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User interviews: The complete guide for 2024

By
Jack Wolstenholm
November 28, 2023
User interviews: The complete guide for 2024

The key to creating successful products lies in truly understanding your users. User interviews stand at the forefront of this discovery process, offering a unique window into the minds and hearts of those who use your product. They help connect your team's vision with the real-world experiences of your users.

By engaging directly with your users, you unlock qualitative insights — learning about their needs, frustrations, and interactions with your product. This comprehensive guide delves deeper into user interviews, equipping you with the tools and knowledge to harness the power of direct user feedback.

What is a user interview?

A user interview is a qualitative research method where the researcher (the moderator) asks a potential or existing user (the participant) guided questions to understand how they interact with a product or service. It involves conducting in-depth discussions with users to gather insights about their experiences, opinions, attitudes, needs, and behaviors related to a specific product, service, or concept. You can apply user interviews to various scenarios, like evaluating the effectiveness of a website, understanding customer perceptions of a product, or assessing the impact of a service.  

The purpose of interviewing your users is to understand their perspective and the "why" behind their behavior so you can make informed decisions and build a better product.

It’s not just about what users do but also their motivations, challenges, and preferences. This qualitative approach offers detailed insights that quantitative data alone cannot provide, making user interviews a must-have method in any UX researcher's toolkit.

The process typically involves a one-on-one conversation between a researcher and a user. While a set of predetermined questions guides these discussions, they can be flexible enough to delve deeper into areas of interest as they arise. With the participant's consent, the researcher may record the interview to capture the conversation in-full, while also taking notes along the way.

User interviews help researchers, product managers, designers, engineers, and marketers identify and understand their users' pain points and needs. This understanding guides the creation of products that meet, and hopefully exceed, user expectations.

Companies like Canva, Figma, and Drift trust Great Question as their home for user interviews — from participant recruitment, scheduling, and incentives, to transcription, synthesis, and storage. Create a free Great Question account and start interviewing your users here.

User interviews vs. customer interviews: An important distinction

User interviews and customer interviews are often used interchangeably, and it's easy to see why.

Both user interviews and customer interviews help companies better understand how people interact with what they provide. Both help companies uncover key insights, make smarter decisions, and build better products and services. Both can be run remotely or in-person. There's a lot of overlap.

But there are a few important, albeit slight, differences between the two that are worth keeping in mind. While user interviews are centered on the experience and usability of a product or service, customer interviews revolve around the broader relationship between the customer and the company.

Let's take a closer look:

User interviews

Focus: User interviews are primarily concerned with how individuals use a product or service. The focus is on the user experience (UX); think usability, functionality, and design.

Participants: The participants in user interviews are actual users of the product or service, regardless of whether they are paying customers. They can include frequent users, occasional users, or even potential users who might use the product in the future. For instance, in B2B SaaS, the user might be someone who uses the app daily but doesn’t necessarily make purchasing decisions about the software.

Objective: The primary objective is to understand how the product or service fits into the user’s life, how they interact with it, and what improvements could enhance the user experience. It’s more about the interaction with the product and the overall experience than about sales or marketing considerations.

Customer interviews

Focus: Customer interviews delve into the customer's overall relationship or experience with the company and its brand. These interviews often extend beyond the usage of a specific product to encompass aspects like customer service, customer satisfaction, brand perception, purchasing decisions, and loyalty.

Participants: The focus here is on customers — individuals who have purchased or are considering purchasing a product or service. This group may include both active users and those who have stopped using the product. For example, with a fitness app, the participants might include current subscribers who regularly use the app, occasional users who have the app but use it infrequently, and former users who have canceled their subscriptions.

Objective: The main objective of customer interviews is to gather insights into why customers purchase a product, their satisfaction with the purchase process, their perception of the brand, and their loyalty and likelihood to make future purchases. These interviews are often used to inform marketing strategies, sales approaches, branding, and overall business development.

Benefits of user interviews

Let’s explore the key benefits that conducting user interviews can bring to your design and development process:

Gain an in-depth understanding of your users

User interviews can help you uncover the users' needs, preferences, pain points, and motivations. This level of detail is often unattainable through quantitative methods like surveys. You get to uncover the  behind users’ behaviors, giving you a clear insight into their thought processes and decision-making.

Identification of unmet needs

User interviews are particularly effective in identifying needs that users might not be consciously aware of. By engaging users in discussions about their experiences, you can unearth latent needs and desires, paving the way for innovative solutions that users might not have thought to ask for.

