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How Fizzle Uses Customer Research to Improve our Product and Grow Our Business

A well-executed series of customer interviews can help you decide exactly what projects you should take on to grow your business. In other words, customer interviews are a secret weapon for smart entrepreneurs.

We’ve already shared why customer interviews are so important and how to build a customer interview strategy. The number one question we got from entrepreneurs in response was, “Great, but what does this actually look like in practice?”

Rather than pontificate about theoretical examples of customers interviews, we want to share exactly how we’ve been using them to improve the Fizzle experience and grow our business.

To do this, we’ll take the five-step formula for customer interviews and show you exactly how we’ve used it to conduct more than 25 interviews with our core customers. As an added bonus, we’ll share how we organize our key findings and how we’ll be using them to inform our business strategy (that’s the point, right?).


“Customer interviews are a secret weapon for smart entrepreneurs.”


Step 1: Define the Problem and Hypotheses

At the time of this writing, Fizzle has grown 50% in the last year. We’re thrilled with that result, but we also know that we could find more sustainable ways to grow on an ongoing basis.

Because of our business model, we often get people who sign up for Fizzle just to kick the tires. Maybe they’re not sure what we actually teach and they just want to check it out. Maybe they’re jaded by the world of online business and are skeptical that we’ll be different. There are a whole host of reasons why people join Fizzle and then quickly leave.

We could torture ourselves trying to figure out how to avoid losing any single customer, or we could focus on finding more customers who make up the core of our customer base. It’s more fun and positive to focus on finding more customers we love, so that was the overarching goal of this series of customer interviews.

Having a problem to solve isn’t enough to get to work on interviews. Instead, we needed a number of hypotheses to help drive our interview strategy.

We gathered as a team and threw around some ideas about what our best customers have in common. We came up with a short list of hypotheses:

  1. Our best customers have some form of pre-existing expertise that they can turn into a business (Ie. wine in the Pacific Northwest, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, or therapy methods for stress and anxiety)
  2. Our best customers already have a product or service for sale when they find Fizzle for the first time and then they use Fizzle to accelrate their business growth
  3. Our best customers originally find Fizzle through our blog and podcast content
  4. Our best customers have a bias towards action, which should be reflected in how they use Fizzle to make progress in their business

With our hypotheses in hand, we were ready to think about who we should interview to test our ideas against reality.

Step 2: Find the Right People to Interview

Our advice for finding the right people to interview is to “focus on individuals who might actually be in your target audience.” This is especially true when you’re first starting your business, but it doesn’t change much when your business is well-established.

It wouldn’t be helpful to interview just any of our customers. If we interviewed anyone in our customer base, then we would likely end up interviewing a bunch of those tire kickers we talked about earlier. That would unnecesarrily waste a bunch of time.

Instead, we needed to define our “best customers” so we could test our hypotheses.

We know that the tire kickers all seem to weed themselves out (aka cancel their Fizzle membership) within 90 days of joining. We also know our average lifetime value (LTV) of a trial signup and we anyone who has paid for more than three months of membership is above average.

In other words, once a customer has completed her free trial period and been a paying member for 90 days, we know two things:

  1. She is probably not a tire kicker
  2. She is definitely more valuable to our company than the average customer who signs up for a trial membership

We could have stopped there, but we wanted to add another qualifier to the group we were interviewing.

We have a group of customers who have been members for more than three years. You might think these people are our best customers, and you would be right – they’ve paid us way more money than most people ever will (and we adore them!).

However, there’s one hang up with this group. They’re our “1,000 true fans” – the early adopters who love us enough to stick with us through all of the changes in our product over the years.

The people who join Fizzle today are no longer early adopters, so we have to market to them differently. Because what got us here won’t get us where we’re going, we chose to ignore our early adopters for these interviews.

That left us with a group of customers who have been members for at least 120 days but not longer than 300 days. Or, in other words, people who are really valuable to our company and who have joined recently enough to experience a more grown up version of the Fizzle product.

Hypotheses: check. People to interview: check.

Step #3: Building an Interview Guide

The hardest part of interviewing customers is turning hypotheses into questions and turning questions into an interview that leads to actionable insights from customers.

Luckily, I knew we needed to stick to the principles we recommend:

  • Start broad and then narrow the focus as the interview goes on
  • Find the current state of the customer’s experience
  • Understand their imagined or desired future
  • “What do you think of XYZ Product Idea?” and “How much would you pay for it?” are the wrong questions

Using these principles, I built the first iteration of the interview guide. It included a description of why we were doing the interviews and the following ten questions:

  1. Is it ok if we record this interview for internal use only?
  2. Tell us about your business.
  3. How did you find Fizzle originall and why did you decide to join?
  4. Did you have a product or service for sale when you joined?
  5. Did you have pre-existing expertise (not related to building a business) when you joined Fizzle? Are you using that expertise in your business?
  6. What was your initial goal when you joined?
  7. How much progress have you made in your business since joining Fizzle? Did you accomplish your goal?
  8. How have you used Fizzle to help you make that progress?
  9. What’s the biggest goal you have for your business over the next 3 months? How about the next year?
  10. What do you wish Fizzle would build to help you make more progress?

The first question served to protect us from getting in trouble for recording the calls, which is always a good idea. Then, the rest of the questions started broad, and progressively narrowed to test our hypotheses.

After reviewing the questions a few times, I was ready to move on the the first few interviews. Little did I know that many of the questions were broken, but it would take about five interviews before I could realize it.

Step #4: Scheduling and Conducting Interviews

There were a few tools that made it exceedingly easy to send invitations and schedule interviews with customers.

