Customer interviews make students anxious because they fear approaching strangers.
It’s our job to build their customer interviewing muscle.
Like the Make Entrepreneurship Relevant Slides, you can use these slides to get your students excited about interviewing customers. If you’d like to lower student anxiety around customer interviews, try this series of experiences:
Once your students have a good sense of what to ask during an interview, they’re ready to . . .
WALK: Interview Classmates
Students should get comfortable interviewing in a low-stakes environment, so have them start by interviewing 2 – 3 of their classmates.
It’s common for students to feel awkward conducting their first interviews. Let them know the awkwardness is normal and that’s why you’re giving them the opportunity to practice. Reassure your students that the more interviews they do, the more comfortable they’ll feel.
Bonus: Having students interview each other means each student gets interviewed as well.
When students get interviewed, they experience how validating it is to have someone listen to their problems.
When students realize that it feels good to be interviewed, they discover they won’t be bothering their interviewees. That insight alone can reduce their anxiety.
Note: The goal of classmate interviews is just to practice interviewing – they shouldn’t be used for real business model validation. Have your students start their classmate interviews off with, “What’s the biggest challenge you have as a student?” and then let the interview flow from there.
Click below to learn how your students can RUN and FLY with their customer interviews!
RUN: Interview Family and Friends
After interviewing a couple of classmates, students are ready to try interviewing friends and family members. This step gives students a safe way to practice interviewing people who, like their customers, will have no idea what a customer interview is.
As homework, ask your students to interview 3 friends or family members for at least 30 minutes each. Their goal is to learn as much as they can about the problems their interviewees have encountered in the last week (i.e., “What have been the biggest challenges that have come up for you over the last week?”).
As with the classmate interviews, the friends and family interviews shouldn’t be related to the product/service the students ultimately want to launch. These are just practice interviews in preparation for . . .
FLY: Interview Customers
Your students are now ready for real customer interviews!
You’ll want to make your students know the right customers to ask for interviews, and how to ask for those interviews, but at this point, your students will have much less anxiety about interviewing customers.
Since we started implementing this progression with our students, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in our students’ interviewing confidence and the quality of their interviews:
“At the beginning, I was really nervous about interviewing but after getting feedback from my friends and family it’s, surprisingly, become my favorite part of the class!”
– ExEC Student
If you’d like any more help teaching customer interviews, including:
Tell students they are hired as a product designer. Their first job out of school is to design an ideal backpack. To help them do this, introduce the series of worksheets laid out in the Backpack Design Challenge lesson plan.
Step 1: The Most Exciting Purchase or Gift
The first worksheet asks students what is the most exciting thing they bought themselves, or were given as a gift recently.
It is really helpful with this exercise for you to share your perspective. At this step, share with them a concrete example of something that really excited you.
Make sure the thing they think of is something specific, and something they were really looking forward to. For example, a birthday present, or a holiday present, or something they’ve been wanting for months that they finally splurged on.
Step 2: Feelings About the Purchase or Gift
Students record the feelings that came up as they made the purchase or received the gift. Give students time to reflect on the emotions they felt.
The point of these two steps is to build the foundation for the design thinking exercise to come.
Our goal is for them to learn a set of skills that helps them design products and services that get their customers as excited about the thing the student is creating as the student was about the purchase or gift.
Now we will teach students to design a backpack that people get super excited about.
Ask students to describe their three “must have” features of their backpack.
Start by describing your three “must haves” and give them a few minutes to write down their three “must haves” that are unique to them.
Step 4: Draw the ideal backpack
The next step is for students to draw their ideal backpack. The point here is not beautiful artwork. The point is to visualize what the backpack with their must-have features looks lke.
Step 6: Ideal backpack reflection
Pair your students up for this step. Each student shares their drawings with their partner.
Each partner will ask lots of questions to dive deep into why their partner wanted certain features and anything else they are curious about.
Next, give students a few minutes to reflect on their partner’s backpack design. They describe what they saw and heard, how they felt about what they saw and heard, etc.
Components of the traditional design process
What should be built (start with product in mind)
How should it work / what should it look like? (functionality)
Do people love it?
Goal: build the best thing
Alternative approach: design thinking introduction
Explain to your students that what they just experienced is the traditional design process. Continue by sharing that this traditional way is not the best way to get customers excited about their product or service.
Ask them whether their partner offered to pre-order when saw other design. Was their partner so excited that they offered to give them real money? The answer will be no.
Explain that in the traditional design process, someone
decides a product they should build
figures out the functionality of their product – what are the nuts and bolts
as a last step, they launch their product and work to figure out whether people love it
For your students to design something that gets people truly excited, they need to understand the design thinking process.
The design thinking process has five steps to create products people get really excited about:
Talk to your students about the difference between the traditional design process and the design thinking process. In the traditional design approach, they start with thinking about the product they’re going to build.
In the design thinking process, they start with no product in mind. Instead, they start by understanding the customer’s emotional needs. In other words, what motives them on emotional level? This is the empathizing stage
If the goal is to build something people love, empathizing should be the first step in the process not the third step.
Step 7: Design something useful
Now that they are inspired to design something people want, pair students up again. Students interview the partner they previously worked with for 4 minutes each.
