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How to Conduct Remote User Interviews
Understanding what people want through user interviews
Hey folks! 👋🏽 Kavir here. Welcome back to another edition of The Discourse. Today we’re going to look at conducting remote user interviews.
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Ah, the joy of working at an early-stage startup and the trials and tribulations that come along with it. Make something people want - is what PG shouts about from the rooftop.
‘Make something’ is becoming easier especially with no-code tools getting sharper and sharper with each passing
year month week. Understanding what ‘people want’ is where you need to spend enough time and attention.
To unlock this understanding, what do you think are tools in your arsenal? Surveys are an option but they don’t tell the full picture and they often get lost in a pool of content. You could hang out in a coffee shop or co-working space and ask people to try your product and give you feedback. But unless they are people in your target market, you’ll be getting misleading signals.
User interviews are conversations with carefully selected users asking them about their current use case and problems and then showcasing what your product can do to solve those problems. They can be useful to find the right users by discovering their pain points, get useful feedback, and push the adoption of the product further. And the best part is that they can be done remotely!
Let’s unpack what user interviews are, how to find the right people to talk to, how to conduct the interview, and how to keep the conversation going.
Nota bene: A lot of influence in my approach has come from The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick. So if you’ve read that book, then there will be some redundancy. But I’ve tried to include a more personal take to provide my perspective.
It all starts with an understanding of the main insights you want to derive. You can break down your product into different use cases paired with features to evaluate what part is a bigger pain. Once you’ve done that you can define the questions.
You can divide the questions into:
the use case
the pain point
the frequency and severity of the pain point
what are they using to solve the problem now
Specific questions about the individual use cases
what do they do in specific parts of the workflow
Here’s an example of user interview questions that I used for a whiteboarding product.
So you’ve got the questions all listed down. Now you need to find people to speak to. Who do you find? Where do you find them?
You can speak to tons of users, but if they’re not in your target market (keyword - target), it’s pretty useless.
I’ve found that the best way to find people in this ‘target market’ is to find where these users are hanging out. They could be on social media platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, or in forums like Indiehackers, reddit, Hackernews, or in private online communities like Lenny’s Newsletter, On Deck, Foster, and so on.
In today’s world, being an active part of online communities gives you a competitive advantage over others who aren’t as active. I’ve found that you can significantly increase your learning and growth by being one degree of separation from folks in your field who can give you valuable advice on the problems you're facing.
It’s also a plus point if your target market is also part of the community. People will notice your name and will be more willing to do an interview with you. For example, I interviewed someone from Lenny’s Newsletter community who already knew me through my content and asked me if I’m that Kavir from Twitter.
A low friction way of getting opt-in from busy folks is to ask people if they’re willing to take part in interviews to post in relevant channels and ask for emoji reactions rather than cold DMing people. That way, you’ll get interested people.
You could also broadcast this request to your customers, audience, or any other list that you have access to. Then when you approach folks in DM, Calendly is by far the best way to schedule interviews without the unnecessary back and forth.
Conducting the Interview
When you start the interview, you can kick it off by laying down the agenda of the meeting. You want to understand the user’s use case first and then demo the product. Here’s how I usually conduct the interview:
First, I use three screens to make the process seamless — one screen with the questions, the other with the video, and the third (iPad) with the handwritten notes. Notes on iPad are usually less intrusive. You could also use two screens, but generally, multiple screens confer a benefit that is indescribable.
The tools used are Zoom, Notion, and Notability.
The notes can be messy as long as you understand what’s written, just like mine, haha.
Next, spend half of the time on questions and the remaining on the demo. Try to integrate some part of the user’s company or product into the demo.
Try to keep it for less than 30 minutes. Usually, I keep it to 25 minutes so I can give back 5 mins to someone who is really busy and they have enough time between other meetings
Finally, end the meeting with a CTA. If you find that the user has resonated with the problem you're solving through the product — request for them to sign up for a free trial and use the product (if it’s available) or share it with people who might be interested.
For more data, you can snowball by asking the interviewees who you can talk to next — a great way to grow the list of target interviewees organically.
After the Interview
Remember to drop a note to the person you interviewed, thanking them for their time. And to send any follow-up links as required.
Along with sharing the detailed notes, you should share a summary of the notes along with action items with your team. Busy stakeholders don’t have the time to go through everything but want to still be up to date.
You’ll usually get a few unique insights per user interview. For instance, in my user interview, the key takeaway was that our team understood that for a screenshot tool we needed to provide the user an option to take a screenshot of a visible area or a long screenshot (scrolled down) We quickly implemented this feedback into the product. Keep repeating interviews until insights start drying out or you get the same ones.
The key point is to also follow up with the people you have interviewed — to keep the connection going.
User interviews are an important tool in the toolkit of a founder, product manager, designer, or creator. Follow the above framework to make the most of the interviews — first by searching for the right person to talk to, and second by asking them relevant questions, and third by keeping the conversation ongoing.
If you do all this, your startup or product will soon reach the ideals of PG and you will, too, make something people want.
Thanks to Dhrumi Savla, Yihui Chan, Jude Klinger for providing feedback on early drafts of this piece.
📘 Read of the week: The Super Specific How: How to make your cohort-based course more rigorous — Wes Kao (6 min)
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