User Interviews: The Ultimate Guide to Research Interviews
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User Interviews: The Ultimate Guide to Research Interviews
In Today’s newsletter:
Types of User Interviews
Prerequisites. How to Prepare for the Research User Interview.
The Interview Process
🔒 Best Practices
🔒 Common Mistakes
🔒 Additional Advice
🔒 Download The Top 60+ Ready-To-Use User Interview Questions
1. Types of User Interviews
First, let's start with classifying user interviews.
Most sources you might find mention:
Structured interviews (all questions are planned).
Semi-structured interviews (some questions are planned).
Unstructured interviews (none of the questions are planned).
Product teams have specific goals and should prepare their questions in advance. At the same time, what’s been working for me and many other PMs I talked to is listening and reacting to what the person says. Not just following the script.
A classification that matters the most involves the goal of the interview:
Research interviews: Your objective is to understand user needs, experiences, behaviors, motivations, and attitudes in the context of the research goals you have. Research interviews help you identify customer clusters (“personas”) and their underserved needs and might inform your strategy, especially for new products.
Usability testing interviews: You aim to understand user interactions and how they perceive your idea to address value and usability risks before the implementation. A common approach is asking participants to complete a task using a prototype, with additional questions to further the evaluation. Many of those interviews can be automated. I have described this and other usability experiments in The Ultimate Validation Experiments Library and won’t focus on them in this post.
2. Prerequisites. How to Prepare for the Research User Interview.
Preparing for a user interview is a crucial step. The best practices:
2.1 Define your research goals
The research goal is simply what you are trying to achieve.
For Continuous Product Discovery, you want to identify opportunities that, when solved, will drive the desired Product Outcome. An example might be, “Customers spend 10% more time watching videos every month.”
For other types of interviews, like customer success interviews, it might be understanding the customer's experience with the product, gauging their satisfaction, identifying any challenges they face, and uncovering areas for improvement.
2.2 Recruit participants based on your goals
Finding participants might be challenging, so it’s worth considering it in advance.
My favorite approach is encouraging users to opt in to interviews while using your product. It might be as simple as a popup or additional email question in a CSAT survey. This can be quickly done with popular product analytics platforms (Pendo, Gainsight) or solutions like Maze.
Another approach is leveraging internal teams, specifically Sales, Support, and Customer Success. It has worked for me in B2B products where the number of customers was limited.
Finally, you might consider paying customers for the interview. This works particularly well with people who are not your customers.
Other strategies involve leveraging your network, posting on social media (potential customers), organizing webinars, publishing free ebooks to collect contacts, or sending personalized emails (the more personalization, the higher the conversion).
2.3 Prepare research questions and interview questions
Many people were surprised when it turned out that the interviewing legend Larry King never prepared for his interviews.
His secret? He loved listening.
While listening to the customers is essential, product teams have specific goals and, while staying open to changing the direction, should plan two types of questions:
Research questions are the questions you want to answer, aligned with your research goals, for example:
What prevents customers from spending more time…?
Why do the most active customers spend so much time…?
As Teresa Torres defines in Continuous Discovery Habits, “Our primary research question in any interview should be: What pain points, needs, and desires matter the most to this customer?”
Interview questions are the questions you will ask. More in the following points.
2.4 Plan how to document the interview
It’s been a common approach that one of the persons acts as a note-taker so that others can focus on being present and listening actively.
My favorite approach is recording calls (Zoom). You can then listen to it carefully, download the transcript, and even summarize the critical points with the help of AI. Getting participant’s consent is rarely a problem.
A tool that can do all this is Poised (AI communication coach), which not only generates a transcript but also summarizes the conversation and action points and gives you live feedback on your tone, filler words (uhh, umm), peace of talk, clarity, etc. (this post is not sponsored).
2.5 Ensure diverse perspectives
Product Discovery is not a task for a single person. Instead of building stage gates, we should embrace the collaborative approach.
In the case of Continuous Product Discovery, the whole Product Trio (Product Manager, Product Designer, and Lead Engineer) should be present during an interview.
This will help you build a shared understanding. Each of those people brings different perspectives to the table.
3. The Interview Process
The interview process is straightforward and intuitive:
Welcome participant. You typically start with a friendly greeting, which helps to establish a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere.
Introduce your team and explain the purpose of the interview (Why).
Before proceeding, ask if the participant has any questions and ensure they are comfortable and ready to start.
Ease into the conversation with some light, open-ended questions like:
Q: What initially interested you in [their area of expertise]?
Q: Could you tell me a little about your role and what a typical day looks like?
What has worked well for me is acknowledging the participant's presence and asking them about their emotions, not just facts, like:
Q: “I’ve always been interested in…because…. How did you manage to break into [specific field]?”
Q: “It’s such a fascinating field. How does it feel to [do something meaningful]?”
Seamlessly transition into the interview part. The best practices and common mistakes are described in the following points.
You aim to summarize the discussion, gather final thoughts, and ensure nothing significant has been missed.
You might ask questions like:
Q: Is there anything we haven’t covered that you think is important for us to know about your experience with [product]?
Q: Were there any questions you expected me to ask that I didn’t?
Express gratitude and ask whether it’s okay to contact the customer in the future.
3.4 Data analysis
After the interview, it’s time to analyze the data.
In the case of Continuous Product Discovery, it’s synthesizing insights and mapping Opportunities in the form of Opportunity Solution Tree.
For Jobs-to-be-Done, it might be synthesizing information about the job, job steps, and importance and satisfaction with the ability to achieve desired outcomes.
4. Best Practices
Hope that helps. That was a public part. Upgrade your account to read more and download the Top 60+ Ready-To-Use Interview Questions.