User interviews can help you eliminate business waste, uncover new opportunities, and bring clarity to strategic directions. The data that you collect—quotes, anecdotes, themes, and patterns—will serve as influencing tools that can help elevate the voice of your customer.
Over time, interviews can help your organization become more methodical and confident in its decisions. To reach this point, researchers need to build a habit of ongoing research, reporting, and follow-up studies. One of the challenges with usability research, and interviews in particular, however, is that it’s easy to get lost in information.
How do you synthesize a group of 5, 10, and 20 interviews into an easy-to-follow, digestible narrative? How do you make sure that you communicate substantive information? When is a project “done?” Building a habit means answering these questions and standardizing your processes so that you can teach them to others.
This guide is for new and experienced qualitative researchers who are seeking to tell more compelling stories with user interview data. You likely want to communicate layers of nuance, without overwhelming your audiences.
You are likely looking to use research as a tool to influence c-suite decisions, break down silos between teams, and showcase the value of your work. Ultimately, you see research as a tool to save time, avoid mistakes, and improve efficiencies—to bring an outside-in perspective from your market, into your business.
You’ll learn how to build a simple framework that makes reporting more meaningful, giving research teams —and the insights that they generate—a seat at the executive table. In the videos throughout this chapter, you’ll see how research leaders at companies like ProsperWorks, Chegg, and Slack use the referenced techniques to influence leaders within their organizations.
You’ve planned and conducted a handful of user interviews, research sessions, or diary studies. What happens next? You need to communicate your findings to the rest of your teammates, your boss, department leaders, and executives. Translate your findings into a report that the rest of your company will value.
Think like a journalist: share information that your audiences may not have considered. Establishing a cadence and following a standard format will create predictability and accountability. As people within your company read your report on a consistent basis, they will come to rely on it.
Aim to build a 2-3 page document that you share on a consistent basis, either monthly or quarterly. You can format it as a newsletter, share it on an internal wiki, post it on your company’s intranet, or develop it into a recorded presentation. What’s more important than how often you send the report is that you use the same structure. Give your readers predictability. Here’s an outline that you can adapt to make your own.
In this section, outline the parameters of your study. Share what company goals and pain points you’ve been studying and why this information is valuable to your teams. Lead with information that’s interesting.
Articulate a hypothesis: what trend did you expect to observe, prior to conducting your research, based on the data that your company collected? In your introduction, you will also want to tie your research to top-line business metrics. Show a path between your research and overall revenue/profit goals. You can use a tool like Create.ly or Adioma to create these visualizations.
When your data consists of text, how do you group your information into high-level trends? The solution is simple. When you convert your interview recording into a written transcription, annotate it. And when you annotate the document, look for distinct categories or themes that repeat themselves. Categories of themes include pain points, potential solutions, hidden opportunities, areas of improvement, and success highlights. Choose themes that map back to your overall business goals.
For instance, the screenshot below highlights an example theme from one video interview that the User Research team conducted for this guide. The goal of this particular study was to understand how top researchers conduct valuable studies, for the purpose of helping the User Interviews community be more successful in their roles. Here is a snippet from the transcript, with a theme called out: one of the most valuable skills a researcher can have is a diverse and well-rounded background. The ability to see from multiple perspectives, in research, is a source of empathy and can help you translate the language of your findings into valuable resources for people outside of your team.
One way to summarize complex information to your leadership team is through concise quotes from your customers. Choose quotes that are informative, articulate complete thoughts, and offer less-than-obvious wisdom.
Here’s an example quote from a sample qualitative research report that a two-person research team created, for a software-as-a-service company. The duo’s goal was to understand how the company could better tailor its value proposition, messaging, and product to the needs of instructional technology teams within universities.
Because your research report is ongoing, you can share changes that have taken place since your last report. Highlight improvements, opportunities for growth/change, new challenges, and areas for further exploration through research.
Share data that validates the trends that you observe. For instance, if you notice a pattern of users struggling with a particular feature, share in-product data that corresponds to this trend. Then, aim to supplement this trend data with even more trend data. Do you notice a difficulty spike at a particular time of day? Among particular customer segments? If you notice an interesting pattern in your qualitative data, aim to close the loop.
User interviews help researchers notice trends that they may have otherwise disregarded. One of the challenges, however, is that user interviews are subject to the same biases that inspire companies to conduct research in the first place. For instance, you may have inadvertently asked a leading question. That’s why, when you communicate your findings to the rest of your team, yes?
This section will be your toughest to write because you are, essentially, seeking every reason to invalidate the trends that you’ve observed. Potential skeptic’s statements include:
Share potential solutions to problems that you observe. In some cases, your users may nominate solutions during their interviews. You might also develop potential solutions, along with your research team.
