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How Wistia’s Senior UX Research Manager Overcomes Common Challenges in Conducting User Interviews

Mary Gibbons, Wistia’s Senior UX Research Manager, shares how she gets great research participants by using User Interviews.

Lindsey Peacock

When conducting UX research, finding qualified interview candidates can be a major challenge. The process to recruit the right users is often tedious and time-consuming—not to mention it eats into precious time that could be spent doing the actual research.

That’s the tedium that Mary Gribbons toiled through for the first few years of her research career. As the Senior Research UX Manager for Wistia, she’s faced with the challenge of sourcing high-quality interview candidates on a regular basis.

Wistia provides innovative video marketing software which enables any company (typically small to medium-size businesses) to create captivating viewing experiences on their sites and gives them the tools to find, engage, and grow a community of brand advocates.

She’s tried a lot of methods to find quality interview candidates—LinkedIn, Facebook, online forums, and more. But these days, she doesn’t spend her time scouring Facebook for professional groups and hoping they let her ask for participants. She’s found better options. 

In our conversation, she walked us through her process, the specific problems she’s encountered, and how she and her team efficiently find and schedule time with qualified interviewees. She offers her insights on:

  • Which characteristics matter when you’re sourcing candidates for user interviews and testing.
  • What candidate behaviors she’s seen that create poor conditions for a useful interview.
  • How she tackles communicating and scheduling with users.
  • The tool she uses to save time and effort when finding users to interview.

To begin, we’ll explore Mary’s perspective on common problems she and other UX researchers face, then walk through how she tackles each one.


Note: Looking for a specific audience to participate in your UX research? User Interviews offers a complete platform for finding and managing participants. Tell us who you want, and we’ll get them on your calendar. Sign up for free.

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How Mary Finds Users Who Want to Provide Feedback

Early in her career, Mary often used social media to recruit interview candidates—which was time-consuming and hit-or-miss.

When Mary previously sought out users, she leaned heavily on industry or topic-focused Facebook and LinkedIn groups. Unfortunately, she encountered multiple problems with this method:

  • Many Facebook and LinkedIn groups are private. In this case, researchers need to request access. Group admins could take days to grant you access, if they let you into the group at all. “Their group has a very specific purpose,” Mary explained. “They don't want someone bugging them. There’s that barrier, and then there's the barrier of putting something into a group that is not really the topic of the group.”
  • Responses were hit or miss. In Mary’s experience, posting in social media groups didn’t always elicit enough candidates for her research. As a matter of fact, she observed that when she was the one to reach out to candidates via social channels, they were more likely to no-show for interviews than candidates who saw something she posted and reached out.
  • She had to use her personal social accounts. Because many companies Mary worked for didn’t want her to solicit interviews with their branded social accounts, she had to use her own Facebook and LinkedIn accounts. This blurred the line between her personal and professional digital footprint—after all, who wants strangers to have access to your personal Facebook account?

Beyond difficulties sourcing people with the right demographics, Mary also emphasized that interview candidates need to have the right temperament. Selecting shy users means you might get minimal feedback or one-word answers. On the other hand, people-pleasers can be nervous interviewees who tend to say your company is doing everything right.

“You'll kind of end the call with being like, all right, I don't really have anything to work off of there,” she said.  

To overcome these challenges—and put her Facebook group-hunting days behind her—Mary now uses User Interviews. The platform provides a pool of more than 125,000 already-vetted potential participants, and can source further for niche studies when needed.

Mary comes up with the criteria for research candidates and compiles all the questions she wants to ask. From there, she can create a customized screener survey and the platform will automatically send her users that match all her criteria. Or, she can skip the screener survey and choose out of the box demographic options User Interviews stores for all of its participants.

“I'm a huge fan of User Interviews. I tell everyone to use it. I sound like I'm in a commercial right now,” she laughed, “but this is truly how I feel about the platform. I was trying everything I could think of to get to the right people and User Interviews has taken all of that out. It’s given me more time to do the actual research and not have to spend as much time recruiting.”

It’s also given her more time to think through who is best for each study and why.


Mary visiting Sintra, Portugal.