First, I used Calendly, an automatic scheduling tool, to setup interview slots. I set interview slots for Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays between 2:00pm and 5:00pm. This gave me Monday to get the week started and Friday to wrap up the week. It also gave me time to knock out my most important tasks for the day before getting into interview mode each afternoon.

I allowed for 15 minute time slots, with 15 minutes of buffer time after each call. 15 minutes is a relatively small amount of time to ask from our customers, while the buffer time meant we would have the opportunity to keep going if they had more to share. I also limited myself to four interviews per day to prevent fatigue from setting in.

Then, I used Intercom to send an email invitation to all customers who had been a customer for more than 120 days but less than 300 days.

Here’s how the email read:

Subject: Can you spare 15 minutes to help Fizzle?
Sender: Barrett from Fizzle
Message:

Hey ​{First name​}!

Hope you’re doing well.

We’re doing a bunch of research on our customers right now to help us improve the Fizzle experience.

Specifically, we want to know what keeps people like you coming back to Fizzle month after month.

Could you spare 15 minutes to tell me about why you signed up, what kind of business you’re running, and how you use Fizzle to help grow your business?

If so, here’s a link to my schedule. I’m excited to chat with you.

Cheers,

Barrett

Within hours, my schedule for the next four weeks was full and I was excited to get started.

Step #4.5: Adjustments

After the first couple interviews, I knew we weren’t getting answers to help us prove or disprove our hypotheses. Some of the questions I was asking were more effective than others and the interviews were suffering.

If this were a survey, we wouldn’t have found out about our errors until it was too late. But since these were interviews, I could adjust on the fly and get back to work.

The first adjustment I made came from questions #6–9:

6. What was your initial goal when you joined?
7. How much progress have you made in your business since joining Fizzle? Did you accomplish your goal?
8. How have you used Fizzle to help you make that progress?
9. What’s the biggest goal you have for your business over the next 3 months? How about the next year?

It turned out that these questions were too granular. As I asked each question of a single customer, I realized that I was hearing the same information, just communicated slightly differently.

I cut back to just two questions:

  1. What did you hope to achieve when you joined Fizzle and has that changed since you joined?
  2. How do you use Fizzle when you log in?

That’s when I started getting much clearer answers. Customers started sharing exactly what they hoped to achieve when they joined Fizzle, as well as how we helped them change their perspective on their business over time. They also stopped sharing generic thoughts on how Fizzle is helpful and started sharing the specific features of Fizzle they use to make progress.

The second adjustment I made was related to question #10:

10. What do you wish Fizzle would build to help you make more progress?

It turns out that customers usually don’t know what they want. They do know all about their most frustrating problems (and by default they want those frustrations to go away).

Just like we recommend in our five-step interview formula, our job as a company is to infer the necessary changes to make the frustrations go away. With that in mind, I changed #10 to two new questions:

  1. What has been your biggest frustration with Fizzle?
  2. What is your biggest frustration with your business right now?

The first one would tell me how Fizzle the product is broken. The second one would tell me the core business problems we can continue to help our customers solve.

There is a huge difference between: “What do you wish we would build?” vs “What are you most frustrated with right now?”

Asking a customer to brainstorm solutions is asking her to make a huge mental leap from identifying her problems all the way to how to solve them. By contrast, asking her about her frustrations is concrete. There is no right answer, only her experience.

These changes did the trick and I was immediately uncovering important information to help us improve our product and grow our business.

Step #5: Debrief, Iterate, and Implement

Once I completed this round of interviews, it was my job to synthesize all of the information I had gathered and then communicate it back to the team.

To do this, I created a Keynote presentation and divided it into the following sections:

  1. The Hypotheses
  2. How Fizzlers Find Us
  3. Fizzler Expertise
  4. Fizzler Products & Services
  5. How Fizzlers Use Fizzle
  6. The Job to Be Done by Fizzle
  7. Frustrations with Fizzle
  8. Key Findings
  9. Potential Action Items
  10. Further Questions

The hypotheses section reminds the team why we did these interviews to begin with. Sections #2–5 correspond to each of our four hypotheses.

Sections #6–7 are always good reminders of what we exist to do and how we’re falling short. These sections consisted of individual slides highlighting the most important direct quotes from customers.

Section #9 highlighted key action items based on what we learned. Specifically, I divided these action items into each of the areas of our business:

  • Curriculum – our educational materials
  • Platform – the technology that powers our community and makes the education work
  • Marketing – the content and projects we use to reach new customers
  • Customer Success – the ways we engage our customers to help them get the most our of our product

Section #10 was a simple slide of further questions that will require more customer research. Many of the action items in section #9 are ideas, not solidified project plans. Before we move forward with many of them, we need to answer some of these open questions.

For example, one of our potential project ideas is to solidify the core 5–8 courses of our curriculum and then integrate them with our small business roadmap to create one cohesive education experience.

This raises the question: what are the core 5–8 courses that most help our best customers take action and make progress in their businesses? We would need to answer that question through mining our existing data, sending a survey or conducting follow up interviews.

The action items and further questions will inform our strategic planning for next quarter and help direct our future customer research projects.

Customer Research is Never Done

It’s easy to think of customer research as a one-time project. “If I just conduct 25 interviews, I’ll learn so much and the business will get better,” I tell myself.

Of course that’s true. But what’s also true is that businesses exist to serve customers. To continue adapting and growing and creating a better product, we have to constantly be in customer research mode.

Each customer research project is simply fuel for the next customer research project. The more you embrace customer research as a core activity in your business, the more of an advantage you’ll have over your competitors.

This is how we’re using customer research to grow Fizzle into the best place to learn to build an independent business on the web. I hope you’ll embrace the same principles to build a business that matters to you.




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