There’s a number of reasons why we NEED to build a new Costlocker:
- Last year alone, our customers sent us 800 suggestions for improvement
- We know the barriers preventing some companies from using the current application
- We set up a new team and are ready to face big challenges
We want to build the new time and profitability tracking application in close cooperation with our clients. That’s why we needed to research and understand the inner workings of their agencies in detail — how their processes are set up, how they draft project budgets, how they track time, invoice their work and plan capacities, and what they are keeping an eye on in their excel spreadsheets.
Simply put: we’re learning to listen to our customers. And we started with the most important thing of all: INTERVIEWS. If you’ve never done it yourself, wait no more. I can guarantee you that interviewing your customers is the best time investment ever.
- We conducted 50 interviews
- We interviewed agency owners, account managers, project managers, designers, developers, accountants and back-office staff
- We spent over 200 hours preparing, conducting and evaluating the interviews
- We put the main focus on project budgeting, financial reporting, resource planning, invoicing and cash flow
- We involved 2FRESH’s research team in the preparatory phase
We used Calendly to organize and confirm the meetings
- We used ProductBoard to gather and sort feedback and insights
- We used GoToMeeting to interview foreign customers
- We also interviewed those who registered with Costlocker during the past 3 months, but haven’t started using it, to learn the reasons why
By interviewing your customers, you’ll gain insights such as:
- seeing how right or how wrong people use your application
- you can discover workarounds people use because they weren’t able to find out how to use your app right.
- the mind-blowing facts of how much some agencies had to bend their company processes to accommodate your application
- the surprise at why the hell they keep manually copying everything to Excel instead of using your API
- the realization that the invoicing process represents as many as 20 steps that lead to tremendous ineffectiveness
- the surprise at how many of the application functions people haven’t found, even though you have a help section including screencasts
- the realization of how key it is not to leave the application onboarding process solely on the shoulders of the company owner
- the discovery of how tiny details play decisive roles in whether people adopt your application or not
At the kick-off workshop, we established key research questions for each of the researched role within the company:
- How can we help agency owners to keep their company under control?
- How can we help managers to keep their projects under control?
- How can we help people with tracking their time on projects?
Afterwards, we drafted the questions we would actually ask people during the interviews. To verify our hypotheses.
- What motivated you to start using Costlocker?
- How did the onboarding process throughout the company go?
- What data do you use and how do you use it?
- What reports and numbers do you keep an eye on in Costlocker and what insights are you missing?
- How do you watch your financial situation?
- What does the invoicing process in your company look like?
- How do you draft project budgets?
- Do you watch how booked people are in the coming months? How?
- Do you use your own solution (such as Excel) to do something you lack in Costlocker?
Each question was accompanied by a set of sub-questions designed to investigate the respective matter in deeper detail. For example, for the question “How do you draft project budgets?”, we prepared these sub-questions:
- Do you do calculate time estimates ahead, quote a flat rate per project or invoice your work retrospectively based on hours worked?
- Do you invoice the client for hours that you spend drafting your proposal?
- Do you enter the project budget to Costlocker only after it has been approved by the client?
- If a client wishes for a discount, how do you determine whether it’s still financially viable for you?
- Do you keep an eye on how much money you spend working on tenders you lose?
After 2FRESH’s research team tested our questions, we were ready to proceed to the next phase: planning the meetings with individual customers in their free calendar slots. To avoid getting lost in the organization and keep everything under control, we decided to use Calendly to plan the meetings. The app saved us lots of time, as our customers were able to select only those time slots that were still free.
To always know who we’ve already tried to get in touch with and who has already selected a time slot for our meeting, we created a shared spreadsheet. When we wrote the customer an e-mail asking for his or her participation in our research, we labeled them so in our spreadsheet, including the name of our team member who contacted them, to stay in sync at all times.
Criteria for selecting customers to reach out to
We knew all along that it’s not possible to get a response from all of our customers. That’s why we decided that we will be conducting interviews until the answers start to repeat. In the end, we identified 4 distinct groups of customers.
The D-day came and we sent our customers e-mails asking them for a personal appointment or video call, for which we used GoToMeeting, an app much more stable than Skype or Google Hangouts that also has numbers of useful functions that come handy in a discussion — such as handing your cursor over to the person on the other side.
