Questions to Ask During a Customer Interview

The 5Why Method that will help you to ask the right questions and pinpoint customer pains, jobs-to-be-done and purchasing path during the interview.

Customer interviews are tough. There are tiny things you can trip over and make a customer completely "shut down" or start lying to you. However, the most dangerous mistake is to play everything by the book, follow all the customer interview rules and end up missing the core customer pain. Can be easily done if you are not asking the right questions.

Fortunately, there's a 5-Why technique that will ensure that you drill down deep enough to establish what is really nagging at your customer.

5-Why Framework History

The method is pretty old. It was developed at Toyota Motor Corporation in the 1930s to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem. It became one of the cornerstones of Toyota's famous lean manufacturing system.

The classic example of this method used at Toyota presumes that a "facilitator" or service manager, or process owner is trying to find out the root cause of the problem with the welding robot. The process owner has to ask an array of 5 questions, each one if which except for the first one is iterated based on the previous answer:

  1. Why did the robot stop?

The circuit has overloaded, causing a fuse to blow.

  1. Why is the circuit overloaded?

There was insufficient lubrication on the bearings, so they locked up.

  1. Why was there insufficient lubrication on the bearings?

The oil pump on the robot is not circulating sufficient oil.

  1. Why is the pump not circulating sufficient oil?

The pump intake is clogged with metal shavings.

  1. Why is the intake clogged with metal shavings?

Because there is no filter on the pump.

Result: the root cause of the problem is identified and can be eliminated fast.

When To Use the 5-Why Method

The 5 Whys method was developed to establish the causes for mechanical problems, it is a simple and powerful framework you can use to dig deep into the people you build your products for so you can uncover useful insights about their behavior, needs and goals. You can use this method to craft a high-level value proposition canvas as well as for prioritising the features that should be built in the MVP.

5-Why method at work

Step 1. Start with establishing the behaviour.

For example, your customer has bought your content-planning tool subscription. The established behaviour — a purchase.

Step 2. Ask your first Why question.

For example, Why did you decide to purchase the subscription now? What made you believe that it's a good time for the purchase?

Step 3. Based on the first answer, ask the series of 5 Why-s.

For example, the customer is saying:

— I've decided to grow my audience and need a tool to help me with it.

Your 2nd Why can be:

— Why did you decide to grow the audience? Customer: — I have lost my job and while I can't find anything I'd be satisfied with I figured I could become an influencer on social media.

Your 3rd Why:

— Why do you believe being an influencer on social media is a good option for you?


— Good question. I follow this guy on Twitter, Daniel Vassallo @dvassallo, and he says he makes $200K a month just by being an influencer. Also, another guy, don't remember who, says it's enough to have 10K followers to make a living out of this. My plan is to get to 10K in 6 months. I have enough saved to help me last this much. If it doesn't work out I'll start looking for a "real job".

Your 4th Why:

— Why do you believe my tool will help you to get there?


— I don't know for sure. I think I'm just a type of person who loves planning everything. Figured, planning content is a part of the deal too.

Your 5th Why:

— Why have you chosen me as a tool over others?


I had no idea there were others. I just googled up "content planner to grow an audience on Twitter" — and your tool popped up on the first page. The pricing was affordable — I decided to give it a go.


Here, after asking a set of 5Why-s you get a valuable insight that will help you to craft highly efficient marketing campaigns and messaging.

1. You will be targeting:

— persons who are looking for growing their audience on Twitter

— probably, the ones who lost their job or decided to take a break. The household income should be high enough to provide enough saving to last for at least 6-9 months

— people who are following other influencers who make their living on the content

2. Double down on Google ads to make sure you are #1 for the long tail keyword "content planner to grow an audience on Twitter".

3. Focus landing page messaging on people who love planning everything

5-Why method for prioritising features

The same technique works wonders when talking to unhappy customers. As a founder, you will get tons of requests from users who would ask you to add features to make their experience more pleasant. Some, who have churned, will write you emails explaining how your "shitty company made their life even shittier". Those all are perfect use cases for arranging an interview and asking 5 Why-s. It is obviously tougher to establish a respectful and trustful relationship with those who are very unhappy with your product. But, on the other hand, those customers are gold — they are the holders of the unique knowledge about your product's bugs. Talking to them you will be able to establish what's wrong with your product or who is not your customer (what segments you will not be targeting with it).

It's easier with those who want to stick with your product but demand new features. 5 Why Framework will help you to establish the jobs-to-be-done, real customer pains and their implicit motives.

Example of 5-Why-s conversation with a feature-demanding customer

Your 1st Why:

— Why do you think you need this feature? (for instance, you have a virtual CV service and a customer demands a photo editing tool within the app)


— Because I want a great pic on my CV

Your 2nd Why:

— Why can't you make it great with existing tools?


— Because it takes too much time and effort. It's frustrating to upload a photo, save, see that I don't like how it looks, find a new one and go though the same cycle again.

Your 3rd Why:

— Why do you believe a photo editor will make a difference?


— It's obvious! I will see the preview of what I've uploaded straight away and can make the pic smaller, bigger or just choose another one altogether.

Your 4th Why:

— Why is having a great pic so important?


— Ha, because people always judge you by looks. I want to look presentable, mature and sophisticated for employers to pay attention to me.

Your 5th Why:

— Why would you choose these qualities to be reflected in your pic?


— Because, that's what employers are looking for. They need someone who is mature and presentable.

The insights:

A customer DOESN'T need a full fetched photo editing tool. They need:

— See a preview

— Crop picture/ resize picture

— A picture that will reflect maturity and sophistication.

Without this conversation you could have jumped into coding filters and fancy shadowing. Instead, you should offer very simple editing plus, perhaps, an AI that will distinguish between casual and business-like layout and inform a user if this is a good choice for a CV.

If you need more information on this subject feel free to contact me on Twitter or LinkedIn (DMs are open) I'm also available on ProductHunt if you prefer this network.

Useful links and resources:
2) 5 Whys for identifying problems
3) 5 Whys and Hows
5) Why Titanic sank?