Enhanced product usability

Feedback gathered from user interviews is powerful for refining a product's usability. Users provide firsthand accounts of their interaction with the product, highlighting areas of confusion, difficulty, or dissatisfaction. This feedback enables your design team to make targeted improvements that enhance the overall user experience.

Testing of assumptions

In product development, assumptions about user behavior and preferences are inevitable. User interviews help test these assumptions, ensuring that product development is grounded in real data. This validation is crucial for minimizing the risks of misalignment between the product and its intended users.

Development of user personas & journey maps

Qualitative data from user interviews is key to developing accurate user personas and journey maps. These tools are vital for empathizing with your users and understanding their experiences throughout their interaction with a product or service. Personas and journey maps informed by user interview data are more realistic and useful for guiding your design decisions.

Limitations of user interviews

While user interviews are a powerful tool in your UX research arsenal, they come with certain limitations you should be aware of.

The discrepancy between stated intentions & actual behavior

One of the key challenges in user interviews is there’s often a gap between what people say they do and what they actually do. Even when interviews are contextual, they tend to capture declared intentions rather than actual behaviors. To mitigate this, techniques like the "5 whys" method can help you drill deeper and uncover more accurate insights about user behavior.

Flaws in human memory

Participants may struggle to recall details accurately and unconsciously fill in gaps in their memory to create a coherent story. This reconstructed narrative may not align with actual events. To counter this, consider asking the same question differently throughout the interview to spot inconsistencies and get closer to the true sequence of events.

Overlooked details

Often, interview participants may omit small details because they don't perceive them as significant. However, these minor details can be crucial for your project. It’s important to emphasize the importance of these details to your participants and persistently ask "why" to dig deeper into their actions and motivations.

Social desirability bias

Some participants may alter their responses to present themselves in a more favorable light. They might withhold certain information or portray their behavior as more socially acceptable than it actually is. Social desirability bias can skew the data you collect, painting a picture that’s more idealized than real.

Types of user interviews

There are several types of user interviews that you can employ depending on your research goals and the context of your project.

Structured interviews

In a structured interview, the moderator adheres to a strict script or set of questions. This type of interview is very organized and allows for easy comparison across different participants, since everyone is asked the same questions in the same order. Structured interviews are particularly useful when you need to gather specific information from a large number of people.

Semi-structured interviews

A semi-structured interview is more flexible. While you start with a set of predefined questions, the moderator has the freedom to deviate from the script based on the participant's responses. This type of interview is ideal when you need structured data but also want to explore unexpected topics or insights that arise during the conversation.

Unstructured interviews

An unstructured interview is loose and conversational in nature. There’s no fixed set of questions; a general topic or objective guides the interview. This format is best suited for exploratory research, where you aim to understand broad user attitudes, experiences, and motivations without the constraints of a predefined questionnaire.

Contextual interviews

Contextual interviews involve observing and interviewing users in their natural environment, where they use the product or service. This type of interview helps you understand how users interact with a product in real-world conditions, providing insights into their behaviors, challenges, and usage patterns.

Remote interviews

Remote interviews, conducted over the phone or using a video conferencing tool like Zoom, are useful when geographical constraints prevent face-to-face meetings. They can be structured, semi-structured, or unstructured. While they offer convenience and a broader reach, they may lack the depth of in-person interviews, especially in terms of observing non-verbal cues.

Need help getting started? Our library of free UX research templates is full of examples, from customer discovery, journey, and exit interviews, to stakeholder interviews and more.

How to conduct a user interview

When done correctly, user interviews can provide powerful insights that shape the direction of your product or service. Here's what the process looks like in practice:

Define your objectives

Start by clearly defining the objectives of your user interview.

What specific information are you seeking? How do you plan to use this information? And what happens if you don't find what you're looking for?

Are you exploring user needs, testing a new feature, or gathering feedback on an existing product? Clear objectives will guide your interview process, from drafting questions to analyzing responses.

Find the ideal participants

Select participants who represent your actual or potential user base. Diversity in your selection is key to gaining a broad perspective.

Consider factors like age, gender, occupation, and experience with your product. The number of participants depends on your resources and the depth of insights required, but generally, 5-7 users can provide substantial qualitative data.

Prep your interview questions

Draft a list of questions that align with your objectives. Start with open-ended questions to encourage detailed responses, and avoid leading questions that might prompt biased answers.

