As we find ourselves locked at home, we need to adapt some of our research methods in order to keep learning from our users. Even though face-to-face interviews and ethnographic research where you observe a participant in a real-live environment might not be possible right now, there’s still a lot of things you can do to get to know your users better.
Remote User Research is a normal part of most of our projects at Major, as we often work with international clients that have customers in different countries and continents and it’s not always feasible to travel to meet them. One of our preferred research methods are user interviews and luckily, we can do most of them remotely by making a few adjustments to the process.
Assuming that you already did the work to plan a good user research study, that will lead to actionable insights that you can work on, here are some things to keep in mind in order to run the interviewing process as smoothly as possible.
Before the interview
Create your interview script - The interview script is fundamental for the success of the research itself. If you’re not asking relevant questions that can lead to action, you won’t get that much out of your efforts. We like to structure our interviews in 3 main sections - introduction to get to know the person, their motivations and needs, their role and the problems they are trying to solve. The middle part of the interview is focused on the interaction with the product and how that process works, is it solving the right problems, what opportunities exist and finally the end, where we leave some room for other questions to arise and for the interviewee to talk a bit more freely about other related matters.
Streamline the booking process - Booking interviews can be very time consuming, between deciding who to recruit, finding a time that works for both parties and scheduling, there’s a lot you need to do before the interview itself. You can streamline some of this process by sending an email to the group of users relevant to your research project and inviting them to join and schedule the interview. The email should include a link to set up a time slot. Calendly works really well for this as it shows your availability and automatically adds all the necessary info to the calendar invite and sends reminders of the appointment. If you’re doing interviews with people in different time zones, make sure to account for times that might work best for those time zones.
Test your interview script - If you’re interviewing a large number of participants it’s important that you test your interview script with a couple of participants to see if all questions are clear and if the structure and order of questions make sense. You want to have the same script for all interviews to make sure you don’t get lost during the interview and to make it easier to analyse results later. For each interview you might need to ask follow up questions to dig deeper on a subject, specially if the interviewee is prone to short answers, but having the the script will help you get back on track and keep each question focused on a specific topic.
Define the way to capture results - If you’re planning to interview a significant amount of people (30+), deciding the way your team should capture insights will save you a huge amount of time in the analysis process. Spending time beforehand deciding the tool, structure, tagging and rating systems will make collecting and analysing the information you gather much faster, leaving less work to do after the interviews. Don’t just leave this step for after you’ve done the interviews. In terms of tools, Airtable is great to collect large amounts of data and create different tables that analyse different aspects of the user interviews. For instance, you can create views per theme, feature, team / vertical, user flow and have the relevant observations and the person interviewed show up in each table. It’s awesome.
During the interview
Use video instead of audio - Some people feel a bit uncomfortable talking to a stranger on a video call and start the call with audio only. You should encourage the participant to change to a video call as it is easier to make a human connection and create empathy. Remember that most of our communication is non-verbal, so being able to see facial expressions, gestures and body language is a huge help in breaking some of the physical distance barriers. Also, listening to audio-only interviews, you might not able to tell if the person was being sarcastic in a specific comment. Going back to a video can help you better understand what the participant meant. We usually use Zoom or Google Meet for interviews.
Have a designated note taker - For best results have 2 people of the research team per interview: the interviewer and a note taker. The interviewer should be focused on asking questions, paying attention to the participant, digging deeper into questions to better understand context, pain points and problems and the note taker should, as the name suggest, take notes of what is being said that can be compiled and analysed in comparison with other interviews. If you record the interview you can take notes at a later point, but this will increase the effort to analyse each interview. If you do have a note taker, make sure that the notes are formatted in a consistent way, and it’s clear the level of detail needed. You don’t need an exact transcript of everything that is said (you can also have this) but it’s easier to define the level of detail you want and how notes should be written. We usually keep our interview notes on a Google Doc or directly on Notion, depending if they need to be shared or is just for internal consumption.
Record everything - Whether you take notes yourself, or have someone sitting in on the interview and taking notes, you should record everything. You might miss something the participant has said or you might want to share a part of the interview with your team, or do a compilation to share with the management team so they can see real users talking about the product. As a rule of thumb, after starting a new interview and doing initial introductions to get to know the person a bit better, ask if you can record the interview and explain that it’s for internal use only and a way to keep you focused on the answers without having to take detailed notes. From my experience, most people are fine with it and haven’t had anyone say no so far. For Mac, we use Quicktime to record the entire screen, but if you’re using Zoom, you can record the meeting automatically and receive it through email after the meeting.
After the Interviews
Follow up with participants - Don’t forget to follow up after the interview. A simple email thanking them for participating and creating an open channel to keep the communication flowing goes a long way. After you finished your research and compiled the results, you might want to share your insights with your participants. This is an easy way for them to get a peek at what other participants said and to communicate which will be the your team priorities moving forward. You get extra-points if after you actually implemented some of the changes talked about during the interviews you get back to the participant and let them know about it.
Keep your files organized - For each interview, keep the notes and the recording on the same folder. You can create a folder per interview or have all interviews on the same folder. Having a consistent naming structure for your files will make it easier to find what you’re looking for at a later stage. A simple format you can use is PersonName_CompanyName_Date and then you’ll see both the interview notes and recording next to each other.
Analyse and share results - Your research is only valuable if its acted upon, so you need to extract insights from the data you collected. Analysing data from a large amount of interviews can take up to 2 to 3 times the time of the interview itself. That comes from finding patterns, tagging information, finding ideas and compiling everything in a digestible format that can be shared with the team. Sharing your research results is one of the most important steps in order to create awareness of what are the main insights you gathered. For Research Reports, it’s helpful to have an executive summary with highlights and main takeaways but also keep the raw information and more in-depth report accessible for context.
Create an action plan - We’ve all heard stories of research that is left to die in a drawer somewhere, so after you shared the results with your team, its important to come up with a prioritised plan to put insights into action. You can start by tackling ‘long-hanging fruit’ which are usually low effort and have a medium to high impact to the user, or go deep and finally start a project that will take a bit longer but can lead your product to the next level. No matter where you decide to start, it’s important you use the insights you gathered to drive change.
As you can see, most of the process of doing interviews is the same in a remote setting. Besides the interview itself being done over a video call, most of the other steps remain unchanged which should reassure you that you can keep learning from your users even while keeping your distance.
For the next few weeks we’ll be answering questions from our friends and community on how to make the transition to the brave new world of social distancing a bit less painful. If you have a question for us reach out at email@example.com