Susan Stavitzski on Customer Discovery: How to Test Assumptions and Uncover Opportunities

Why should you use customer discovery? How can product managers use it to test assumptions and uncover opportunities?

These are the key questions that Susan Stavitzki, the Senior Product Manager at CarMax, discussed during her presentation at the Product Drive Summit this year.

Using Discovery to Test Assumptions and Uncover Opportunities by Susan Stavitzki.

Are you intrigued? Well, why don’t we get to it then?


  • Customer discovery is the process of identifying, defining, and prioritizing relevant user personas.
  • In product discovery, you not only need to discover user needs but also ways to satisfy them.
  • Markets are in a constant flow and customer discovery helps you keep up with the changes.
  • Customer discovery helps product managers develop their confidence.
  • Discovery is a great way to challenge our ways of working and motivate us to look at problems from different angles.
  • During product discovery, the product teams always learn a lot. Often, the lessons are different from what they originally expected.
  • Finally, involving the whole team in the discovery process energizes them, takes advantage of their unique perspectives, and empowers them.
  • Assumptions are the ideas that we accept as true or actions we are certain will happen, even if we don’t have any proof that this is the case.
  • To avoid wasting time and money on developing features based on flawed assumptions, always test them.
  • Robust customer discovery processes will also help you find new opportunities. In the product, these are all the features that address user problems and their needs.
  • Realizing these opportunities improve the product and make it more valuable.
  • Regular conversations with customers, both those very satisfied and unsatisfied, can reveal such opportunities.
  • You can use Userpilot to improve your customer discovery by tracking product usage, collecting user feedback in-app, and validating ideas in fake door tests.

What is customer discovery?

Customer discovery is the process of discovering, defining, and prioritizing user personas that are relevant to your product.

It involves researching customers and identifying their use cases, problems, needs, and desires.

Customer discovery is essential to building customer-centric organizations regardless of their size and the number of products they have in the pipeline.

Product discovery vs. customer discovery

Customer discovery is a part of the product discovery process.

For product discovery to be effective, you need to research your customers and understand their pain points and needs.

However, product discovery takes it one step further. It takes the insights from customer discovery and uses them to define and test ways to satisfy these needs.

Product discovery is an essential process for companies that aspire to be product-led. It allows you to develop products that customers find valuable and delightful because they satisfy their needs and desires. Such products also drive value to the business.

Why should you do customer discovery?

There are a number of reasons why product managers should commit to continuous customer and product discovery. In Susan’s words, these include:

  • understand customers
  • get a pulse on the market
  • grow confidence
  • disprove yourself
  • discover new learnings
  • energize your team
Why do we need customer discovery?
Why do we need customer discovery?

Use customer discovery to understand customers

To start with, customer discovery allows you to identify who your target users are and what their needs are.

The terms needs is quite general. In fact, it covers needs as well as user problems and wants that need addressing.

Without knowing these, you can’t think of building a product that satisfies needs. I mean, you may be lucky, but that’s not what you want to count on, is it?

As user needs keep evolving, the discovery process should be ongoing so that your product never loses relevance in their lives.

Use customer discovery to keep a pulse on the market

Discovery also enables you to keep track of new developments in the market.

Is there a new competitor? How does their product compare to yours? Is there anything that they offer and you don’t? How do you need to adjust your differentiation and positioning strategies not to lose your product-market fit?

These are some of the questions you need to be answering to keep a pulse on the market.

As with customer needs, the market situation is very dynamic, and that means that market research is not a one-off exercise either.

Use customer discovery to grow your confidence

Testing and discovery are needed only in high-uncertainty situations. In others, the solution is obvious and the product manager just needs to implement it.

Testing such ideas would be a waste of time and money, and it’s not sustainable.

Discovery helps product managers gain experience and develop the confidence needed to listen to their intuition and act on it to make such decisions.

Use customer discovery to disprove yourself

Discovery is an opportunity to challenge our ways of thinking and find weaknesses in how we approach problems.

Product managers should use discovery to find out where they are wrong and why, and identify new ways of looking at old problems.

Such challenging and questioning should be an ongoing process and requires a curious mindset.

Use customer discovery to learn

Discovery is synonymous with learning.

During the process you learn about your customers, your product, your assumptions, your team members, and your organization.

Very often, what you learn is very different from what we are expecting to learn. Uncovering the unknown unknowns is probably the key benefit of discovery.

Use customer discovery to energize the team

Customer and product discovery are also a good way to energize and empower your team.

It is a common misconception that discovery is the domain of the product manager or the UX design lead.

Good product leaders involve their whole team in the discovery. The sales team, the marketing team, and the customer success teams have regular contact with your customers and they may be able to gain valuable insights into user needs.

Your engineers and analysts may also benefit from speaking to customers. It will help them better understand the end users from whom they are normally isolated. They may also offer a unique perspective on the problem and how to solve it.

Involving all team members in discovery doesn’t only take advantage of their skills and expertise but also empowers them.

Using Customer Discovery to Test Assumptions

What are assumptions? In short, assumptions are the things that we accept as true or we are certain will happen without any proof.

Making product decisions based on assumptions can lead to a lot of waste. If the assumption proves to be wrong, the feature is not going to work as intended and drive the desired outcome.

To avoid that, product managers should use discovery to test the assumptions.

Using Customer Discovery to Test Assumptions
Using Customer Discovery to Test Assumptions.

