12 Tips For Conducting Better User Research Interviews
You can’t develop successful business products in a vacuum. User research is among the most effective ways to ensure your customers get the results they want from your products. Done correctly, user research is a groundswell of useful and creative feedback you can apply to product development.
But you won’t reap the benefits of users’ experiences without interviewing them effectively. That’s why becoming the best interviewer you can during the user research process is so critical to your products’ success.
In this article, we’ve expanded on 12 tips you can employ in the three stages of the user research process—before, during, and after each interview—to ensure you get the greatest value from the user research phase of product development.
Before the User Research Interview
Our first four tips focus on critical steps you should take before a user interview begins. Consider these best practices when finding your interview candidates, preparing questions for each interview, and scheduling each interview in a way that maximizes output.
1. Develop an interview hypothesis.
A hypothesis is simply an assumption that a problem or improvement area exists, which you are setting out to prove. You will spend the interview process attempting to understand the nature of this problem or improvement area; later, you will uncover ways to resolve it.
For example, let’s assume your product helps business users identify the best deals for booking travel arrangements. Your users frequently book their flights using your tool, but stop short when prompted to book hotels. In this case, a reasonable hypothesis is, “Our hotel booking feature is turning off users.” By focusing on this key cause for concern, you ensure you produce results on that specific topic—results that can drive actionable change.
2. Determine the scope of research.
Now that you’ve established your hypothesis, define the scope of your research. According to PhD Thesis, your scope “defines clearly the extent of content that will be covered by the means of the research in order to come to more logical conclusions and give conclusive and satisfactory answers.”
Let’s consider your hypothetical travel booking product. You must determine which aspects of this product you want your research to cover based on what’s actionable by your product development team. Here are a few qualities you might consider targeting when asking users about their experience using the product:
- Attractive interface
- Intuitive navigation
- Clear value to the customer
- Processing speed
- Comparability to similar products
These qualities cover very different areas of the user experience, namely design, functionality, appeal, and market value. You may want general feedback on each of these subjects. However, you may also want specifics on only one or two in a key area, such as functionality. The scope of your research should set you up for success when improving your product later.
3. Prepare interview questions.
Now that you have a scope, use those focus areas as material for your interview questions. The following are a few best practices when preparing your interview questions, and when preparing personally for a user interview in general.
Start each line of inquiry with general questions about the subject. Start with general questions about each area of focus to establish a cadence with your interviewees This allows for qualitative feedback and gets users thinking about that topic specifically. Then, follow up with more specific questions on this subject. This will provide more actionable information during later analysis.
Use open questions and follow up questions. Successful interviews establish the right balance between flexibility and adherence to your specific questions. With this in mind, don’t be too rigid with your questioning. You may find new lines of inquiry or a particular user’s feedback valuable.
Keep it professional. Avoid becoming too close to your subjects, which could lead to biased responses. You want objective insights from your users, not superficial praise or indifference.
4. Schedule the user interview.
If interviewees feel you’re wasting their time or inconveniencing them, they’re unlikely to enter the conversation in good faith. While scheduling interviews, offer interviewees plenty of flexibility in selecting a time to meet. Use specialized tools, such as Calendly, which make the scheduling process easier and more personalized. You may also want to offer interviewees incentives as well.
You should also manage your interviewees expectations. Be clear about how long you expect the interview to take and what types of questions you will be asking. If you plan to record the interview—as you should—you must tell them so ahead of time.
During the User Research Interview
The following tips will help you prepare for all aspects of the interview itself. This includes recording, responding to different user responses, your attention to detail during product testing, and best practices to keep your bias, experience, and knowledge out of the interview.
Ensure you have a dependable audio or video recording tool. Protect yourself from missteps, such as failing to start a recording, by automating the recording process or assigning a dedicated team member to the task. Ensure the recordings are produced in digital format. You may also need to have interviewees vocally approve of being recorded during the interview. Be sure this is among the very first things they do during the interaction.
6. Be deliberate in your testing.
Remember, you enter each interview with specific goals in mind. The subjects of your questions should fit within the scope of what you’re testing. Consider doing interviews more frequently if you want data on lots of different subjects.
7. Be an active listener.
Even though you have a clear hypothesis and scope, your job is to glean insights from your interviewees. The interviewee will naturally arrive at subjects within the scope of your research, or arrive at them with limited guidance from you.
Don’t be too quick to come to their rescue if they are struggling, either. Much of the value you gain from these interviews is contextual—if an interviewee struggles to explain a problem, you may benefit from witnessing that struggle.
8. Stay neutral.
You want users’ feedback to come only from their own experiences. That’s why, during the interview, they should not have immediate access to resources beyond what they would normally have when using your product. The less information that comes from you, the better.
9. Keep it relevant.
Your goal is to identify areas of improvement within your product by parsing user interview data. Your goal is not to get ideas for improvements from users during their interview.Keep users talking about what they are currently doing, why they are doing it, how they are doing it, and what is frustrating about it. Avoid talking about what the product could or should do, or even what you are planning internally.
After the User Research Interview
These final steps address what to do after each interview—and the entire interview process—Is over. This includes simple courtesies, like thanking the user, but also how to process and disseminate interview data.
10. Thank the user for participating in the interview.
Establish ahead of time exactly what you’d like to say at the end of each interview. Establish a protocol for following up as well, whether it’s with a personalized thank you or even an incentive. Most importantly, ensure that your closing statements make clear that your relationship with one another in this capacity has come to an end.
11. Transcribe all your recordings.
You should have start-to-finish digital recordings of each interview once your research is complete. Organize these recordings in an intuitive way before submitting them to a reliable transcription service.
Transcribed quotes are a powerful tool for convincing stakeholders of necessary changes to your products. They are also critical to qualitative analysis, which you will need as you disseminate interview data into actionable reports. Rev provides a variety of transcription services so you spend less time on busy work and more time on deriving value from your research.
12. Share your findings.
Following your successful qualitative analyses, you will have a full-length, actionable report or reports to share internally, with stakeholders, or with business partners responsible for your product. Ensure you have all necessary approvals before sharing any personal or sensitive information. With the right insights, you’ll have a valuable resource for enhancing your product and driving long-term business success.
Growing as a User Research Interviewer
User research interviews are a boon for product development; they can be a boon for your professional growth as well. Use your transcripts and findings to identify where you can improve as a user research interviewer. Consider how you can improve your questioning, personability, or success honing in actionable subjects of interest. With accurate, in-depth interview transcripts on hand, interviews become an opportunity for you as well as your organization.
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