5 Tips for Super-Charging User Interivews


Let’s say you’ve developed a Microvertical hypothesis, and you’re starting to recruit people who fit that description.  Now your job is to write and conduct Screening Interviews, and learn more about who these people are, and  how they react to your core value prop.

At this stage, the questions you ask – and how you react to and followup their answers – will determine the quality of insight you gather. Here are 5 tips to help super-change your interviews with actionable insights.

Do a pre-interview Screening Survey to collect basic data 
Don’t waste precious interview time collecting simple-to-answer basic info. Instead, create a pre-interview Screening Survey to learn basic data upfront about your potential subjects. For best results, embed this survey into your recruiting efforts. Include questions about their age, occupation, tech habits, favorite media sources, etc in this survey – along with any qualifying questions that will help you filter their need and readiness for your product. For specific tips and tools for conducting screening surveys, check out this excellent Kissmetrics blog post.

Ask  questions that illuminate habits, needs, pain points, and triggers
A good interview script asks question that illuminate the habits, emotions and triggers embedded in people’s daly lives. What is their day like? What activities do they do regularly – and at what time?  Who do they interact with and care about? What do they long for – what’s missing in their lives? What’s causing them friction and frustration? What are they tired of and eager to change? What elicits a strong emotional reaction? For example, during Screening Interviews for the driving app, our questions centered around understanding people’s daily commute, including their pre-commute rituals, their actions and tech use  while driving, and post-commute activities like clocking mileage or texting on arrival. We also asked about related apps and services they were currently using, and uncovered a wealth of frustration and confusion ripe for disruption.

Tweak your interview script to focus on useful and revealing questions
This is guerrilla-style customer development, not a controlled scientific experiment. If you do 15 screening interviews, after the first few you’ll likely  notice patterns, and start learning which questions are working and which are not. Go ahead and edit your script between interviews to remove questions that aren’t yielding good info, expand on ones that are, and add new questions to drill down on emerging themes. Don’t be afraid to iterate; these interviews can be as agile as the rest of your practices. Identify emerging patterns early and formulate as mini-hypotheses. For example, in the driving app we  tweaked our questions to drill down on the frustrations and hidden desires around existing driving apps, which led to some key feature ideas and a mini-pivot.

Keep an eye out for existing habits to piggyback on
Creating brand new habits is tough. Really tough. It’s so much easier to piggyback on an existing habit – which is a core premise of B.J. Foggs  Tiny Habits program. For that reason, as you’re conducting your interviews, listen closely for existing habits that might serve as “hooks” for your offering. For example, during interviews for the driving app, we found that commuters generally check traffic and weather shortly before heading out, which gave us a clear existing habit to hook into. We also discovered that drivers often text the person they’re meeting with an ETA  – especially when they’ll be late – another common habit we could hook into and improve.

Keep calm, unbiased and dispassionate during the interviews
One of the hardest things for a passionate product creator to do is watch people react to their product and challenge their core beliefs. That’s why you need someone who’s not emotionally invested in the product to conduct the interviews – ideally a trained researcher, but in practice anyone who listens well and can record what they see and hear without influencing the results.   The interviewer’s demeanor needs be calm, unbiased and dispassionate – and sometimes that means handing over the reins.  During a recent redesign project, I was dying to get our Microvertical in front of a prototype and watch them use it – but because I was emotionally invested in the design, I stepped back and let the in-house staff conduct the interviews and do the user-testing without me in the room. It was hard. Really hard.  But getting unbiased results was worth it.