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Increase the Value of Your Customer Interview

Get the most our of each interview you conduct

Ritika Puri

Let’s say that you’re designing a website experience, creating a new product, or updating your messaging. You recognize that research can help get you answers to questions about your business and product strategy, faster. User interviews can help you uncover patterns, be more confident in your direction, and achieve more on-target outcomes.

As you start the process of recruiting  people to interview, you’ll see that it can be hard to find participants who will open up to share authentic feedback and personal stories. People also change their minds about whether to participate—your research subjects, like you, are busy.

So how do you get the answers you need to inform your business decisions and keep your research programs on track? According to one researcher, Megan Kierstead, the key is to increase the value of the interaction that takes place. Focus on meeting people, gathering insights, and strengthening bonds, she recommends. Reorient your perspective as a researcher: you’re exploring and building relationships, in addition to gathering insights.

Here Kierstead shares 3 tips for making research participants happier — and for making your conversations more meaningful for your business.

1. Remember that an Opportunity to Talk to a Customer Is a Gift, not a Right

It’s easy to fall into a trap of thinking about people as test subjects. They are—but they’re also multifaceted humans, with interesting stories to tell. Kierstead, who has led user research and engineering programs at Trifacta, Salesforce, EMC, as well as her own consultancy explains that recruiting mistakes come down to the following: companies don’t treat the opportunity to study their users as a gift.

In consenting to research, these individuals are inviting your organization into their lives for a period of time. Go out of your way to make your user feel valued, says Kierstead. Explain exactly how their feedback will be helpful in adding value to your company and your user experience.

This level of appreciation and understanding will help your research subjects open up.

The best stories about user research

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2. Be Specific About Your Processes and Goals, Upfront.

Many companies refer to this practice as onboarding. Just as you onboard users to your product, it’s essential that you take the time to set expectations around your research process. How long will the interview, survey, or field study take? How do you plan to use this information?


In providing details about your processes, you’ll elevate your research subjects to the role of collaborators—participants will be opinionated, throw your assumptions off guard, and debate your perspectives. That’s a good thing.

3. Hand Pick Conversations that Expand Your Perspective

Kierstead is very selective about the participants she recruits. You can read about her process for creating research segments based on user types, behavioral characteristics, and past product experiences in this blog post.

In the blog post Kierstead recalls a time when she was conducting research for a company that makes tools for writers. This project took place for an early stage company that was in the process of refining its product/market fit—and Kierstead was struggling to find participants who matched characteristics that the startup wanted to study.

“I did what any desperate researcher does when they’re starting out: I posted on Craigslist,” she writes.

To make the most out of limited time, she brought marketing best practices into her research process. She created a funnel for potential participants. She screened out individuals who just wanted the $40 Amazon gift card that she was offering as compensation.

“I didn’t mention that we were looking for specific types of writers, namely people who write longer works,” she explains. “This meant I could specifically filter my responses.”

She found “great people” to interview using this method—keeping her options open while conducting a wide yet strategic search.

The Bottom Line

Your research participants are potential ambassadors for your company and have a hand in shaping your product direction. Treat every interaction and point of outreach as a relationship-building opportunity.

Ritika Puri

Ritika is a writer, entrepreneur, and founder of Storyhackers. She has studied and practiced user research as part of her work for years and is excited to be diving into the topic here for User Interviews.

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