The Do's and Don'ts of Customer Research Interviews

Your goal should be to make your interviewee feel as comfortable as possible to get great feedback.

The beauty of research interviews is you get a peek into what customers are thinking, how they are thinking, and why they are making certain decisions. This gives you additional insights that you see in quantitative data.

Given the nature of interviews, you only have a limited time to get your questions answered, and you want to make the most of this opportunity. In this article, we’ll go over some tips on what you should and shouldn’t do during an interview to help you achieve your research goals.

Do create structure

A structured interview will make customers feel safe, thus promoting openness and honesty in their feedback. Here’s how you can structure your interview time:

  • Prepare a script for the interview.
  • Designate the one and only interviewer. Provide check-in points during the interview for your team to ask questions, but they should not interject during the interview. It causes confusion.
  • Limit the number of co-workers in the interview to 3 to 4. If you have too many people on the call, it can make the customer feel like they’re on trial.

Do be a good listener

Being a good listener is an important skill to have when you conduct customer research. Think of yourself as a therapist and the customer as your patient. You want the customer to do almost all of the talking. The more you show that you’re listening, the more a customer will open up.

Be like this dog: ALL EARS!

Be like this dog: ALL EARS!

Here’s how you can show you’re listening:

  • Clarify questions that customers don’t understand.
  • Assure customers that their feedback is valuable.
  • Paraphrase their answers to make sure you’re understanding them correctly.

"The worst thing that can happen in an interview is for your customer to stop giving feedback, especially negative feedback."

Don’t cause your customers to clam up

The worst thing that can happen in an interview is for your customer to stop giving feedback, especially negative feedback. Negative feedback is often the most beneficial feedback you can receive in a research interview. It can tell you what’s not working and why it’s not working.

To prevent your customers from sealing their lips, do not:

  • Dominate the conversation.
  • Ask leading questions.
  • Show the customer what they should do in a usability study.
  • Defend the work.
  • Explain why you made certain design choices.
  • Fix their problem.

What should I do when the customer…

In an ideal interview, you will have a customer who does a great job talking out loud and staying on task. Realistically, most of our customers won’t be an ideal customer. Let’s face it, talking out loud to a bunch of strangers is weird!

Make your customers feel comfortable by making it feel like a conversation more than an interview. Your job is to listen and dig deeper.

Make your customers feel comfortable by making it feel like a conversation more than an interview. Your job is to listen and dig deeper.

We’ve selected some of the common scenarios our team has faced during interviews, and how we’ve dealt with them.

What should I do when the customer…

  • Is not talkative or talking through steps? Encourage the customer to talk more through follow-up questions like, “Can you tell me more about that?”, “What are you looking at right now?” or “What are you thinking?”
  • Is confused about what they should do? Rephrase the question or scenario. Ask what they are confused by.
  • Gets off task? Typically, this happens more with usability tests where customers are giving feedback on the part of the prototype you’re not testing. Find a natural place to interject, then politely redirect them. E.g. “That’s great feedback! Could you should me how you’d do X [original task] and your thoughts around that experience?”
  • Is looking to please you? Customers may ask, “Am I doing the right thing?” or “Is this helpful?” Verbally reassure them that this is the type of feedback you need. You can also tell customers that you’ve heard others say similar things.
  • Asks you how to perform the task [in a usability study]? Respond with a question, such as “What would you do if I weren’t here?” or “What would you do next?”