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A roundup of all the tools you need to conduct remote user interviews, even on a tight budget.
You don’t need a lot of time, budget, or tools to run user interviews to meet your learning objectives. You will need a way to recruit good participants, talk with them, record the insights you get from them, and run your analysis. This can all be done very affordably and our most recommended toolset for most people starting out is: User Interviews + Zoom + Google Docs + Google Sheets (or the Office equivalent). Chances are you already pay for most of these or can get started with free versions!
You can’t have a good user research outcome without good participants. We’ve written about recruiting extensively and you can read up on our tips for recruiting quality participants ASAP, recruiting using marketing strategies, or get a general primer in our field guide module on recruiting. Most of that general advice is still good here. The most important thing is to understand what you’re trying to learn from your user interviews, and who can best help you learn that.
These days you may find that it is easier to target participants because people have more free time, are home more, or, unfortunately, have lost employment. We’ve seen this to be especially true on the b2c side. On the other hand, you may find people are busier than ever, with hectic schedules, particularly parents and caregivers trying to manage work and care on their own. In those cases, being flexible with your schedule, perhaps running evening or weekend sessions, and experimenting with the right level of incentive can help you find the participants you need, when you need them.
At User Interviews, we offer Pay As You Go and subscription options for recruiting from our marketplace of over 300,000 participants. Create an account and get your first 3 marketplace participants free. We also offer an affordable way to build a panel of your own users, track their prior participation, and manage screening, scheduling, and incentive logistics. Your first project is free. Learn more here.
If you were doing your user interviews in person before, a few tips can get you on the right track for translating them to a remote setup.
So, tools. If you’re doing remote research you’re going to need some tools. Fortunately you can keep it pretty simple and affordable for user interviews.
You’ll need something for participants to call into, some kind of web conferencing tool. We loved Zoom before they jumped from 10 million to 200 million users partially overnight. Now that more and more people are using it, especially new adopters on the consumer side, it’s an especially good choice—you won’t have to deal with as many tech issues getting set up. That said any tool your organization uses for web conferencing works.
Notes and Transcription
You can use a notetaker and word processor like Google Docs, Word, etc. You can ask your notetaker to code their notes into a spreadsheet during or after the session, or you can do this yourself from the notes after the fact. You can also use the Otter.ai Zoom integration, Rev, Temi, Descript, or other similar tools to transcribe your notes. Otter and Descript do near instant transcription through AI. Our content creator and podcast producer Carrie Boyd loves Descript for podcast editing, but it also works great for video, and the results are pretty accurate. Both Otter and Descript offer free plans. Rev is known for accurate transcription with a fast turnaround, but it isn’t instant, and it will cost you $1/minute. Temi is only $.25/minute with results in 5 minutes.
Analysis and Insight Repositories
When it comes to making sense of your notes or transcription, there are quite a few emerging tools on the market, and many at a great price point. But if you’re trying to limit the number of tools in your stack or control your budget, you can get pretty far with a spreadsheet that highlights the trends you’re seeing. You can either take your notes directly in the spreadsheet itself initially, or pull out the insights that stuck out immediately after your session. This can be a good lean way to have your themes all identified with supporting quotes by the time your last session is done!
We also love affordable, purpose built tools. You might check out EnjoyHQ, Dovetail, Handrail or Aurelius to help extract and store your insights. Below is a summary of their pricing and key features.
Usability Testing Tools
There are tons of custom built tools for usability testing. We recently published a detailed article on how to conduct moderated and unmoderated usability tests remotely. For a quick summary of tools you might use: UserTesting and UserZoom are the two giants in the space, but if you don’t need all the features they offer, or the price that goes with the all in one solutions, you might consider something more specifically built for usability tests, such as Lookback.
Lookback has a 14-day free trial, enough time to try it out for a test. Pro tip: don’t sign up until you’re ready to use it to make the most of your trial. You can use it for moderated or unmoderated tests on mobile or desktop. Participants do need to download the Lookback app, so make sure you prepare them for that ahead of time.
At the end of the day, a user interview is a simple method to learn from users. Keep your toolset and moderator guide as simple as possible to focus on the most important thing: finding the right people to talk to, asking them questions that help you reach your learning objectives, and organizing your insights so you can make sense of what you learn. With affordable, easy to use tools like those described here, you could go from having a research question to real answers in a day or two, depending on the breadth and depth of your questions of course. While it may be hard to find time and budget for research in some cases these days, these are also incredibly uncertain times, and a little research can go a long way toward benefiting your business’s decision making and surviving/thriving as a result.
💻 90% of user researchers said they've worked exclusively remotely since the pandemic began. Read the stats on remote work amid COVID-19, the rise of remote user research tools, and more in ✨The State of User Research 2021 Report.✨
VP, Growth & Marketing
Left brained, right brained. Customer and user advocate. Writer and editor. Lifelong learner. Strong opinions, weakly held.