It is easy to fall into the paradox pit of knowing you should be talking to your customers but just never quite getting around to doing it.
Most Product teams know that customer research is enormously valuable but also don’t do it because of the feeling that it is complicated and difficult and needs to be done ‘properly’.
Well, I hereby give you permission to talk to your customers. And, this post will detail how the Farewill team recently got from zero to customer insights within a week. Let’s do it!
Day 1 — Who do you want to speak to and why?
Day 2 — Write a script and recruit participants
Day 3 / 4 — Booking in participants
Day 5 / 6 — Talk to customers!
Day 7 — Analysis and review
Let’s breakdown what that looks like in practice:
Day 1 — Who do you want to speak to and why?
To have insightful conversations with your customers it is important to be clear on the problem areas you want to hear more about. Discussing this with your team and agreeing from the start means you can write better questions, listen with the same goals in mind, and dig into the answers most useful to your problem.
Recently we wanted to hear about how and when our customers decided on who they included in their will, the ways they’d want to share things between those people, and therefore what improvements could make the biggest difference to our current journey.
We started a document to collect together the team’s questions. These don’t have to be framed as research questions at this point, that comes later, for now you can just have a rough brain dump of the thoughts and questions you’ve got as a team.
An example is Chris, a developer on the team, wrote “I’d like to know if people pause to check something and do more research (e,g googling something or checking our help centre or talking to someone they know) since this could indicate information we should have in the page.”
Once you’ve drafted together the sorts of questions you want to ask you can then figure out which group of your customers you want to speak to. We had questions around the choices people were making both before and after signing up so we decided to talk to people who had registered with us in the last couple of weeks, given us permission to contact them, and had got at least halfway through writing their will. This way the information we were interested in would hopefully still be fresh in their minds.
With your questions doc and participant group sorted, on to day 2!
Day 2 — Write a script and recruit participants
With fresh eyes you can now review your questions doc and re-write this into a call script. There will likely be themes that you can pull out from your question doc to write broad and open questions for your script. During the interviews you can dig into the details to try to answer specifics, but you’ll learn more by starting with open questions. The best method we’ve found is to ask open questions, listen intently, and dig into the details with specifics. A nice trick is to add hints to your script to remind you what to listen out for and dig into specific areas.
It is quite difficult to write good, open questions and remain genuinely open to the discussion going in a completely different direction. But in my experience any time you invest in listening to your customers’ stories is time very well spent. You’ll get much bigger insights from listening to the thoughts and motivations of your customer, rather than asking for positive feedback on your existing ideas.
I like to turn the script into a spreadsheet with a row for each participant and each question in a column. This makes filling in the script easier when you’re on the call, and also feels easier to read when you’re doing analysis later.
Once you’re happy with your script you can turn your focus to recruiting your participants. This is where you get to flex your email copywriting muscles. The biggest challenge here is to write a short, snappy email with as few unanswered questions as possible.
Your email should make it really easy for people to understand:
- Why you’re interested in talking to them,
- When they’ll need to be available,
- How long they’ll need to be available,
- What is in it for them,
- How to sign up to a call.
Depending on your business and audience you might want to finesse that list, but that’s what works for Farewill currently. The exact content of the email will change based on what and who you want to talk to, as well as your brand and company tone of voice.
To allow people to schedule calls with us we use a free tool called Calendly. This makes the process really easy compared to bouncing back-and-forth with several people all at the same time.
We also use an email tool called Mailchimp where we can see send, open, and click rates for our emails. This means we can make some informed guesses on how future emails might perform too. Looking at past email performance means you can do some maths to figure out how many people to send your new email to.
We usually see 8–10% of people who open our participant email then click to book in a call. So if we want to talk to 10–15 people we know we need about 180 people to open the email. We can use Mailchimp to segment out enough people, making sure they meet our participant criteria from day 1.
The first time I did this I gave participants the choice of up to a 2 week window to book in a time for a call. However, I’ve found the longer the period is, the more likely people are to drop out, forget, or just lose interest. It’ll also take you longer to be able to summarise and action what you’ve found by virtue of taking 2 weeks to do the calls. For our most recent research calls we gave people just a 2 day window to pick from and we still got plenty of participants signing up.
Day 3 and 4 — Booking in participants
Sending out the participant email is when things start getting exciting. Most of the sign ups will come in the first few hours but definitely give people a couple of days to get around to it. We usually see about half our participants book in over the following couple of days. If you’re using something like calendly then this is the easiest bit. You just have to keep an eye on your calendar to discuss with your team who’ll be taking each call.
