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5 questions to ask customers about the products you're selling
Whether you’ve just launched a new product that isn’t selling as much as expected or you’re wanting to sell even more of one that’s already doing great, here’s one thing you should try: survey your customers to get some insight about what’s working and what needs improving.
I don’t mean ‘spend thousands of dollars on customer panels’ or ‘research an industry-defining report on customer expectations’: I mean take 30 literal minutes out of your day to get on a call with an existing customer, or create a quick survey and email it to people who have already bought one (or more) of your products.
In this piece, we take you through 5 of the best questions to ask your customers about the products and services you’re selling. To pick them, I spoke to two business leaders, Brian Dean (founder of Backlinko) and Sarah Doody (author of UX Notebook), who experienced a few snafus in their business and bounced back by reaching out to the only people who could help them figure out what to do: their existing customers.
Last updated31 Oct 2022
Reading time6 min
The 5 questions to ask your customers:
1. Who are you and what do you do?
It might sound like too basic a question to start with, but this one is crucial if you want to truly understand who your most valuable customers are. We’re talking things like job titles, responsibilities, level of expertise and knowledge, etc. Are the products and services you provide in line with the opportunity and value your ideal customers are seeking from them?
Why is this question important? Sometimes it’s as simple as this: there isn’t a problem with your product; the problem is you’re talking to the wrong audience. Brian Dean, for example, developed and marketed an $1,000 Search Engine Optimization (SEO) course to a beginner crowd, while his real customers were SEO professionals who wanted to scale their businesses and/or take their efforts to the next level—and Brian didn’t know until he asked.
I found out that messaging on my course was completely wrong. [I was saying that] SEO is hard and confusing, and this course could bring clarity. What these customers were telling me, however, was that SEO is not hard, they were good at it, and they needed help to get to the next level. They were saying “When I bought your course, I already knew SEO. That's how I had $1000 to buy it, I already knew this stuff and I just needed help getting better or getting a team to execute your blueprint rather than me developing it from scratch.” When I saw that, I was really surprised.
2. What does your day look like?
Once you know a bit more about your customers, this question helps you put yourself more firmly in their shoes. When you ask ‘what does your day look like?,’ what you’re really asking is: where does my product/service fit into your life?
Why is this question important? You use this question to find out what your customers do on a daily basis, what processes they follow, what tools they use—so you can understand where there is (or isn’t) space for your product/service. Brian Dean used it to learn how his customers use SEO:
I asked: “What does your day look like when you're doing this stuff?” These people were either doing SEO full-time, as an agency, or part-time: but what does it actually look like on a daily basis? [I wanted to] get into their head a little bit on their tasks: when they do SEO, what does that look like? Is it keyword research? Are they writing a lot of content? Are they managing a team that’s doing all this stuff and they're being the conductor of the orchestra? What's going on here?
3. What made you buy our product? What challenges were you trying to solve?
Why is this question important? This one helps you uncover the real reason(s) customers are buying your product or service; their response(s) will tell how to craft your messaging and improve your product accordingly.
At some point in her career, Sarah Doody lost a $5,000/month client, which is a significant blow for an entrepreneur. In the aftermath, she decided to leverage her expertise by delivering paid training to UX designers, and her initial idea blossomed into a full-fledged course. As people started to take the course, she wanted to understand what exactly had led them to her—so she asked them.
A question I like to ask is this: “Before taking this course, the biggest challenges I faced were __________,” or “the thing that was holding me back was ___________.” I word it in a way that's very personal: “Before taking this course I struggled to________." Just by asking it in that state, it gets [my customers] to respond in a more human way. And then I ask, "After taking this course, ____________" and let them fill in the blanks.
4. What did you like most about the product? What did you dislike the most?
Why is this question important? These questions are vital for product development, and the more honest the feedback, the better. Thorough answers will help you understand what works and doesn’t, so you can improve the experience for your customers; in turn, this knowledge will help you create promoters who will keep recommending your product/service to their friends and colleagues.