Testing assumptions process

The first challenge is actually recognizing the assumptions that we are making.

To do that, teams should be in the habit of questioning the rationale behind every decision they make.

Let’s imagine you hear from your users about a problem. You discuss the issue with your engineers and UX designers and you come up with an idea that you think is bound to solve the issue.

But is it really?

Well, you can’t really tell so before you commit to building it, test it to make sure that this will really solve the user problem.

Even better if you come up with alternative ways of solving the same problem, and test all of them. This will help you single out the one that meets the user’s needs best.

Tools and techniques for testing assumptions

Let’s look at other ways of testing assumptions.

Interviews with customers can give you lots of qualitative data. An interview can be enough to topple an assumption. You can also use them to follow up on quantitative tests to gain deeper insights into customer thinking.

As to quantitative research, a fake door test is a simple way to test if customers are interested in the feature.

That’s what Susan and her team did to test an assumption that customers would use the product more if they built the calendar view in one of the apps they were working on.

Fake door test to gauge interest in the calendar feature.
Fake door test to gauge interest in the calendar feature.

Designing the test wasn’t very labor-intensive and it proved the assumption was wrong. Users simply didn’t engage with the feature enough.

The follow-up interviews revealed that users didn’t need the feature because they didn’t use the app for enough tasks to require it. Those that did engage expected different functionality, like synching with their own calendar, or were simply curious.

There are plenty of other ways to test your assumptions. Susan encourages teams to think of creative ways of doing it and not to rely on the same ones over and over again.

What are some other options?

Our other Product Drive speaker, Melissa Perri, recommends in her book Escaping the Build Trap recommends some really cool tests like the concierge service or Wizard of Oz.

Using Customer Discovery to Uncover Opportunities

Another reason to use product and customer discovery is to uncover new opportunities.

What are opportunities?

Susan defines them as:

“A set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.”

It is a fairly general definition. In product management, opportunities could be all the user needs, problems, and desires.

Addressing them makes the product better and that’s where the value comes from both for the users and the business.

Using Customer Discovery to Uncover Opportunities
Using Customer Discovery to Uncover Opportunities.

By talking to your customers regularly and collecting their feedback, product teams can identify such opportunities.

Such conversations could be with active customers who engage with the product regularly and those who have churned. Both of them can give you ideas on how to improve the user experience and deliver more value.

In the long run, this will help you to retain your customers and increase brand loyalty.

Using Userpilot for customer discovery

Userpilot is a product adoption platform that can help you test assumptions and uncover need ideas.

Use product tracking to create hypotheses

Tracking product usage helps you generate ideas and develop hypotheses.

Userpilot allows you to track how specific user groups interact with particular parts of the product. And by interact, we mean not only clicks but also text input and hovers.

This basically means you can create a heatmap of what your users do in the product.

Userpilot allows you to track not only user clicks but also form fills and hovers
Userpilot allows you to track not only user clicks but also form fills and hovers.

What’s the use of that?

In short, it can shed light on how you can improve the experience of each user. This could be by driving feature discovery to an existing feature that they could benefit from or making some more in-depth usability changes.

And as you know which group specifically could benefit from the enhancements, you can easily approach the right people with incentives to take part in interviews so that you can validate ideas before you even build a prototype.

Use in-app surveys to collect user feedback

Designing customized in-app surveys in Userpilot is very easy and doesn’t require any coding.

You can use it to run quantitative surveys like NPS or PMF surveys, or qualitative surveys. The latter can be particularly useful for uncovering new opportunities to improve your product.

Creating fully customized PMF surveys in Userpilot doesn’t require any coding
Creating fully customized PMF surveys in Userpilot doesn’t require any coding.

You can then create user segments based on the survey responses (and many other factors).

User segmentation in Userpilot is even more powerful now
User segmentation in Userpilot is even more powerful now.

This includes segmenting users according to their qualitative NPS responses as well. You just need to tag them first.

NPS response tagging in Userpilot
NPS response tagging in Userpilot.

Once you have the segments, you can trigger a specific flow for them. For example, you could use a modal like the one below to invite only the satisfied users to take part in an interview or fill in a longer survey to solicit more insights from them.

Discovery interview slideout

Easy user segmentation also allows you to trigger your surveys for the right user groups.

User segmentation in Userpilot
User segmentation in Userpilot.

Carry out fake door tests to test assumptions

As shown above, fake door tests are a clever and cost-effective way to test your assumptions.

Userpilot allows you to create in-app communications to attract your user’s attention to the feature you’re thinking of building but are not sure it’s going to work, like in the imaginary Asana example below.

Tooltip to catch user attention
Tooltip to catch user attention.

By tracking user engagement with the ‘new feature’, you validate or disprove the assumption that the idea was based on.

Naturally, when users click on it, they realize that the feature doesn’t exist and you’ve got some explaining to do.

That’s not a problem though. You can also use Userpilot to create a modal that will explain why the feature is not available yet once they click on it. It is also a good opportunity to recruit beta testers for the future.

Modal explaining why the feature is not available.
Modal explaining why the feature is not available.

Clever, hey? Just don’t overuse the technique or your users will start ignoring your flows.


Customer discovery helps teams validate or disprove their assumptions behind ideas before they commit to their implementation. It also helps you find new opportunities to improve the product and delight your customers.

If you would like to see how Userpilot can help you with user discovery, book the demo!

previous post next post

Leave a comment