When Conducting User Interviews, Demographics & Behavior Both Matter

Mary emphasized that finding the right people to interview is crucial—depending on the kind of research and your goals, they typically have to be a specific kind of person. That could mean they work in a certain industry or job, make a salary within a specified range, or have a specific education level. 

In Mary’s perspective, the right interviewees can make or break your research. 

“I really believe that if you're not talking to the right people, then you might as well not be conducting research,” she said.

The parameters for the right research candidates are often narrow for user interviews. You may source candidates from a large pool of thousands of customers. Or, you need to find people who have the same qualities as the ideal customer (i.e., they work in a certain industry, make a certain income, have a specific level of education, exhibit certain behaviors, etc.).

For example, when Mary was a UX researcher for Vistaprint, she conducted user interviews for an intuitive website builder for small business owners. Her team wanted to hone in on which customizability features were most important to their target audience, thereby improving the existing product. To make the insights relevant enough, she needed to chat specifically with small business owners who didn’t know how to build a website from scratch.

But that wasn’t the only nuance. “A lot of small business owners will say, ‘I have no idea how to make a website. I'm just going to have someone make it for me.’ So we needed to get people who would actually want to build it themselves because the type of person who would hire someone to build their website is not relevant to a customizability feature.”

That meant going after what Vistaprint called “microbusiness owners,” i.e., sole proprietors and one-person brands. Had she simply targeted any small business owners in the area, she wouldn’t have gotten the insights she needed.

"You will always learn something new by conducting research, but at the end of the day, if you're not speaking to your target user, the insights will not be applicable to your product," she said.

By then, she had already started using User Interviews to find the right participants for her work. “User Interviews really helped because I was enabled to do so many of these different tests with the exact right type of users and receive high level insight.”

Marketing copy for the Vistaprint website builder.


Mary says that with the right users available through the User Interviews platform, she was able to conduct insightful usability testing. With the help of small business owners, her team found the right balance between keeping the tool easy-to-use while also allowing for a high level of customization.

The changes they made as a result of that research were a big hit with users. And although that was just a single product she worked on during her tenure at Vistaprint, her user insights improved the website builder and helped ensure that its users were happier when using the product.

It’s one of many experiences that helped her see just how much research can contribute to the success of each product launch and feature release. Unfortunately, that’s still something many companies don’t realize.

“It's astounding to me that there are companies that don't do user experience and market research because there are so many unknowns and so many things to learn,” Mary said.

How Mary Schedules Scattered Candidates

For Mary, potential interview candidates could be located anywhere in the U.S.—right next door or on the other side of the country. Scheduling interviews with candidates in different time zones can be tricky.

"I can't tell you how many times participants have asked to meet in times outside of my working hours because of time zones," Mary said.

Lengthy time differences can prolong the process. Emailing back and forth between multiple time zones can create scheduling delays. And using social media and private groups means your communications with potential candidates are scattered across platforms and sites. Keeping up with that many different communications across mediums was a nightmare. 

That’s another reason Mary moved to User Interviews. Not only can she screen and find participants in one place, but the platform manages all scheduling. She updates her calendar availability, and participants choose the times that work for them. And if a participant cancels their session, she can approve another option to take their place within minutes.

Conclusion

Finding and vetting participants for user interviews can be difficult, but with the right tools, it doesn’t have to be painful. Mary found that she’s able to tackle more projects and run better interviews because of the time she saves via User Interviews.

Her parting advice for fellow researchers was never to let your expectations get in the way of really listening to what your customers are saying.

"Just be willing to hear what participants have to say and be open to continuously learning. Users will always have something to say and sometimes it will be completely unexpected. You have to be open to accepting that, because the insights that you gather will sometimes call for you to completely change course,” she shared. “Having that curiosity is so important."

User Interviews offers a complete platform for finding and managing participants. Tell us who you want, and we’ll get them on your calendar. Sign up for free.

Lindsey Peacock

Lindsey Peacock is a writer, editor, and American expat now living in the Great White North. When she isn’t helping businesses grow via great content, you can find her at the nearest dog park with Charlie, her ginger husky.

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