I really recommend having a mix of people run the calls. We make a shared list where everyone in the team can assign themselves to calls that are convenient for them. I’ll then assign myself to the ones remaining. This gives everyone the opportunity to talk directly to customers and it means one person isn’t jumping from call to call to call, which can be exhausting. It also makes the analysis part more fun because everyone can contribute to share the stories they heard.
Day 5 and 6 — Talk to customers!
Starting day 5 you’ll hopefully have 10–15 calls booked in over the next couple of days. We use a tool called Aircall to make the calls. One really useful feature here is Aircall automatically records the calls for you. Having recordings makes it easier to clarify any points that don’t come through in the notes. Also, any team members new to phone research can listen to previous calls to hear how these conversations tend to flow.
Some techniques for talking and listening
Warm up questions
As with any conversation, the start can be a bit awkward. It can help the participant feel at ease by explaining clearly what the plan is and that no answers are right or wrong. A new tweak we recently added was saying “If there’s any questions you don’t want to answer, just say so and we can skip them”. We’ve very rarely had people ask to skip a question but saying this up front can put people’s mind at rest a little more.
Shine the spotlight
Once you’ve explained the call you can start shining a light on the participant. The more the participant talks, the more you can listen and the more you can learn. Imagine a spotlight between you and the person you’re talking to. Whoever is talking has the spotlight on them. Your goal is to shine the light on them and their story as much as possible.
Positive verbal nudges
For lots of participants, talking to a researcher on the phone can be a bit daunting. Without the visual clues of things like eye contact, nodding, and smiles, it is hard for the participant to know if what they’re saying is useful. And everyone naturally likes to feel like what they're contributing is interesting.
Some verbal shorthand you can use to encourage your participants is some positive “Uh huh”s, “Hmm”s, “Okay”s and “Yep”s. These are often enough to let your participant know you’ve understood and you are interested in them continuing their story.
One mistake I made early on when learning this was overusing Okays. One participant said to me “You say okay a lot!”. Remember you want to sound interested and encouraging, not robotic.
Participant: “I was watching TV and your advert came on.”
Researcher: “Okay, so you were watching TV and our advert came on.”
Parroting is a clever technique to dig into the detail of what someone has said. You simply repeat back what you just heard. It might look weird written down, but this happens in natural conversation all the time. It is a communication shortcut we all naturally learn that means “I am interested in hearing more of that story, please continue”.
Can you tell me more about that?
A slightly more direct way to ask someone to continue their story is by asking “Can you tell me more about that?” This works really well if you pair it up with a short summary of what you’ve heard so far. For example, “So you were watching TV and you saw our advert and it stood out to you. Can you tell me more about that?” This is a great way to signal that you’re interested in hearing more and participants often have more to share.
Day 7 — Analysis and review
Congrats! You’ve spoken to your customers and heard directly from them! Yessss!
Now it’s time to switch brain tracks into synthesis and analysis mode. Having the recordings and script notes is really essential for this. Without notes and recordings to go back to you can end up trying to piece together findings from your memory, which will lead you to making poorer decisions on much vaguer evidence.
At Farewill we are still iterating on the best ways to do this analysis stage but generally we’ll re-read the notes from every call with a view to absorbing everything together. This way you can start to pull out themes, patterns, and quotes to then get to clear findings.
We do this by summarising the answers from each person individually to get a short profile of them and their context. We then review all the answers to each question individually to get a sense of the patterns or groups of thought for each one.
While doing this analysis we’re looking to answer things like — Are the same kind of answers repeated across the group or sub-groups? Did people get confused about the same or similar points? Is there a common thought pattern or decision happening at key points in the journey?
We then combine these findings together along with quotes and quantitative data to create a slide deck of key findings and patterns from the research. We use this deck in the team as an artifact to refer back to as we work, and also to share and present around the rest of the business.
Our recent research calls took us 5 working days from start to finish, with a weekend in the middle to give participants time to book in. Our team was 3 people — 1 Product Manager, 1 Designer and 1 Developer — and our spend was £200 on participant rewards.
We sent 257 recruitment emails. 180 people opened the email. 16 people clicked the link to set up a call. 12 people booked in. We spoke to 10 customers.
We’ve already been using the findings and insights from the calls to inform the product work our team is tackling. This research, along with other discovery work, helped us hone in on 3 key problems to solve as well as giving us further clarity on the language to use throughout the customer journey.
Additionally, by presenting the findings, quotes, and stories to the entire business the whole team has a much more vivid understanding of who we’re building for, and a real human understanding of the impact of our work across every team.
PS Let us know in the comments if you try these techniques out for yourself.
If you want to come and practice together, we’re hiring!
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