Asking the right questions to drive innovation

Customer feedback is an important source of innovation. As a product manager, you spend a lot of time mining through customer ideas, requests, and research — looking for nuggets of wisdom that you can shape into something real. Continuously discovering new ways to differentiate your product is how many businesses achieve market leadership.

But the process of sifting through raw ideas for innovation opportunities is not always straightforward. While your customers may offer substantial input on the problems they are experiencing, they may struggle to articulate what they really want or need. It is up to you to interpret what they are saying and uncover suitable solutions.

Asking the right questions can help. When you know what to ask and when, you can foster deeper conversations and get to the heart of customer needs. In this guide we will cover more than 35 questions to ask your customers at different touchpoints of the customer lifecycle, what to listen for, and how to apply these learnings to strengthen product innovation.

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What is product innovation?

Product innovation is the process of acting on new ideas to enhance your offering and deliver more product value. It requires listening deeply to your customers and internal teams — then moving forward with conviction on the ideas that align with your company strategy.

In practice, product innovation is about considering each aspect of the Complete Product Experience (CPE). CPE encompasses every interaction customers have with your organization throughout the customer journey, from the moment people hear about your product to when they (ideally) become loyal advocates. You need to identify ways to improve the experience that customers have while interacting with customer support, marketing, sales, and of course, the product itself. Feature innovation, which refers to the process of enhancing specific aspects of product functionality, also falls under the umbrella of product innovation.

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Product innovation takes a concerted effort. You have to consistently collect, prioritize, and implement ideas. In addition to conducting comprehensive customer research, many product teams invest in formalized idea management to support this work in their day-to-day. These processes and purpose-built tools not only bring clarity to the chaos of managing feedback — they also help the organization as a whole understand and get aligned on the product ideas that will create value for the business and customers.

35+ customer questions for product innovation

Customer conversations can be extremely telling. You will want to interact with customers at multiple touchpoints before and after purchasing your product — including when it comes time to renew. Different opportunities and challenges will present themselves at different points in the customer journey.

You likely already use a variety of quantitative and qualitative methods to collect customer feedback — ranging from customer interviews, polls, and surveys to in-app feedback. Whenever possible, speak to customers directly. It is the best way for a product manager to truly empathize with customer pain. But do remember that customer-facing teams like sales and support are another source of rich information. After all, they speak to customers on a daily basis and can help identify trends in what customers are saying.

No matter the "how" of collecting feedback, your approach to asking questions should be the same. Start with your objective — what do you really want to learn? This will help you zero in on the types of questions to ask and who to speak to. For example, if you want to improve an advanced reporting feature in your application, you would not want to ask new customers for feedback — unless, of course, you want to find out whether new users find the feature accessible or opened an account with aspirations to use it in the future. Try to leave your biases aside, listen well, and let customers speak freely.

Below are more than 35 customer questions to help boost your product innovation efforts, grouped by different customer touchpoints — along with a summary of what these questions can reveal. Some of these may be more or less relevant to your specific product and team — so customize as you see fit. And recognize that it takes many conversations to uncover patterns. But be open to being surprised along the way.

Questions to ask when someone is actively considering your product

Questions to ask

  • How would you describe a productive or successful workday?

  • What tools do you use to get things done?

  • What are your business goals for the next year?

  • What is currently holding you back from achieving these goals?

  • What problems do you encounter in your daily work?

  • How have you attempted to solve or work around these problems?

  • What prompted you to search for a new solution?

  • How did you first find out about our product?

  • What kind of information helped you learn more about our product? (e.g. articles, videos, referrals)

  • What is the primary benefit of our product that stood out to you?

  • If the customer has done a trial or demo of your product:

    • What made you decide to sign up for a trial or demo?

    • Has your trial or demo experience influenced how you feel about our product? If so, how?

    • Which features or elements do you feel the most uncertain about?

    • Is there any functionality that you are interested in exploring further?