The goal is to understand the user's experience and perspective. Frame your questions accordingly.

Choose the right setting

Decide whether the interview will be in person, over the phone, or via video call. In-person interviews can be beneficial for observing body language and creating a more personal connection, while remote interviews offer convenience and flexibility.

Conduct the interview

During the interview, create a comfortable, open environment. At the start of an interview, it's common for some participants to feel uneasy, particularly if they are uncertain about what the process involves. Start easy by explaining the interview's objective, the nature of the questions you'll be asking, and how their responses will be used.

One of the best ways to build rapport is by asking open-ended warm-up questions that participants can easily answer. Listen actively and follow up with probing questions to further explore specific areas.

Remember to stay neutral and avoid expressing judgments or opinions that might influence the participant's responses.

Press record & take notes

Document the interview through notes and, with participant consent, audio and/or video recording. This will help in accurately capturing the responses so you can analyze them later. Pay attention to what is said and how it's said, including non-verbal cues in face-to-face settings.

Analyze & synthesize findings

After your interview is complete, review your notes and recordings to identify patterns, insights, and emerging themes. Look for commonalities and differences in responses, and see how these relate to your initial objectives.

Best user interview questions to ask

As a researcher, it's important to steer clear of directly asking users what they want. Chuck Liu, Head of User Research at Chime, notes that this approach can complicate user interviews and lead to misleading insights.

So, what should you ask instead? Here are some of the most common interview questions used today:

What are you trying to get done?

Start by understanding the user's objectives. This question helps you grasp the broader context of why they use your product or service. It reveals their goals and what they hope to achieve, providing a foundation for the rest of the conversation.

How do you currently do this?

By asking users to describe how they currently accomplish their tasks, you gain insight into their workflow. This helps you understand their methods, the tools they use, and how your product fits into their routine.

What could be better about the way you do this?

This question is key to identifying pain points and areas for improvement. It encourages users to reflect on their challenges and what aspects could be enhanced.

Rather than asking them to propose solutions, you're prompting them to identify what isn't working well, which can lead to valuable insights for innovation.

How to recruit user interview participants

Here's how you can effectively recruit user interview participants:

Define your target audience

Start by clearly defining who your ideal user is. Consider factors such as demographics, behavior patterns, product usage, and other criteria relevant to your product. This clarity helps in identifying the right participants who can offer meaningful insights.

Tap into various recruitment channels

Recruitment channels can include social media, forums related to your product, email lists, and even your company's customer database. You can also use recruitment services or platforms that specialize in finding research participants.

Screen candidates before selecting participants

Once you have a pool of potential participants, screen them to ensure they fit your target profile. You can use short surveys or calls that include screening questions to filter out candidates who don't match your target user profile.

Offer appropriate incentives

Providing incentives can significantly increase participation rates. The incentives could be gift cards, discounts on your products, or even direct compensation. Ensure the incentive is appealing enough to encourage participation while staying within your budget.

Schedule interviews respectfully

Be considerate of participants' time when scheduling interviews. Offer multiple time slots and be flexible. Clear communication regarding the time, medium (in-person, phone, video call), and interview duration is important.

Follow up

After the initial contact, follow up with participants to confirm their participation and remind them of the interview schedule. Following up reduces no-shows and ensures a smooth process.

Use the right tool

To manage all of the above, consider a UX research platform. With Great Question, you bring your own users or recruit from a panel of more than three million vetted participants in over 150 countries. From there, you can manage every step of the user interview process in one place: scheduling, incentives, transcription, storage, you name it.

When recruiting participants for user interviews, you have two primary options: bringing your own users as research participants or recruiting from an outside panel. Both have pros and cons to weigh.

Bring your own participants

Bringing your own participants, such as existing customers or users, offers the advantage of relevance. These participants are likely more familiar with your product, allowing for deeper, more specific insights. This approach can also be more cost-effective, as it often doesn’t require the additional fees associated with external recruitment services.

Moreover, recruiting your own users can build long-term relationships and facilitate ongoing feedback and user engagement. However, this method can be time-consuming and might introduce biases, as existing users may have preconceived notions about your product. Additionally, you might miss the fresh perspectives that new users or non-customers can offer.

Recruiting from an external panel

Recruiting participants from an external panel provides a diverse range of perspectives, thanks to the varied pool of people these panels offer. This method is generally faster and less labor-intensive, as the panel handles most of the recruitment process. Participants from external panels are less likely to have existing biases towards your product, potentially leading to more objective feedback.

