Conducting user interviews is one of the simplest but most effective ways of getting feedback and insights from customers. Being a product manager, spending a lot of time with users helps us in discovering the problems and gives us great insight. This article is a guide to conducting effective user interviews and is based on my experience at PayPal.
These interviews can be conducted remotely using tools like Teams, Zooms, etc. But the effectiveness of these interviews depends on how well you have prepared for them. It’s never easy to conduct an interview so being prepared beforehand is the key! Here are some tips to help you conduct better user interviews.
Before that, let me share a bit about the product: (this will help you to relate to the kind of questions I asked during the user interview)
Product X is one of the widely used products inside PayPal for getting access to the right set of applications and managing the lifecycle of the employee/contractors (onboarding to termination). This product is used by multiple personas like employees, managers, admins, and application owners. This user interview was focused on the manager’s persona (who has employees/contractors reporting under them).
How to find the right set of users:
First and foremost, before conducting any user interview it’s important to recruit the right set of users. Try to set up some criteria for selecting the user. This is how I approached selecting the right set of users.
I started with a general survey to hear from our customers, their thoughts, pain points, and feedback.
Shared it across multiple channels to get inputs. (Emails, Slack, Meetings, 1–1)
In the survey, there was a question “Will you be willing to spend 30mins for a detailed 1–1 conversation”
30% of the users who participated in the survey opted for that option.
This helped me get a list of users who were willing for a user interview.
Based on that list and the set of criteria, I was able to boil it down to a group of 7 users.
This was one approach to recruiting the set of users, there might be many other ways as well)
Once you have recruited the users, there are various ways of conducting the discussion:
Based on the objective, the type of discussion varies. I went ahead with a 1–1 Interview.
Before conducting the user interview:
Once the meeting is scheduled with the users, below are a few tips on how to prepare for the session.
Always prepare the set of questions that you intend to ask during the interview. Here are a few best practices you should keep in mind while preparing the questions:
Always ask open-ended questions. [Example — How do you spend your weekends?]
Don’t ask Yes/No type of questions. [Example — Do you watch football on weekends?]
Don’t ask leading questions. [Example — How often do you watch football?]
Avoid long questions.
Don’t use terms, and acronyms in the question, that the user might not be familiar with. [Example — Do you raise a SNOW ticket if unable to perform an action in IHub?]
Here is the list of questions, which I prepared before conducting the interview:
What does your normal day look like?
What is the Goal you are trying to achieve with Product X?
What do you do when you are unable to perform an action?
What are some other applications that you have?
How many team-member do you manage?
What comes to your mind when you received an email from Product X? Can you please walk me through the entire journey?
What is your biggest pain point in the entire journey of Product X?
What are you currently doing to make this task easier? (Follow up question from the previous)
Tell me a time when you were really frustrated with the product and what was in your mind?
Tell me a time when you really had a fantastic experience with the product?
Can you walk me through your journey during the <feature X>?
In your past organization, how do you use to perform these actions?
When are you planning your next vacation? (<feature Y>)
Create a template ready that can be used to fill in the answers of each participant. If you are using any collaboration tool, please ensure the user is able to access it before the interview.
During the user interview:
Introduction — Always welcome your users, make them feel comfortable. Apart from introducing yourself, it’s always recommended to set the agenda, goal, and expectations before starting the discussion.
Explain the purpose of the Interview — Always describe to your user what is the purpose of the interview and what you are trying to achieve out of this. This will help the user to understand the context and participate in the discussion accordingly.
Record the meeting — Recording the meeting will help you to go through it later, (if there is no note keeper), recording will help you to minimize note taking and you may be actively involved in the discussion. Always take permission before you record any sessions. Also, let the user know how the recording will be used.
Try to follow the 80:20 rule — Which means let the user talk 80% of the time and restrict yourself as much as possible. There might be many pauses and silence, refrain from filling those and let the user share more information.
Format — Keep the discussion very conversational type and try asking many follow-up questions. This will help you to dig deeper and find the root cause. The kind of questions that have to be asked is already shared above. It’s not necessary to follow the same order or stick to those. It may vary from user to user.
After the user interview:
Once the interviews are done, it’s time to collate all the information and work on those:
Thank your users — Once the user interviews are done, thank you to the users and keep them posted on the next steps.
Do a Retro — Do a quick retrospective to understand, what went well during the interview and what could have been improved. This will help you to plan better for any upcoming user interviews.
Process the information — This is the most important part, all this information and data will be used in formulating user personas, user journeys, mind maps, etc.