Doing product research interviews well

Andrew Muir Wood
Feb 17, 2017 · 2 min read

I’m currently writing guidelines for my product team to do their own interviews with customers. These are things that work for me. Please do comment or disagree if you do things differently.

Before: prepare exquisitely

Do:

  • Your homework on the participant to prepare: LinkedIn, Google etc.
  • Prepare a list of internal questions to answer
  • Prioritise those questions with key stakeholders
  • Create a script (on paper or laptop) that addresses priority questions
  • Remind the participant of the interview the day before
  • Plan and test any recording equipment or props
  • Practice the questions on a friendly colleague or customer

Don’t:

  • Try to answer all questions for all people
  • Skip translating internal research questions into your external script
  • Try to run an interview without a script

During: relax and listen

Do:

  • Interview in pairs, one talking, the other taking notes
  • Establish rapport
  • Explain broadly how the interview will be used
  • Ask permission before recording over the phone or face to face
  • Double-check how much time you have before starting
  • Ask short, open questions
  • Use silent nodding to elicit further detail
  • Gently bring tangential conversations back to the questions
  • Respond to questions with your own exploratory questions like “What would you expect to happen?” and “Why is this important to you?”
  • Use props/prompts like post-its or simple diagrams
  • Make note of and find the reason for emotional signals like Laughter, Anger and Relief
  • Stop on time or early

Don’t:

  • Explain in detail what product/feature you are building
  • Make statements about the product and ask if they agree
  • Give straight answers to questions without exploring
  • Sell the product or try to justify a design decision
  • Let the participant ramble on about something irrelevant for ages

After: write/share while it’s fresh

Do:

  • Book time in your calendar for write-up/analysis immediately after the interview
  • Use a fixed template for capturing notes (this should be structured around internal questions)
  • Consistency makes analysis way easier (including video analysis)
  • Capture a bit of context about the person to bring them to life
  • Also note surprising contextual insights or emotional responses
  • Ensure answers to your key questions are particularly clear and comparable
  • Product feedback can be annotated onto actual screenshots to save writing
  • Constantly share bitesized videos or pithy stories
  • You can never over-share customer stories
  • Repetition is good, it builds empathy across the business

Don’t

  • Write down every single thing you saw or heard
  • Leave it for days/weeks before you write up
  • Share massive reports or long videos, people won’t look at them

I may write another post about making the most out of a sales ride-along, which is slightly more opportunistic but still valuable in B2B SaaS.

References

Lean Customer Development, Cindy Alvarez, 2014
Interviewing Users, Steve Portigal, 2013
The Mom Test, Rob Fitzpatrick, 2013
Optimal Workshop, great collection of user research blog posts and an eBook

Andrew Muir Wood

Written by

Product research & strategy chap | Previously Product/Growth @findpace, Insights @DueDil | Google Design Expert | Start-up mentor/investor | Doodler @muirdoodle

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