The trade-off, however, includes higher costs due to service fees and possibly higher participant incentives. There's also the possibility that these participants may not represent your actual user base as accurately as your customers and might lack familiarity with your product.

Looking for participants? Recruit from a panel of 3M+ research participants.

How to analyze user interview data

Transcribe the interview

Transcriptions provide a detailed, written record of the conversations, making it easier to analyze the content. You can transcribe interviews manually or with the help of transcription software. A tool like Great Question will automatically record and transcribe your user interviews, streamlining the process and ensuring you don't miss any crucial details.

Review & summarize key points

Review the transcriptions and your notes, highlighting key points, quotes, and themes. Summarize these findings for each interview. This step distills the large amount of data into manageable, focused snippets of information.

‍Great Question uses AI to instantly summarize interviews, saving you time and helping you get your team up-to-speed faster.

Look for patterns & themes

Once you have the summaries, start looking for patterns, themes, and commonalities across different interviews. Are there recurring pain points, needs, or behaviors mentioned by multiple participants? Identifying these patterns is crucial for understanding broader user trends and sentiments.

Contextualize the data

Consider the context in which responses were given. Pay attention to nuances and non-verbal cues (if the interview was conducted in person or over video call). This helps in understanding the depth and emotion behind the responses.

Validate with quantitative data

If possible, corroborate your qualitative findings with quantitative data. This might mean looking at user behavior data, analytics, or survey results. Validation with quantitative data can strengthen your conclusions and provide a more comprehensive view.

Synthesize insights

Once you have identified themes and patterns, synthesize these into coherent insights. How do these findings relate to your research objectives? What do they tell you about your users' needs, behaviors, and preferences?

Brainstorm solutions & next steps

Use the insights to brainstorm potential solutions or next steps. How can you address the identified needs or pain points? This should be a collaborative effort involving team members from different disciplines to ensure diverse perspectives and innovative solutions.

Best practices for user interviews

Conducting user interviews effectively is essential for gathering valuable insights that can inform and improve your product or service. The following best practices will ensure that you conduct your user interviews like a pro:

  • Clearly define the objectives of your interview
  • Select participants who represent your target user base
  • Develop an interview guide with questions that align with your research objectives
  • Build rapport with participants
  • Practice active listening
  • Avoid leading questions that might bias the participant's responses
  • Avoid asking people what they want
  • Ask follow-up questions
  • Ask similar questions from different angles
  • Be punctual and respect the time constraints of the interview
  • Make sure participants are aware of how their information will be used and ensure confidentiality
  • Record the interview (with the participant’s consent) for accurate data capture
  • Analyze and synthesize findings thoroughly

Best user interview tools

These user interview tools can streamline the research process and enhance the quality of your insights:

Great Question

At Great Question, user interviews are our bread-and-butter. Our platform streamlines the entire process from start to finish, connecting functions like participant recruitment, scheduling, and incentive distribution to keep your interviews running smoothly. Great Question automatically records and transcribes interviews through integrations with platforms like Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams.

Great Question's advanced features for note-taking and organization, such as creating video highlights from transcripts and compiling them into reels, enhance the analysis and reporting process. Great Question's AI-driven capabilities automatically generate detailed interview summaries and key highlight suggestions based on your study goals.

User Interviews

User Interviews is a well-known tool for recruiting participants, offering access to a pool of over 3 million people from a wide range of professions. It allows for precise targeting based on job titles, skills, consumer behaviors, and product usage, ensuring you can quickly find and invite the most relevant segment for your study.

The tool streamlines the entire process by automating screening, scheduling, and incentive management, including handling Amazon gift card rewards for participants. It also provides features for screener surveys and participation tracking, making it easier to manage and conduct studies with external participants and your existing user base.

The bottom line

User interviews are a gateway to understanding the people who make your product a business. So, embrace the nuances of each interview, from preparing the right questions to choosing the best tools for a seamless process. Your attention to detail in recruiting diverse participants, preparing your interview guide, and analyzing responses thoughtfully will light the path to meaningful insights. Each step, from scheduling calls or synthesizing data, is one toward a product that resonates deeply with your users.

Jack is the Content Marketing Lead at Great Question, the end-to-end UX research platform for customer-centric teams. Previously, he led content marketing and strategy as the first hire at two insurtech startups, Breeze and LeverageRx. He lives in Omaha, Nebraska.

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