While you may not know what to build from a product, marketing, sales, or technical perspective, you will have insight into further studies to run. Showcase solutions that are already being built. Here are some interview snippets from the SaaS education product referenced above.
A portion of your audience may want to learn more about your research or see your findings firsthand. You can include links and descriptions to full interviews orr snippets. Invite teams to hear feedback from your customers, directly.
Invite more minds to add value to your research planning process. Build a simple form using Google Forms, Typeform, or Formstack—whatever tool you choose—to ask for research question ideas and interview question recommendations. If you’d like additional team members to participate, make next steps clear. You could even define roles: people who are interested in planning studies, administering interviews, authoring a report or simply learning.
The people reading your research reports may not have the time to read, react, and respond to your findings and recommendations. It’s up to you, as a researcher, to choose what details are most important to include in your report. Over time, you will identify themes that you can continue to reinforce and share information about, in depth. Here are a few tips to help you make more impact with the research findings that you develop:
With research, some information will be more valuable to your company’s leadership team than others. One of the biggest challenges that researchers run into is determining exactly what to focus on highlighting and examining. The solution?
Tell a story about how your research and product decisions are helping build up your company, overall. Learn your company’s strategic objectives. You can gain this knowledge by following press coverage about your company, listening to earnings calls if you’re working for a public company. You can also learn about revenue priorities by talking to management and your leadership team.
At any given time, company priorities are likely to change. Research teams need to maintain touchpoints with team leaders across the organization to understand what is important. This frame of reference will ensure that research studies stay productive, efficient, and relevant to the forward-momentum of your business.
Ursula Shekufendeh, a product leader whose experience spans six years within evolution-stage companies, has developed a process for aligning research programs with company goals. At her former company, Copper, Shekufendeh oversaw a portfolio of customer relationship management tools for small businesses. At a fast-growing company like Copper, every research initiative needs to add value rather than serve as a distractor.
Shekufendeh, whose previous product leadership contributed to an IPO of a startup, AppFolio, uses a scoring system to build research prioritization systems, to help her team stay focused. All reporting maps back to monthly recurring revenue (MRR) data. With this picture, product teams have a clear idea of how much each feature is worth.
In parallel, customer-facing teams have access to a form to submit feedback from customers. Every individual within the company can make recommendations for changes and improvements. The product team then forecasts potential revenue gains and/or losses from pursuing this idea.
This perspective helps teams within Copper assess gains and potential opportunity costs of research. Every research study builds upon previous insights and adopts a structure to move the overall business forward. MRR is at the center of every research program.
You can read more about Ursula’s process in Chapter 1.
The purpose of research is to help people make more informed, on-target decisions in their roles. But the process of navigating options can be a challenge—very rarely will there be one obvious path or course of action to take.
Another researcher who participated in an interview for this guide, Kimberly Munoz is a front-end developer who has worked for organizations as diverse as grassroots political organizations to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and companies like Slack. Across these roles, her specialty has been her ability to translate research insights into actionable steps forward.
In the audio recording above above, we asked her what makes research actionable.
She explains that action comes from decision trade-offs—that it is often challenging for companies to forge paths forward based on findings. By giving executives and team leaders different options for solutions, along with their strengths and weaknesses, she shortens the path from ideation to implementation. Trade offs include cost, speed, and quality.
She encourages researchers to be multifaceted—to learn how to tackle problems from multiple perspectives across design, engineering, UX, product, and marketing.
Figure out multiple ways to solve a pain point that you’ve identified. Work through costs, benefits, and development time for each. Guide leaders through the process of choosing a path forward, a feature to build for instance, that supports your organization’s bottom line.
Well-defined reporting processes add structure to user interviews, enabling researchers to guide company-wide decisions. A consistent company update, sent monthly or quarterly, will help your entire organization understand the value of your research. Show rather than tell: the stories that your business needs to hear are already in your mind.
Over time, teams within your organization will come to rely on your research to make decisions of their own. Especially if you’re providing prescriptive recommendations through prioritization systems and menus of solutions, you may find yourself in a situation where you begin to receive many requests for feedback—to the point where you’re overwhelmed with idea overload. How do you make sure that you’re making the right investments with your time? Always make sure that the connection between your research programs and revenue outcomes are clear.
Research can be a powerful tool for influencing, motivating, and guiding teams towards decisions. Structure is essential for making sure that you’re communicating the right information with stakeholders, getting buy-in into your insights, and aligning efforts with revenue. Research teams will play a critical role as agents of persuasion. As a final note from this chapter, make sure that you take away the following:
Over time, with practice and persistence, these steps will help position research at the center of your organization. Make sure to collect feedback on your methods, to ensure that you are making the greatest impact possible, with your work.