Interviews generate great insights when understanding customers and users. Especially when they are combined with other research methods. Learn more about key elements, typical mistakes and good readings on this page. Download an interview sample as well as an exercise for your team.
Explorative interviews with your customers & users help to find new, exciting and surprising information and develop a deep understanding of behaviors, needs, emotions and preferences. It is not about completeness, objectivity or statistically validated data. It’s about exploration and getting a professional gut feeling! Don’t think about what you will make of the information later on. Your task is to be a good listener visiting his/her life for a short moment. Fully engage with your interview partner. He/she is important and the expert in the field. It's all about his/her experiences.
Follow the steps described on the Discovering Customers page to conduct and review your customer interviews in the Discover Phase or setup a field study to create the perfect foundation for Business Design sprints.
2. Key Elements
Introduce yourself and the purpose of your conversation. Tell your interview partner the reason for the interview and how long it will last. In every minute of the interview, give your counterpart the feeling that his/her insights are of great strategical value for your company.
"Get to know"
Survey relevant demographic information about your interview partner (e.g. age, profession, company size, position, budget etc). Start with an open question: "Tell me something about yourself / your job...". Just ask for information you really need to understand his/her behavior and motivations in the relevant situation.
In which cases does your topic affect the interview partner? How often is he/she in contact with that topic? When did it happen last time?
Identify situations from the past (e.g. from last week) based on the description of the interview partner you can reflect together. Choose a situation that matters for your counterpart and occurs frequently. A deep understanding of situations from the past enables us later on to apply this knowledge to new situations.
Reflect together with your interview partner the chosen and relevant situation in the past. Help him/her with guiding questions to reach the right level of concreteness ("What did you do first? How did you prepare?" etc.). Make sure you discuss your interviewees’s behavior and talk it through step by step (customer journey). For each step, ask about the environment („Who was involved?“, „Where?“, „When?“) as well as about positive and negative emotions. The key is not only identifying emotions, but understanding them in detail. Trigger questions help you to discuss positive and negative experiences profoundly at each stage ("What worked out quite well?", "What bothered or disturbed you?", "What did you think in that moment?", "How did you feel?", "Why?", "What are the consequences?").
Put yourself in the role of the listener, dig into unexpected answers and be persistent in asking („Why?“) to understand motivations. If possible, ask if your counterpart can demonstrate how he/she did each step or if he/she can show you corresponding tools, rooms and environments (even after the interview with the help of photos or videos).
In case your chosen journey includes just a few short steps, think about discussing another one if time allows.
Ideas for improvements
This is the first time during the interview you can talk about the future. In case your interview partner has own ideas how to improve the discussed situations, let him talk about his/her ideas now. This part is optionally for creative interview partners. Don’t take these ideas too seriously. Customers usually cannot tell you what they really need - especially when it comes to revolutionary change. It’s your job to solve their problems. Use their answers to dig deeper and understand the reasons behind the wish.
Close the interview by thanking your interview partner for the conversation and explain the next steps. If you think the information you got was valuable, you can ask if he/she is willing to talk to you again. You can also ask who else you should talk to.
3. Usage Scenarios
Understanding customers & users in the Discover Phase (or in a prior field study) to come up with new ideas
Explore antilogs from your Hypotheses & Experiments template about the behavior / emotions of your customers & users in a specific situation
4. Instruction for Coaches
It's important that team members conduct the field study by their own. First-hand impressions help them to argue on behalf of their customers in the further Business Design process.
Help your team to prepare an interview guideline based on the structure & the key elements explained in this article. Make sure you define possible steps of the customer journey in advance to reach the right level of concreteness during the interview.
Take care that your team members conducting the interview study are trained in advance and ask the questions in the right way. The training should include among other things a role play to practice staying in a neutral position, being specific about examples from the past and asking "Why?" extensively. Discuss typical mistakes in the team (see below) and go through the example of a good and a bad interview together (see exercise below).
Be aware that it can take some time to contact the right people and arrange dates with them.
A personal interview shouldn't last longer than 60 to 90 minutes (on the telephone not longer than 45 minutes).
The interviews should be conducted in a nice atmosphere (best case: let the interview partner decide about the location).
The interviews should be recorded with the consent of the interview partner. A photo of the interview partner helps you later on to document the interview and share it in your team. Prepare an agreement to clarify the use of the data within your project.
Combine interviews with Customer Observations whenever it is possible. Visual impressions of all kinds are already an enrichment. Let interviewees demonstrate their behavior step by step or let them show you used tools, documents, rooms, materials, etc. Even videos/photos of the environment they send you after the interview or already bring as a homework to the interview help to extent your understanding.
Help your team to document the results of an interview in a visual way. So called Personas / Customer Cards or simple Mind Maps are a great way to capture your results.
