8 Tips for Running Effective Customer Interviews


Meghan Earley


Text Link

8 tips for running effective customer interviews

Shout out to Marian Oman whose research democratization work at Dropbox inspired this article!

At Lattice customer input has been an integral part of our product development process since day one. In the early days, our founders spent many hours on calls listening to customer needs and it’s what helped our UX Research Team and the whole company maintain a strong customer-driven product development approach that ensures we’re solving real customer problems.

Customer interviewing is a common method we use to collect insights. During these interviews, we’re diligently making sure that we’re providing a great experience for our customers and getting the most our of our time with them. Every moment matters when it comes to the customer experience.

We’re a values-driven company and we feel our research practice should align with our values —Ship, Shipmate, Self in particular when it comes to customer interviews. Collecting customer insights is a team effort, including folks across our EPD and CX teams. We know we can learn more and maximize customer learnings if we all feel equipped to talk with them. Therefore, the UX Research team does as much as we can to support anyone who is having conversations with customers. Hence our 8 tips for running effective customer interviews below. Check them out if you’re looking to learn more about running effective customer interviews!

1. Be an active listener

During your interview avoid distractions, pay close attention to what the participant is saying, and don't interrupt the participant. Make the participant feels heard with the occasional nods or other engaging behavioral cues. Periodically repeat back what they're saying to ensure you're hearing them correctly with 'It sounds like you're saying...did I get that right?”

2. Ask open ended questions

Avoid closed questions with yes/no answers and ask open-ended questions in order to gain a deep understanding of your participant's experience and problems. Follow up with "Why..." or "What's the reason for that..." in order to get at their core needs.

3. Avoid leading questions

Remain neutral and avoid inserting your bias into your questions. Don't suggest an answer in your wording of the question. Avoid "Do you like..." and "How easy is..." and instead try "What are your thoughts on..." and "How easy or difficult is..."

4. Focus on examples

Have participants recall past events so you can better understand their experiences. This can also help participants better shape their thoughts and opinions as they're thinking through specific scenarios. You can use "Can you share an example..." or "When was the last time…" to encourage examples.

5. Don’t use internal jargon

Internally we use a lot of UX jargon like navigation, breadcrumbs, wireframe, widget (the list goes on and on). Make your language "human-friendly" such that anyone can understand it. If you're not sure if something is jargon, ask a friend or family member who doesn't work in tech.

6. Rely on visual aids

When possible, share an artifact with your participant (diagram, sketches, mocks, or really anything!) to anchor the conversation in shared context. Try prompts like "Describe what you’re seeing." or "What do you associate with..." Make sure the artifact is focused on what you're trying to learn and leave out distractions. You can ask the participant to share something with you as well (as long as they're comfortable) with "Show me how you do..."

7. Practice with a pilot

Practice your interview prior to your sessions to understand which questions work best and which don't capture what you're looking for. Ask a co-worker, friend, or family member to be your practice participant — anyone who can answer your questions will work! At the least, read your discussion guide aloud beforehand because questions can sound differently in your head than they do aloud.

8. Most importantly, put the participant first

Prioritize the participant's experience and comfort over everything else. Consider the following:

  • Be friendly and welcoming — make the participant feel comfortable
  • If you'd like the transcript and video afterwards, ask permission before recording
  • Let the participant know they can take a break at any point
  • Be mindful of customer data and keep PII secure
  • Don't overwhelm the participate with the number of observers on the call (aim for no more than 1-2 observers total)
  • Leave a few minutes at the end for the participant to share additional thoughts or questions — if their questions aren’t related to your interview topic, close the loop afterwards with Product or CX to ensure the customer feels heard
  • End the interview on time even if you haven't gotten through your script (or ask if they have a few extra minutes)
  • Thank them for their time!

Thanks for checking out our customer interviewing tips! Do you have additional tips that help you run effective customer interviews? Let us know on Twitter @latticedesign