Our best practices
- At the very beginning, make sure that both parties know what the purpose of their meeting is
- Record the meetings — don’t rely just on your notes
- Use several devices at the same time for recording, as you never know when one of them is going to fail
- Give customers your application to see how they interact with it and only then proceed to asking questions (recording the screen at the same time)
- Be prepared for criticism — this is not a celebration of your success to which your customers were invited — keep an open mind, even if it hurts
- Keep asking until you’re positive that you understand completely
- Don’t be satisfied with a superficial answer — dive deep into each and every process step by step
- Most importantly — make sure you know which agency you’re visiting at all times, as greeting the other party with a name of a different company sucks
- To conduct better interviews, use the rules mentioned in The Mom Test — a book definitely worth spending an evening with
When starting each interview, we once more went through why we met with the client and set up our mutual expectations. At the same time, we asked for permission to record our interview. Originally, we thought that we’ll be fine taking written notes. Later, we found out that simply recording the interview and transcribing the most important bits later is much more effective, as without audio, our notes would lack some of the critical points.
Our recommendation: Better safe than sorry! Use more than one device to record, as you never know when technology will bail on you and stop working. Originally, we recorded everything through Quicktime on our computer, but that ended up freezing for some reason. We were only saved because we were simultaneously recording through Voice Memos on a cellphone. Phew!
We had agreed that we would conduct the interviews in teams of two, so that one person can ask while the other takes notes. Sadly, one of our colleagues got sick in the meantime and the other had to present a live demo to a new client who only had time in the slots that were not very comfortable for us. But that’s life. Be ready to improvise and stay in charge of leading the interview — because even though you have your questions prepared, you never know what could come up and how much it could change the course of discussion. Our suggestion is simple: don’t stick to scripts, they usually don’t work.
We’ve also soon discovered that instead of talking, it’s much better to open the laptop and let our customers show us how they use Costlocker on the last project. No more speculations and hypotheses — you see your real users in action. That was a genius move, as we not only gained valuable insights, but, at the same time, actually conducted user testing. Oftentimes the customers showed us different tools or Excel spreadsheets that they used in synergy with Costlocker.
Don’t be satisfied with an answer that only touches the surface and avoids detailed explanations. If the customer told us that their invoicing process comprises of the manager entering data into Costlocker and his or her colleague invoicing the client, we kept asking to break the whole process down step by step.
Example invoicing process in a single agency:
1.I open Google Drive, where we store order templates
2. I download the order template to my computer
3. I open Costlocker to see the project ID — I already know the project and client names
4. I fill in all the compulsory order fields
5. I upload the order to the respective folder on Google Drive
6. I log in to Costlocker by going to Costlocker.com and clicking Login
7. To find the project quickly, I use ALT+F and type the first letters of the project name
8. I find the project in the project list and click it
9. On the project detail screen, I click the Billing tab
10. I type in the expected date of invoice into the Date field
11. I type “invoice based on order no. 201878” into the Bill ID / Description field and enter the price into the Amount field
12. I leave the Invoiced field empty, because I know that it has not yet been invoiced
13. Done! Almost …. The process is now finished for me, but the colleague invoicing our clients still has to do the following:
14. Once every month, I visit the Billing Outlook in Costlocker
15. I press the All Time button and then the This Month button
16. Afterwards, I click the No Tags button and select the Billable tag to make sure that I only see billable projects
17. I start from the top — I click the project name and go to Billing, where I can see the order number, according to which I can invoice the amount that’s also listed here
18. I log in to Fakturoid, an invoicing app, copy the order number and generate the invoice
19. Afterwards I download the invoice to my computer
20. I open Slack, find the account manager for this project and send them the invoice so they can forward it to the client
21. I open Costlocker again and check the Invoiced checkbox
22. I also delete the “Invoice based on…” text and replace it with the invoice number — Invoice No. 2017543
23. I save changes by clicking the Save button
24. Then I go back to Billing Outlook and continue with another project
25.I’m only finished when there’s no projects left!
So, the interviews with our customers have come to a successful end, waiting to be transcribed. We will once more listen to every audio recording and transcribe it to ProductBoard. We don’t transcribe word for word, only the key parts of the interview. We “skip the trifles”, as our colleague always says.
Just for a rough image: an hour-long interview takes almost 2 hours to transcribe. We’ve considered the option to hire someone external to transcribe the recordings for us, but we eventually decided against it because of the following reasons:
- The interviews were confidential, so we didn’t want any third parties to access them
- Transcribing the important bits only requires understanding what the recording is about, so only our team members are capable of doing it
Have you ever conducted interviews with your customers? If so, how did it turn out? If not, would you like to ask something before you do so? Or would you care to share some experience of your own so we can improve our methods further? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your story!