want to understand what's happening. And if to what you were saying much earlier, they're they're scared of negative outcomes, and they're arming themselves with data to prevent those negative outcomes. It can be quite relevant to hear someone explain why those things are happening. And so I think whatever you you get friction, invite those people in the room with you. They don't have to be doing the interviewing. That's that's a, it's a skill that takes a lot of practice. And, you know, I'm grateful that I learned from some incredibly talented, well trained people myself, bring them in the room with you just have them sit there on mute. They don't say anything but they can just sit there and absorb because it's so powerful for them to hear it for them. themselves and not read it in a report or, you know, see it in a graphic, share it across the company, bring them in the room. And, you know, even at the fool, we got to a point where even the director of our team was running interviews themselves. And it's it's so powerful to do that. And I think there is there's also a stigma that it's worth addressing here that a lot of organizations have that speaking to customers directly is the lowest on the totem pole, right. And a lot of companies people work their way up from customer support. It's an entry level position. And, and I've seen this in company after company that people basically think that they get to a certain point where they're too good to talk to the customer. And that is one of the most dangerous and toxic attitudes that can exist in a company you are never too good to talk to a customer. Nobody is and in fact your customers always have things to teach you whether you are in the middle of company like, like I wasn't the fool or at the top of it like I am now, there's always something your customers can teach you. And I learned things from them every single day. And I'm so grateful for that. And everybody can talk to customers. 

George Stocker  34:13  
So on that note, how do I, how do I get started? So let's say I'm building a new product. I won't say whether or not I am building a new product. And, you know, I want to take what you're saying, and I want to I want to apply it. How do I get started with this?

Michele Hansen  34:27  
Yeah, so I would. So it depends on what stage you're at. Right? So let's say you just have an idea for right now. 

George Stocker  34:33  
Yeah. we'll go with that

Michele Hansen  34:34  
I just had an idea, and I have this problem. And I want to know if other people have this problem. So the first thing I would probably start doing is I would try to see if I can find any friends who were acquaintances. acquaintances are better because they'll be more honest with you who have this problem or who have and really, when you're talking about having that problem, you want to find someone who is going through that process. They're trying to accomplish that same job. Right and jobs to be done perspective, they have that same end goal. And find some acquaintances you can talk to, but also go kind of like find people online that you don't know. So whether that is in on Reddit or on Twitter or on Facebook groups. I have a friend who did a lot of interviewing last summer. And she specifically wanted to talk to you stay at home military moms who are trying to earn money because she wanted to find a way, a more beneficial way for them to earn money and then getting sucked into pyramid schemes. And so she recruited from a lot of mom, Facebook groups, for example, and listserv. So assemble a group of people that you can talk to you about about the problem. Give them say 10 to $25 gift card in exchange for an hour of their time and do a phone interview with them. It's extremely important that it's a phone interview because they will be more honest with you over the phone than they would over video or sometimes I find even in person Because they basically forget that you're a person who has opinions and judgments and feelings. And the more they forget that the more open they will be with. So you have found your group of users. And I would create a script. And in this script, you're not talking specifically about your idea for something, you want to hear about this process about this problem that they have. And you want to hear about how often they're experiencing it, and how painful that it that is for them. And so pain can be in the form of it's expensive. It's literally painful. I was talking to someone a few weeks ago who interviews customers about knee braces.

