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There's huge value in bringing a notetaker to user interviews, and it's not hard to make it happen.
The other major issue is presence. It’s well documented that everyone is bad at multitasking. The best research moderators are able to guide a conversation to reveal maximum insight. This is very difficult to do when you’re also playing stenographer for yourself. Your job as moderator is to hit all your learning objectives, to unpack the why under the why under the why. There’s a lot of art in that, and your best chance of success is being fully attuned to the interview itself.
Let’s say you’re on board with my rationale here—if you aren’t, please hit me up on Twitter; always down for a friendly debate—but you’re wondering where to find a whole other person to join your session? I’m going to make the assumption that if you’re in a larger organization/research team, this isn’t a problem for you. Could be wrong. If you’re in an organization where research is stretched thin, where you’re a person who does research (PwDR) and not a dedicated researcher, or for whatever reason finding someone to join each of your research sessions seems like a tall order, here are a few tips.
This may be a bit chicken and egg if you’re early in research at your organization. Maybe you do what I did and take your own notes at first, or use a transcription service (more on that below)—progress over perfection all day. You share your insights and make them interesting and attractive to others and people want to be part of it. Or perhaps research is already viewed as very cool and useful within your team and you don’t need to focus on that part. In any case, you want to be “out there” championing the research that has been done, insights that have been learned, impact that has been had. People want to be part of cool initiatives that drive results.
In life, can’t overemphasize enough how important it is to make things easy for people if you’re asking for their help. I’m huge on automation. Spend a lot of time thinking about what matters and why, and very little time making it happen on a recurring basis. Here’s a method for building out a recurring research practice in just 2 hours.
Something we do at User Interviews is set up a Zap to search our research session confirmation emails for keywords that then push confirmed research sessions to our #research-at-ui Slack channel. Anyone in the channel can then add an emoji indicating they’d like to join as a note taker. The moderator then adds them to the calendar invite. Et voilà.
Another way you can do it is to have a notetaker (or 2 or 3) lined up for a given study. If you use User Interviews, you can add them as a collaborator to your project, view their calendar alongside yours (they’ll need to sync their calendar as a one-time thing if they have not), and easily plan your sessions in app that way. Soon you’ll be able to invite them directly to attend a session too. For now, you’ll want to add them to your calendar invite once sessions are confirmed.
From there, the notetaker shows up to the session, makes a copy of whatever the moderator template is for the study, joins the study, and takes notes as verbatim as possible. Read much more about taking good notes in a user research session.
While taking notes for your study might seem like community service no one would want to do, if you’ve done a decent job of building up the value of user research in your organization, and have made it easy for them to join the session, you’re most the way there. The bonus is that your notetaker will get to learn something about your customers by being in the session, without the hassle of having to set up the study themselves.
Shameless plug: studies are seriously way less of a hassle to run if you use User Interviews. Get three free participants with this link.
Everyone wants to get closer to their customers: executives, engineers, designers, marketers, operations, entry level individual contributors, everybody. Note taking makes it easy for everyone to get a sweet hit of that beautiful, beautiful customer insight without the effort, or perhaps perceived risk of letting “just anyone” talk to a customer. The more people in your organization connecting with customers, learning from your customers, the better. Can I get an amen?! 🙏
We’re fans of transcription at User Interviews. Many of our clients use services like Rev or Otter.ai to turn their user interviews into searchable, taggable, nuggetizable text.
The disadvantages of transcription are cost, depending on your budget, quality, depending on your budget and how much you care about taking notes in a particular format, and time—you might wait a day more to get your notes back. Additionally, you lose the ability to share user research across your organization, one notetaker at a time.
The advantages of transcription are that you don’t need another human to get thorough notes from your interviews, and some services come with additional benefits closely tied to insight management.
In cases where transcription is a good solution for your needs, we still love the idea of welcoming observers throughout your team to join in sessions to get closer to customers.
In sum, notetakers are great, taking notes is easy, everyone wins, and you should think about adding notetakers to your moderated user research sessions if you aren’t already.
Left brained, right brained. Customer and user advocate. Writer and editor. Lifelong learner. Strong opinions, weakly held.