What these questions reveal

By asking what first brought prospects to your product, you can validate whether the problems you think your product solves are the problems that customers contend with. Combine customer answers with marketing data — such as trial sources and demo conversion rates — for a fuller picture of prospect- and early-stage customer behavior. New customers can also be a great source of information on the friction points that may exist in your sales cycle.

Questions to ask after someone has purchased your product

Questions to ask

  • What other solutions or tools did you consider in your search?

  • Why did you ultimately choose to purchase our product?

  • Who helped you to make the decision to purchase our product?

  • When getting started with our product, which parts were easiest or most intuitive?

  • Which parts were confusing or challenging to use?

  • Which problems are you currently trying to solve by using our product?

  • So far, how does our product compare to your previous solution?

  • What is the biggest benefit of using our product at the moment?

  • What is the biggest challenge or pain point of using our product at the moment?

  • What do you hope to accomplish in the next six months of using our product?

What these questions reveal

At this stage, your customer has been actively using your product for a period of time. This is when you can begin to clarify and dive deeper into the problems they want to solve — building empathy, offering suggestions on how to improve their experience, and sharing best practices. Of course, customer-facing teams will be helping customers optimize their use of your product at this point as well.

Questions to ask during account reviews and renewals

Questions to ask

  • Has our product helped you come closer to achieving your goals? Why or why not?

  • Which problems have you been able to solve by using our product?

  • What problems exist that still need to be solved? How have you tried to solve them?

  • If you could remove or change one thing about our product, what would it be?

  • If you could add or improve one thing about our product, what would it be?

  • Which aspect of our product is the most valuable to you today? Which is the least valuable?

  • If our product disappeared tomorrow, how would you feel?

  • Have you felt supported by our team when you have run into issues? Is there anything we could do differently to improve your experience with sales or support?

  • How would you rate your satisfaction with our product overall?

  • Would you recommend our product to others? Why or why not?

  • If a customer does not renew:

    • What is the main reason why you have decided to no longer use our product?

    • What is one thing that would make you reconsider our product in the future?

    • Did you find an alternative solution to use instead? What does it offer that our product does not?

What these questions reveal

When a customer is considering renewal or at risk of churning, this is a valuable time to uncover insights about what is working well (or not). Asking these questions can help you pinpoint the biggest areas for improvement and demonstrate that you care about retaining long-term customers.

Note that customer churn will not always be a product-related problem — try to recognize what is and is not within your control. Oftentimes customers move on for reasons you cannot change.

Questions to ask about new product functionality

Questions to ask

  • Does this type of functionality excite you? Why or why not?

  • If this product feature were available today, would you use it? Why or why not?

  • If a customer has tried the new functionality:

    • What is your initial reaction upon trying this new feature?

    • What did you find confusing or challenging about using this new feature?

    • What did you find easy or simple to do with this new feature?

    • What task did you spend the most time doing with the new feature?

    • Which part of the features did you rarely use?

    • Why did you choose to do one action over another?

    • Will this feature enhance your current workflows? Why or why not?

    • If you had a magic wand, what would you change about this feature?

What these questions reveal

Feature innovation is still a vital part of product innovation. If you are running a beta or early-access program or demoing a new product feature, your customers can offer unique perspectives that your product team might not have considered internally. This is useful for ensuring your new functionality will provide the most value to customers.

These questions are not an exhaustive list — they are meant to help you spark conversations and uncover meaningful insights. This combined with a strong strategy and business goals is what powers your product innovation efforts. When you are ready to get started, try customer research templates to plan, conduct, analyze, and present your findings.

If you are searching for a more comprehensive solution for driving product innovation, explore Aha! Ideas. With Aha! Ideas you can capture customer feedback in ideas portals, engage your community via empathy sessions, and make value-driven product decisions with built-in reporting tools.

Discover exactly what your customers want. Start a free Aha! Ideas trial today.