How user interviews can be done right, reusable, and in a few clicks

How user interviews can be done right, reusable, and in a few clicks

October 2022

It can be daunting to start with customer interviews. Maybe your company is not doing this, and you’re the first to promote it as a product manager. Or you don’t have much experience and are unsure how to lead it. Either way, it requires research, courage, and, most importantly, a good plan of what you want to learn.

We at Apify are trying to talk to our users as much as possible. The calls are critical in various stages of our discovery phase. In an ideal world, we want to first confirm user needs and assumptions during the research. Then start with designs, go through user testing, iterate, and move toward delivery. Since these calls took up quite a lot of space in my calendar, I thought of ways to prepare for them with a few clicks.

Let me describe how I got there before I show you exactly what my user interview structure looks like. I always start with research and usually read a bunch of resources on the topic. I recently shared how you can easily grow your knowledge and some great articles that helped me to create a good foundation. I understood the customers and how to set up a meeting structure. I deepened my knowledge from The Mom Test and fell in love with Continuous Discovery Habits. It’s just fantastic, and I’m using many techniques from the book.

The courage comes after a few repetitions and the plan is what matters (along with the available customers). It doesn’t need to be perfect but having an understanding of the “why” is necessary. Here’s the summary of what I learned from the resources and conducting user interviews. It should help you to quickly start on your own.

Stick with 30-minute-long meetings ⏱️

I want to be respectful to our customers and my schedule. Especially if there are many meetings during the day, keeping it short is essential. I found this agenda works the best for me:

  • Introduction ~ 5 min → here, you get to know each other, and it’s better to talk a little bit than to start right away

  • Agenda overview ~ 3 min → I like to describe how we’ll spend the next 25 minutes and share the purpose of the call

  • Prepared questions ~ 15 min → this is the time to ask about interview questions and verify your assumptions

  • Interviewee’s questions ~ 5 min → it’s fair to also create a space for any questions the users might have

  • Summary ~ 2 min → I want to thank users for their time and explain the incentive we give at Apify (extra credits to try out our product)

Discover answers to research and interview questions 🧑‍🔬

Anytime I start with user interviews, I outline these types of questions.

Research questions help to answer the critical information we want to learn about users’ behavior. The findings guide us to make better decisions for our designs. In most cases, I list one question related to the discovery process at a time. An example might be “How do newly registered users learn to use our product?

Interview questions are asked during the meetings and stem from the research question. They should motivate the users to tell a story, and the questions can be in the form of “Tell me about the last time you did X.”. There are typically more questions like that, and the goal is to understand how users behave.

Confirm assumptions ❌ / ✅

Whenever there’s a problem, we already think of some kind of solution. It’s similar to when we create designs or write a user story. We believe that users will behave in specific ways. We are biased, and it’s hard not to be.

This process helps to test assumptions fast and move forward before you don’t want to let go of your ideas. I list the assumptions after all my interview questions. I try to answer the questions in a way users would and in most cases, I assign them to two categories:

  • Desirability → Do users want it? Are they going to get value from it?

  • Usability → Do users know how to use it? Can they find what they need?

There are three more types of assumptions. Viability and feasibility assumptions are not tested with the users and serve as a team discussion. The ethical assumption is rare to test but should be in your mind:

  • Viability → Is the solution worth building? Can our business model support it?

  • Feasibility → Can we build it from a technical perspective?

  • Ethical → Is there any harm if we build this idea?

Write down facts, insights, and opportunities 📝

The facts are basic information about the users. I’m usually asking about their role and company, how did they find about us, and how long they used our product.

The insights are interesting information about users’ behavior and a summary for others. It can be information about how they tried other competitors or some new ways of using our product.

The opportunities are the uncovered needs, pain points, or desires. It can be a simple sentence mentioned during the meeting such as:

  • I wish there would be more guidance after I register

  • It’s not easy to find answers in the documentation

Take 15 minutes afterward to clean up the notes 🧹

I can’t overstate how important this is. It doesn’t seem like a priority, but trust me, find the time for it. There’s a significant benefit at the end of your research. When you create a summary of everything you learned, you’ll be happy you found the time for it before.

Share the findings with others 🤝

Once the notes are clean, they shouldn’t stay in the shadows. They’re almost useless if you don’t share the findings and keep them to yourself.

With this meeting structure, you can copy and paste the facts, insights, and opportunities to Slack in the cleaned format. You can add it to Productboard and map it to your problems/features. Or add it to Miro to your opportunity tree and interview snapshot. There are, for sure many more ways how to leverage these notes.

The user interview structure is for download under this 🔗 link with an example. You can save it as a template in your meeting notes and create it within 2 clicks.

I’ll be happy to hear your feedback about the template or any thoughts you might have ✌️

This post was originally posted on Medium.