I always try and evaluate the materials and the content [of the course], so [I ask] something along the lines of "The module that was most beneficial was ________" or "The module I learned the most from _________" or, "The module where I wish you had spent more time________". Just to give me a sense of what areas might need a little more coverage.
5. What nearly stopped you from buying?
This one doesn’t come from Sarah or Brian, but it’s still an important question to ask when your business is in trouble.
It’s extremely powerful to understand what your customers had in mind—their fears, their concerns, their objections—after they went through the full experience, rather than trying to infer this information from random visitors on your website who might not fit your user persona or who might not have wanted to buy in the first place.
Why is this question important? There are dozens of points in a buyer’s journey where they may be tempted to back out. Maybe they are afraid of wasting their money, or the order form was confusing, or the messaging rubbed them the wrong way—nevertheless, they made it through. By asking customers to identify any point at which they had second thoughts, you’ll be able to uncover the fears and concerns that linger in the minds of other potential buyers.
Bonus question: is there anything else you’d like to add?
This is perhaps my favorite question of all.
In my experience, people tend to wait until the end of a conversation or survey to really open up about an issue that’s been bugging them, or something they love about your company or product. This usually leads to some very interesting insights.
And then I always have a last question which is just open-ended: “Is there anything else you would like to tell me?” And sometimes those are where you get four paragraphs long of this amazing content that you would never have got if it was just a Net Promoter Score [survey] or something like that.
🔥 Pro tip: when you run customer surveys, encourage people to be 100% honest. As in, really spell out that they should be honest, and that you will love their feedback. This bonus question is great because it gives your customers the chance to discuss any thoughts they have about your company or product that they haven’t yet expressed. Ask the question in a way that encourages them to speak from the heart—for example: ‘Is there anything else you would like to add? Go for it! We love honest and direct feedback’—and just sit back and listen.
How to run a customer survey: 3 steps
Now that you’ve seen the questions you’ll need, it’s time to use them in a customer survey. Setting up a few phone calls and going through each question in person is one of the best ways to go about it and develop real, in-person empathy for your customers. And yes: it might feel weird to contact people or even have a Skype/Hangout call with a complete stranger—but some loyal customers will even feel flattered that you want to hear from them. The only con to this approach is that it won’t necessarily give you fast insights. You may need to send quite a few invites and wait until you find someone whose calendar aligns with yours, plus each call will take you about 30 minutes. While you do that, use Hotjar Surveys and prepare a written survey to email your customers or share as soon as they have completed a purchase—this will help you some extra data, faster. There are only three steps to follow: Step 1: set up a customer survey Step 2: share the survey with your customers Step 3: analyze the data
Step 1: set up a customer survey
From the Hotjar dashboard, start a new survey and give it a descriptive title (it will appear at the top of the page your customers see):
Add the questions one by one; you are obviously free to tweak the 5+1 questions we showed above and adapt them to your needs. For example, a question like “who are you and what do you do?” is more easily asked on the phone than on paper, because in person it’s easier to explain what you’re aiming to find out; in a written survey, you may want to give your customers a few hints about the kind of response you’re expecting:
Step 2: share the survey with your customers
This is a very straightforward step: once the survey is prepared, you need it to reach your customers. You can:
Send it to your customers via email, making sure you explain concisely what you’re trying to achieve and why their help is important
Invite your customers to fill it in as soon as they have completed a purchase and are still on your website. To alert them, trigger a pop-up message to appear on the thank you page:
Step 3: analyze the data
Because you’ve asked open-ended questions (as in: questions that your customers need to elaborate on as opposed to picking their answer from a given set), you will need a system to categorize them and start identifying trends. It’s a manual process that requires a spreadsheet and this step-by-step guide to analyzing open-ended questions.
At the end of the process, you should have enough insight to identify a way forward and start making impactful changes.
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