Visual stimuli can help to talk about emotions! Think about including pictures or moodboards to encourage metaphorical thinking and let your interview partners describe their feelings or the meaning of something based on a stimuli. For example, the board game "Dixit" includes beautiful pictures we already used in interviews to reflect feelings in a certain situation together with the interviewee.
5. Q & A
What do bad questions look like? "You like your mobile phone, right?","It will save your time - do you like it?", "Would you use it?", "Will you buy it?", "How much would you pay for it?", "What would your dream app look like?"
What do good questions look like? "What do you usually do on your mobile phone?", "What’s the last thing you did with it?", "Tell me more about that.", "Can you show me what you did?", "Why do you bother?", "What else have you tried?", "Who else should I talk to?"
Why is it recommended to talk about real situations of the interview partner? The answers you will get will be more honest as if you would ask general questions. If you ask somebody "Do you like doing sports in your life?" you will often get answers such as "Sure, sports is important." But if you ask "How often have you done sports last week? Tell me about it." You will instantly get true insights into your interview partner's real life: "Well, last week was different. I was travelling and when I am not at home I can't...". You may also start with general questions at the beginning of your interview ("do you like doing sports?") and and then follow up discovering real situations to see whether there are any perceptual differences between "saying" and "doing".
Be aware of the bias that some people tend to answer what they think we want to hear. It is called Response Bias (read more about it here). That is why we believe it is so important to talk about experiences from the past like described above. It is a way harder to give inaccurate answers when you talk about what you did yesterday.
What shall I do when I can’t keep my interview partner talking and he/she answers very shortly? Try to activate your interview partner: "Can you talk me through the last time this happened." or "Tell me more about it." If you can’t keep him/her talking, end the interview politely. It’s normal that you talk to less appropriate people. Just continue.
After a few interviews I noticed that I never stick to the guideline. Is that a problem? The structure of the guideline is only a mental support. There is no need to follow it line by line. It’s more important that you are a good listener. But ask yourself if your interviews include the main parts of your guideline (e.g. a specific customer journey) and if you still get valuable information. If not, adapt your guideline before you proceed.
How to find "golden nuggets"? Watch out for emotions! Emotions are usually your trigger to dig deeper into a topic. Help your counterpart to reflect on emotional situations. Emotions are essential for consumer behavior and decision making - even in B2B scenarios - but they are most of the time unconscious and need to be uncovered.
We prepared an example of a good and a bad interview for you (see download). Read out the excerpt of a bad example first and discuss "Why is this a bad interview?". Then read out the excerpt of a good example and discuss "Why is this interview a good interview?" and how you could ask further.
7. Typical Mistakes
"Doing it wrong is worse than doing nothing at all!" (Rob Fitzpatrick, The Mom Test, 2013)
The following mistakes typically happen if team members are left alone with the task to understand customers and users by the help of interviews. It's key for the Business Design Coach (or Research Expert) to help the team preparing and conducting useful interviews.
Lacking preparation: Talking to customers and users seems to be easy. But that's a pretty false impression. A preparation incl. a guideline and a dry run is always necessary.
Avoiding personal interviews: We observed a lot of teams finding reasons for not having personal interviews. They prefer to have just a phone call. These interviews are never as good as personal ones. It's definitely worth the effort. Of course, there are cases where personal interviews are not possible. In these cases virtual ones are always better than no interviews!
Asking bad questions: Teams tend to ask questions about the future. These questions can't be answered by customers and users - but they will be answered! It is risky to take answers to these questions literally.
The reason why we make incorrect predictions about our future behaviour is that we underestimate the influence of our mental state. Learn more about this bias called Empathy Gap here. The best way to avoid it: Don't talk about future behaviour.
Not sticking to the guideline: A good interview guideline is half the battle. However, it is not easy to stick to it and reach the right level of concreteness during a conversation. If teams conduct interviews on a too general level especially when it comes to the customer journey, they produce a lot of information that is probably useless for your project
Jumping in journeys: Interview partners are not used to retell a situation step by step. It's your job to help your interview partner staying in the journey on the right level of concreteness.
Forgetting about emotions: Teams shy away from questions about emotions and solely focus on behaviour. But these are key to identify innovation potentials.
Not asking "Why": That's the most important questions in interviews (even if you think you already know the answer): Why? If you don't ask why, most of your gathered information is useless.
Defending your company: Some team members start defending their companies and explain why a certain product looks what it looks like as soon as they get negative feedback. Stop it! You are here to listen.
Preparing useless documentations: Field studies produce a lot of insights. Not all of them are useful. The challenge is to pick the "golden nuggets" and prepare a documentation others can learn from. A good documentation makes it for others possible to understand the discussed customer journey step by step including pains and gains. Direct quotes are the best way to describe emotions. Short summaries (bullet points) about an interview are useless.
Fitzpatrick, R.: The Mom Test (Amazon)
Constable, G.: Talking to Humans (PDF version)
Zaltman, G.: How Customers Think (Amazon)
Hansen, M.: Deploy Empathy