It is important here to tell them to forget about the backpack. They are taking a design thinking approach, so they don’t know what the “right” thing to build is. They learn what their partner really loves and why, so they can design something these customers truly want.
The goal of this interview is to find out what’s the hardest part about being a student, how they felt, when they felt that way, and why it’s a problem.
Step 8: Dig deeper
Students then conduct another 4-minute interview with their partner. The difference is, this time they
What feelings arise for their partner when they have the problem they described before
Have they done anything to try and solve that problem
Students next will define the problem their partner mentioned. They will
Synthesize data obtained from partner interview
Answer 3 questions
What goals is their partner trying to achieve?
What did they learn about their partner’s motivation
What is the partner point of view: [partner name] needs a way to [verb] because [problem to solve]
This step outlines for the student a structure for the process of designing a solution that excites their partner.
Step 12: Ideate solutions
We now understand the problem. The goal here is to draw 5 different designs for alternative solutions using the new information they gathered. These designs can be anything. They don’t have to be based in reality – encourage your students to use their imagination.
Step 13: Solicit feedback
In same pairs as before, students share their new solutions with each other and provide feedback. They share with each other what do they like, what don’t they like, and why.
Students will then iterate with their partners to come up with a more ideal solution for the problem based on their partner’s feedback.
This work will likely have nothing to do with backpacks – it will relate to the biggest problems the students experience. It could be about time management, or the dining hall, or parking, or boring classes.
That’s OK – we are working to get them trying to solve real problems for their partner!
Step 14: Reflect on new design
Students now have a new design based on feedback from their partner. Now we want them to reflect on that new design.
In pairs, they will answer two questions about the design their partner developed to solve their problem:
What emotions come up with thinking about partner’s new design, and why?
More excited about partner’s original design or new design, and why?
Step 15: Compare approaches
Now you will recap everything with your students as a class. Tell them they went through two approaches to design:
Traditional design approach – their first design
Design thinking approach – their second design
They now fill out a comparison worksheet for these two approaches. First each student writes down the two different designs their partner create for them. The questions they will answer about these two designs are:
Which design are they most excited about?
Which design is more feasible?
Which design solves their partners’ problem better?
Which design would they choose?
Ask the class as a whole which design method feels more valuable. Specifically, ask them to put up the numbers of fingers representing the number of Xs they have in the Design Thinking row.
You should see an overwhelming number of students put up at least 3 fingers for the design thinking approach.
Highlight for students that this is why we do design thinking:
It is so much more powerful for creating ideas that are exciting to customers and that they want to pay for because the product actually solves their real problems.
Then, summarize for your students that they just completed the full design thinking process:
They empathized – they worked to understand their customer’s problems
They defined the problem – they gathered all the information they learned from their customer & now understand the problem that customer experiences
They then ideated on solutions for that problem – they developed multiple potential solutions for the problem their customer was experiencing
They prototyped products to solve the problem – here they would develop something that a user could actually interact with
Last, they tested their prototype – they solicited feedback from their customer to learn what appealed to them and what did not
The design thinking process is iterative. Students went through it once during this exercise. After testing, they can start again by empathizing with their customer based on their new product.
This approach is powerful because it will help your students work on solving problems that real customers actually experience.
After this exercise is a great place to segway into your syllabus and the topics you will cover and experiences students will have. You can connect this experience to the rest of your course by highlighting they will now be able to:
Understand a wide range of customer needs
Defining the problem
Iterating on a solution to that problem
Designing prototypes of that solution
Testing how customers feel about that solution
Get the “Backpack Design Challenge” Lesson Plan
We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Backpack Design Challenge” exercise to walk you and your students through the process step-by-step.
It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers. Please feel free to share it.
All we ask is that you leave us some feedback on it in the comments below so we can improve it!
We will be sharing more engaging exercises like this one!
Subscribe here to get lesson plans delivered in your inbox.
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And with ExEC you get . . .
. . . all of which you can use to customize your course.
Improve Team Collaboration
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We have updated our platform to allow team collaboration with literally a few clicks.
Students complete exercises within our curriculum and then with a few clicks can invite other students to collaborate on that particular exercise. See this in action below:
For instance, many of our students work on a Business Model Canvas. They get frustrated sharing paper copies, or emailing ideas, or struggling with a clunky Google doc version.
Collaborating should be productive, not frustrating.
With ExEC, students easily collaborate on one Canvas, in real time, within the platform.
Quick Video Submission
Video submissions are a great way for students to meaningfully reflect on their experience. This reflective approach encourages students to improve and learn from their mistakes. Video submissions have been a juggling act of multiple tools like iPhones, Zoom, and Google Drive.
In our new video submission process students record their reflection with the click of a button, and instantly get a link to the video they can turn in. With our next iteration of ExEC:
We leverage technology to keep the focus on the learning experience.
The student experience is not all we have improved!
New LMS Generator
With ExEC’s LMS integration, preparing your class is easy. Give us the first and last day of class, any holidays, what LMS you use, what days of the week classes happen, and the length of class sessions.
Our technology builds an LMS package specific to your course so all you do is upload it and your course is ready to go.
With ExEC, spend your time diving into detailed lesson plans, not tinkering with the LMS