The best way to document your Customer Development interviews

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Customer Development is one of the key parts of the Lean Startup movement. Within Customer Development interviewing potential customers is for many people the most challenging task.

Kamil is sitting next to a Ronald McDonald mascot and acting like he's doing a Customer Development Interview,

Doing Customer Development interviews at the Duesseldorf International Airport.

For our last project Cabismo we’ve been facing some problems with regard to taking notes while doing customer interviews. My co-founder Mladen (@mppeople) and I have been doing our interviews together, most time at the airport and at the main train station in Cologne / Germany. Within every interview we took turns in taking notes and talking to the people in order to keep the conversation vivid. You have to decide whether or not both of you would like to speak since changing roles might keep the conversation lively, but on the other side it can also make it  more complicated.

Immediately after each interview we took a couple of minutes to summarize the information we got while it is fresh in our mind. At this point we realized that our notes and memories sometimes differ from each other which might be critical for later decisions. We were wondering how the Customer Development pros are managing their documentation process so that it doesn’t affect the interview negatively. This is why I did a little analysis on this topic and this is what I found out:

  • First of all, it’s extremely important to do face-to-face customer interviews. Doing so you will allow you to notice the interviewees’ emotional reactions to your questions. If you don’t have the chance to meet in person Skype-video calls are something you should consider.

  • Doing Interviews in a team where one person is taking notes and the other one is conducting the interview is recommended. In my opinion a team of two is perfect because more than two people can appear daunting. I experienced this when we were doing interviews with our full team of three people. You have to be aware that you are a stranger to most of the people you talk to and you have to act carefully. This is something you can easily forget when you are in the flow of doing customer interviews.

  • Direct after the interview do a 5 minutes wrap up. Go through the interview and compare notes and memories while they are fresh.

  • After finishing the interview session it’s important to document your results in a structured way on the same day. If you don’t, you run into the risk of forgetting important details. This is something that had happend to me a couple of times and, believe me, it is pretty frustrating.

  • Another big point is recording the interview. It’s recommended to ask for permission before doing so. Explain why you want to record the interview and what you are you going to do with the data – you can always promise to delete the video after your analysis.

The above points shouldn’t be regarded as dogmatic though. A different approach states that some people get self-aware because of the recording which will bias their answers.

One more thing I realized that taking notes distracts you from listening and getting deeper in the conversation, especially if you’re doing the interviews alone. Here are two ways to solve this problem:

  • You can just ignore taking notes, remember everything and do a sum up immediately after the interview.

  • You can also record the interviews undercover and ask the interviewee after the conversation whether it’s ok to use the record. Explain that you’ll delete it afterwards. There are sure some people who don’t ask for permission but it’s not recommended to do so. But hey, sometimes the aim justifies the means, right?


We haven’t done the undercover recording approach yet. But for our next project we want to try it – of course we’ll ask for permission afterwards. Maybe we’ll use some kind of undercover camera glasses to record the conversation and to capture the interviewees reaction in a better way. This could be interesting if somebody of the product team couldn’t be there.

Customer development is not an easy task. It requires a lot of self-persuasion and passion. Finding your way for doing the Customer Development process is fundamental for achieving success. It depends on many factors like the target customer, product, location and many more.

Here are some further readings to this topic.

So how are you documenting your Customer Development interviews?


Author: Kamil

Co-founder of LEANHEROES & MAK3it. Entrepreneur, Business Designer and Lean Startup evangelist. He wants to make it easier for entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs to reduce the risk of their business models and help them to create products that deliver sustainable value to their customers.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. I agree that doing interviews in pairs is the ideal, but I’m also a big fan of audio recording – I use a Pulse pen, which means that every note I make is an index to that point in the recording (you tap any mark on the page with the pen, or click on its recorded image, to start playback from 5 seconds earlier). And people are generally either intrigued or amused when I show it to them and ask permission to record the interview using “my spy-pen” (it doesn’t pretend at all to be an ordinary pen).

    • Kamil says:

      Hey Francis, thank you for your comment. The Pulse pen looks very interesting. I’m searching for a good to handle recording tool. I’ll try this one and tell you about my experiences. Did you ever had the feeling that people got biased because of the recording? You ask always before the interview for the permission, right?

  2. @tjwizking says:

    Doing the recording and then asking them for permission afterwards seems to be a better approach, then you are sure they don’t become self aware.

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