10x Your Interview Skills to Create Digital Products That Delight

White text that reads "Customer Interviews for Digital Products," over an image of a man and woman in business attire, sitting at a table.

Why Should We Conduct Interviews?

Because there’s real value to user research.

Companies save money and ship fewer wrong products when conducting user research. A good rule of thumb is that for every $1 spent on research saves $100 dollars in development by ensuring that we build the right product—on our first try.

Customer interviews are one form of qualitative research that you can conduct. Interviews are especially good for understanding why your customers do something. For example, maybe you have product analytics showing 90% of your customers have used the print preview in your product but only 20% actually print something. Why? Well, just ask them!

From insights to solutions

Insights from customer interviews are an amazing tool to help ensure your build the right product. We cover the interview next steps in our new course, Digital Product Management. This section of the course teaches you how to create personas, distill insights, and pinpoint the problems that will accelerate your journey to creating amazing solutions. Use the steps below to get you started.

Let’s assume you have a few interviews already scheduled. Start by blocking off some time before and after the interview to prepare and debrief. Then follow the steps below to make sure you get the information you need to build a meaningful digital product.

Prepare For Your Interview

Set goals

First, establish the key two or three questions you want to answer with these interviews that will help drive your product or marketing strategy. Are you conducting this interview to discover new customer needs, to validate a new value and pricing strategy, to prioritize which benefits to offer in your next release, or is it something else?

Write your interview guide

This could be a list of specific questions to ask or a few general topics to cover. Make sure you keep this list very short and fiercely prioritized. Time passes quickly in an interview, so have a plan for every interview you will conduct.

Do recon work

Now, you’re ready to prepare for each interview. Why are you talking to this person? What do you want to learn from them? Research the person you’re interviewing on LinkedIn, then check their data in your CRM, support tools, and product analytics. You’re not spying on them; you’re looking for information so you can ask the best questions and use your interview time efficiently.

Test your equipment

You’ll want to record your interviews, so test your recording equipment. Most video conferencing products have built-in recording features. If you don’t have access to those, learn how to record with your computer or other equipment. This allows you to listen more during the interview because you don’t have to take detailed notes. You can make those notes after the interview using your recording.

Add an Observer

If recording isn’t an option, invite an observer to join you during the interview, so they can take notes for you. In fact, having an observer with you is very helpful because they’ll bring a second perspective on the interview’s key take-aways.

During the Live Interview

When the interview is in session, your goal is to create a bond with this person as fast as possible so that they share their honest responses. So, how can you do that? Use these six tips below.

Tip #1: Explain your goals

Right when the interview begins, explain your goals and let the interviewee know why you want to speak with them specifically. Relay how this information will be used and kept confidential (or not). If you need them to sign an NDA or other agreement, take care of that beforehand.

Tip #2: Ask open-ended, broad questions

Avoid closed-ended questions with “yes/no” answers or multiple-choice questions. Make sure to only ask one question at a time. It’s easy to accidentally ask two or three questions at once which can be confusing to the interviewee.

Tip #3: Listening over speaking

A good rule of thumb is to listen 80% of the time and speak 20% of the time. Avoid interrupting them as much as possible. Pause an extra couple of seconds after their response to see if they have anything else to add.

Tip #4: Play off their answers

Follow the flow of the interview by using their answers to ask further questions. When you do that, you’re showing the interviewee that you’re paying attention and that you’re curious. For example, if your interviewee mentioned that a process is easy “except for one hard part,” you can ask a question in response, “tell me more about that one hard part” – repeating that exact phrase “one hard part” in your question. Follow these digressions in your interviews because you never know which ones will lead to a breakthrough insight.

Tip #5: Mind your body language and theirs

For you, make sure you look like you’re focused and interested. Keep your posture natural and maintain appropriate eye contact. You can offer non-verbal nudges like “uh-huh” to keep people talking and reassure them that you’re listening.

For the interviewee’s body language, look for combinations of their behavior and actions that indicate their interest. If they’re talking excitedly and look animated, you’re probably doing a great job. If they’re looking away and talking softly, you might be missing the mark. In that case, you might want to ask if they feel uncomfortable discussing these topics or just change subjects.

Tip #6: Ask for the follow-up now

At the end of an interview, thank the person for their time, and ask if you can contact them with any additional questions later. They’ll usually agree, and that’s great because you might think of new questions or want to clarify their responses after the interview is over. Get the interviewee’s commitment now before they leave. Let them know what’s next. If you’re going to share a summary of the results, let them know. This often helps the interviewee feel like their feedback was valued and gives them an opportunity to share more.

After the Interview

Write a quick summary

Do this immediately after your interview is done so the details are fresh on your mind. Briefly describe who you spoke with and what your goals were. Write out four to six key observations that you noticed.

Share that summary with others

Start by sharing it with other members of your product, engineering, and UX teams so they can learn more about your customers. Also, share it with your marketing and sales teams. If this is a current customer, your sales teams may have insights into the interviewee that explain your observations.

Take detailed notes

Relisten to that recorded interview and this time take detailed notes about everything the person said. Add these notes to a permanent repository of interview notes that you keep in a shared place. In those notes, also add detailed info:

  • Interviewee name
  • Date of interview
  • Questions you asked
  • Quick summary
  • Relevant links (social media profiles, analytics information, CRM data, etc.)

Review observations for common themes

And once you have enough interviews, use a technique like affinity mapping to take all your observations and find common themes. In affinity mapping, you write out all your observations across all your interviews on sticky notes, then cluster them together based on how related they are. You’ll quickly find a few themes that appear over and over again.

Translate each major theme into a sentence representing your key insight about your interviews. These can become the springboard for new features, new approaches to marketing your product, or even new products.

From Interviews to Insights

Interviewing can help you learn a tremendous amount of information from your users and can be used with other techniques like site visits with customers, listening to the voice of your customers, and mapping your customer journey. Each gives a different perspective on your customers and their problems.

Now is the time to learn more ways to conduct user research and practice your interview skills. The Digital Product Management course from 280 Group can get you there. It covers many methods of understanding user problems so you can develop amazing digital solutions.


About the Author

David Schlossberg is a Strategic Advisor and Trainer at 280 Group.
David has over 20 years of experience working in technology, product management, and leading product teams. He has worked at tech companies including Google, was an early employee at Marketo, and has worked in a variety of industries including social media, marketing intelligence, advertising products, and e-commerce platforms. David is also a veteran teacher and curriculum creator who has created training programs used at several product management boot camps.

280 Group is the world’s leading Product Management training and consulting firm. We empower Product Professionals with the knowledge and tools to create products that matter.

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