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How to Conduct Effective User Interviews
Design
Oct 18, 2021
How to Conduct Effective User Interviews

Steve Blank notes that entrepreneurs need to "get out of the building" to be successful. Rather than working in isolation, the founder of modern customer development believes that entrepreneurs need to talk with potential customers, partners, and suppliers to truly understand them and deliver the best possible solution to their problems.

Let's look at how to conduct compelling user interviews and leverage the results to improve your product.

Why Interview Users?

Interviews provide valuable insights into a customer's (or a potential customer's) life and how they perceive and use your application. Since most developers don't consume products they build, these exercises provide a necessary perspective to ensure they're on the right path. Best of all, you can collect these insights before writing any code.

For example, suppose that you're building a feature to store medical data. You could try to guess what nurses will think when entering data and build out a solution—but the odds are you've missed something. After all, you don't have an in-depth familiarity with a nurse's workflow nor how they feel about their existing way of doing things.

Fortunately, you can interview nurses to see how they log medical data, what current solutions they use, and the shortcomings of those solutions. Then, you can build a product that addresses a real pain point and meshes with the way nurses already operate. The result is a much more compelling solution that they'll want to adopt.

Of course, validating a new product is only one reason to interview users. There are many other reasons that you may want to consider user interviews:

  • Assess the usability of a new feature or workflow.
  • Determine if a new feature helps solve a problem.
  • Identify problems with an existing workflow.

User interviews are invaluable when you're searching for product-market fit, but they're equally helpful when building a new feature or even just reassessing how an existing product performs. The most successful teams consistently interview users throughout the product lifecycle to validate features and ensure they're on the right track.

Who to Interview

The ideal interview candidate depends on your interviewing goals. For instance, you might look toward your existing customer base to assess the usability of a new feature. On the other hand, if you don't have a product yet, you may need to interview potential customers in a target market to validate product-market fit before beginning development.

Fortunately, several platforms make it easy to source users:

  • UserInterviews.com matches you with participants based on predefined criteria and screener questions, helping you fine-tune your target audience and identify high-value individuals that you can interview.
  • UserTesting.com provides one of the most comprehensive platforms for video-first customer development.
  • UserZoom.com has a fully integrated participant sourcing engine and even enables you to incorporate your own users. As a result, it’s a great option for companies that already have users they can use to run interviews.
  • FeedbackLoop.com provides access to over 100 million B2B and B2C users around the world, making it one of the most comprehensive platforms, especially for businesses looking for niche user groups.
  • TryMyUI.com is a user research platform that lets you watch videos of participants as they use your product. Rather than an active interview, the platform provides a way to see how users naturally interact without guidance.

You can also look for local users on Craigslist or at other in-person events. By sourcing local users, you can host them on-site and gather more specific insights than you can with remote interviews. The downside is that these meetings may take extra time to coordinate and organize, plus you may need to compensate test subjects more for their efforts.

Conducting Interviews

Start by preparing the key points and questions that you'd like to cover. These questions should be open-ended—not leading questions—and focus on behaviors rather than feelings to provide the most insight. Then, during the actual interview, you can ask follow-up questions to get specific details about a workflow or piece of functionality.

When you start each interview, give the user a brief rundown of what to expect. Explain how long the process will take and explain the nature of the questions (e.g., background questions and then prototype questions). Then, actively listen to their responses, paraphrase answers to clarify uncertainty, and record the process rather than taking notes.

There are a few other techniques that you can use to gather insights:

  • Ask "stupid" questions even if you think you already know the answer. It's an excellent opportunity to prove your assumptions wrong and learn something new.
  • Embrace "awkward" silences and let users think about their responses without providing them with examples that can lead them to emulate your own thought processes.
  • Don't be afraid to go "off script" if you're learning valuable things. Prepared questions should provide you with a rough outline of what to discuss rather than a rigid checklist of questions.

When you've finished each interview, be sure to thank the participant. If you're conducting interviews outside of a platform, consider compensating users for their time. Many companies use gift cards or offer product-related rewards, such as a free month or year of service or credits on their account.

Following Up

The user interview is only half the battle—you still have to consolidate your notes and draw real insights. When reviewing notes, the goal is to look for recurring themes. For example, you may notice that most users share a similar pain point or miss a particular part of a workflow. These are valuable insights that likely affect a large number of users.

In addition to drawing out these insights, you should adjust your interview notes and questions to reflect new information. For example, if you notice that most users share a similar pain point, you might adapt your questions to focus on that specific pain point to learn more. Or, you might notice that users were more responsive when framing a question a certain way.

The Bottom Line

User interviews are an essential part of customer development. By keeping the tips that we've discussed in mind, you can ensure that you have productive interviews that deliver real insight. At the same time, you should be sure to collect and analyze the insights you gain from these interviews to inform the future direction of your product.

If you need help fine-tuning your customer development or implementing technical features, Intent can help you with a wide range of services. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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