It could be --

George Stocker  36:37  
-- That is literally painful, 

Michele Hansen  36:38  
literally painful. Yeah. And it could be that it takes a lot of time, or there's a lot of bureaucracy involved, or that they don't like the vendor that they have to use for it. And you want to listen for those problems that are both frequent and painful. So the so Dez trainer, the founder of intercom has a great blog post that I refer people to all the time. It's called Not all good products make good businesses. And what he talks about this and they're the sort of pain and frequency matrix, where you want to avoid the quadrant that is low pain and low frequency because nobody struggles with it. And they don't do it very often. You know, I often think of that, that startup that would squeeze bags of fruit to make you a smoothie or juice throw whatever is, right. Yeah, exactly. It's those startups that people like, why does anyone had a $700 juicer exactly is like this is not a problem, my experience and it's not very often, low pain, high frequency can be great, because it's annoying. It's the equivalent of a mosquito and people might be willing to pay to make that go away. high paying low frequency is a great category. Think of buying a house in this category, like people if they're lucky, maybe do it two to three times in their entire life. So we don't have a lot of experience with it and it's very expensive to get it wrong. So we're willing to pay a lot of money to make sure that it goes right your title insurance and realtors lawyers and high paying high Frequency is the best category to be in. So when I'm talking to customers, and they're telling me about their process and all the different pieces of it, I'm listening for those things that those tasks that they are doing, that they're doing on a regular basis that are in some way painful for them. And so have a script you want to talk about, you know, talk to me about, what is it you're trying to do? What have you already tried? Where are you now? And you know, where are you struggling with? Those are the four things you really want to get out of that ice just writing a script for yourself, demoing it on a friend or a family member. First, print out the script, leave yourself, you know, five or six carriage returns, so you can write your notes in it and make sure you're getting all of your questions. And then the big thing that I tell people is if you have told someone that you're going to interview them for an hour, I always plan that my questions are done halfway through. And at that point, I say thank you so much for Talking to me today. I'm so grateful, and I've learned so much from you. Is there anything else you think? And then you wait, and you wait until it is uncomfortable. And what I have found is the floodgates will open at that point. Basically, what you have done during the first part of the interview is you've gotten your information, but you have showed them that you care about this task or process they're doing maybe on a daily basis that probably nobody has ever cared about. This is especially true in a business context, like how many things do we do every single day, they're just part of our work that are not very exciting, and but nobody has really ever asked us about them or nevermind asked us to how they could be better or easier. And so what you've done in that first half, is build rapport with them and you build that rapport by not interrupting them by not negating them by not explaining why you did something one way or another. You can just let them talk as much as possible. And then so if you've built that rapport with them Then they, you've primed them to talk about this topic. And they've shown them that you're somebody who cares about this thing that nobody ever asked them about. And then they will be so open with you. And I find that the best information comes out of interviews in that second half. And and I have found this to be true with, you know, women who are my own age when I'm talking to them. And I have talked to 80 year old men about their retirement situations and how they're, they're consulting actuarial tables to see how long they're going to live versus their wife and make sure that there's enough money for their wife if they're like, like, all these things. I have talked to people who are interns, and students and people who are company leaders, myself, it works on everyone. Everybody likes to be listened to. And especially in a b2b context, people are used to being ignored. How many times have you filed a bug request with a company or sent off a suggestion and took the time to write that up, and then nothing ever came of it? Right. We're so used to being ignored.

Having somebody who is willing to listen to you is it people are really caught off guard by it in a very positive way. And I think it's a really powerful way to start your company. And I tend to find even though this is not the intention at all, but the people I interview tend to become incredibly vocal advocates for the company years later, and it always pleasantly surprises me. But listening to people is powerful. Hmm. There was so much good goodness in there. If you send me the link to the blog post, I will happily add it to the show notes. The one that you were talking about with the four quadrants of pregnancy. And yeah, I think he uses different terms, but it's basically the same thing. 

George Stocker  41:46  
Now, that's for a new idea. Let's say you have an existing team, you have an existing product, whether it's for an internal customer or you know, in a b2b, another paying business. You don't they they Don't currently do any qualitative, it's all quantitative. How do you suggest they get started is the same way is a different approach you would take.

Michele Hansen  42:10  
So I suggest that customer interviewing isn't done on an ongoing basis, just to build general team awareness of what your customers are trying to do and how you fit into that. And so building off of that, of that baseline, if you have a, you know, a specific tool that keeps surfacing as people having issues with it, the place I would probably start with that is is a combination of your quantitative data, and then some usability testing just to get a broad overview of Okay, where might the problems be, and if you do have a customer support team, definitely bring them in and have them in the room when you're planning this out, so that they can also contribute, you know, here's where we're getting the most support tickets on this or people often have confusion about this that that can help

Focus your script for your usability interviews. And then so you can recruit from your existing user base. Or you can also recruit from people who are prospects or, you know, someone, someone who has not encountered the product but experiences the problem like like from Twitter or Reddit. Okay. Now what resources would you share with people looking to learn more about this? field books, websites? Oh, my gosh. So I I'm a huge fan of the Rosenfeld books. And so Indi Young has a fantastic book that I recommend all the time called practical empathy, which is the use of of empathy and taking other people's perspectives in in business and work settings and the power of that, which I think is a foundational read. There are also several other great Rosenfeld books on this UX team of one is a great one.

There are, I would say that I do tend to struggle with UX books, sometimes

Because with the exception of user experience team of one, they're often written from the perspective of a huge corporation that might have a whole usability testing team and lab and you've got 100 people who are just focused on UX and, and so they they can be written from from that perspective. And you know, a lot of the companies doing ethnographic research with customers are huge consultancies. So. So that can make a little bit tricky, but the tactics themselves are quite relevant. I think the best training you can do is probably to try this for yourself. And so we used to run a job speed done meetup here in DC and one of the things we did was had people interview the person sitting next to them about the last product they bought, and just see what see what you find. And there, there are resources available online, have, you know, a sample script for this and just trying to talk about

What is the last thing you bought? We'll teach you so much about how you need to comport yourself in an interview because really, that's, that's one of the most important things to learn when you're interviewing someone, how you treat the other person is more important than what you say. So what's up next for you and for God to continue listening to our customers and building based on that? 

George Stocker  45:21  
nice. So where can people go to find out more about you and more about Geocodio? 

Michele Hansen  45:26  
so Geocodio is Geo COD dot IO . And I do have a personal website at MJW Hansen dot com There's some blog posts I've written other podcasts I've been on or on on twitter @mjwhansen

George Stocker  45:42  
Nice. Thank you very much for joining me today. I learned a lot. This is really fun. Yeah. Alright folks, that's it for this week. Please join me next time on the build better software podcast.

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