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BlogResearch Ops & Tools

April 27, 2020

  • Last Updated:
  • April 30, 2020

Your Remote User Interview Toolkit

A roundup of all the tools you need to conduct remote user interviews, even on a tight budget.

Erin May

We’ve heard from dozens of researchers who say one of the key challenges right now is turning what used to be in-person user research into remote research, and knowing what tools to use to do the job. One of the most common research types we see both in-person and remote are 1:1 user interviews. (Our co-founders were clever naming the company eh?). This is the first in a series of articles designed to help you pivot your specific research methods to remote with the right tools, or make the most of the research you were already doing remote. Today we’ll focus on remote user interviews. 

User interviews are an incredibly flexible, lightweight, and powerful way to get insight from your users and customers. In simplest form, a user interview lets you connect with someone you seek to serve, ask them what they think, and want, and do, then use that insight to do things for them that will solve pain, improve their lives. 

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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!

Recruiting 

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 ASAPrecruiting 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

We'll help you recruit great participants for your interviews.


The user interview session

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. 

  1. Send participants instructions ahead of time for the software to download and/or dial in information.
  2. If you don’t hear confirmation of joining from participant when you initially send instructions, send a reminder, and include that software/dial in information again. This will save you time and heartache! Product plug: you can easily do this through bulk messaging in User Interviews. 
  3. If you’re showing a prototype or doing a usability test, test the test first, with a colleague, or, at the very least, yourself. We talk about avoiding and reacting to interview disasters in this episode of Awkward Silences. 
  4. Be kind and patient, especially with folks who may be stressed during this time and/or unfamiliar with the tools you’re using to conduct your interviews. Here is some overall guidance on conducting a good interview
  5. Maintain eye contact. Get a notetaker or use transcription so you can focus on your participant. 

User Interview Tools

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. 

Video

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. 

Closing Thoughts

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.

Erin May

VP, Growth & Marketing

Left brained, right brained. Customer and user advocate. Writer and editor. Lifelong learner. Strong opinions, weakly held.

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