Quality customer research is the foundation to creating things people want to use — and potentially love to use. But it’s really easy to mess up this kind of research. Especially the customer interview.

If you really want to waste your customers’ time as well as your own, here are 5 things you can try during interviews:

1. Cut straight to the chase

At the beginning of the interview, going straight to the main act (running through a prototype, for instance) is like jumping straight into third gear from a standstill. It can be jarring, uncomfortable and confusing for the interviewee.

Instead: Ease them into the conversation. They might be nervous or anxious, so explain why they are there in the first place, what you are going to cover and start with some warm-up questions. You’ll learn more about them, build up some rapport and be able to put their answers into context.

2. Ask closed questions

It’s meant to be a running dialogue. Hammering the interviewee with back-to-back yes/no questions makes it feel like a test. You end up going through the motions and limit what you could learn.

Instead: Ask open-ended questions that allow you to dig deeper and leave room to let the conversation flow. If you do use a closed question — follow it up by asking why, to get to the root cause, motivation or workaround a customer might have.

3. Ask ‘this or that’ questions

By doing this you give the interviewee options to answer, rather than letting them come to their own conclusion. I see ‘this or that’ questions in the same camp as leading questions. Don’t do it.

It’s an interview, not a survey.

Instead: Ask questions that open up the conversation without putting words in their mouths. Leave some breathing room at the end of a question, giving them time to answer.

4. Vigorously defend your work

If the interviewee is talking out loud (often critiquing your work), don’t get offended and say things like “but that’s not how it’s meant to be!”. They don’t care, it’s what they have experienced. Now is not the time for your excuses.

Instead: Gain an understanding of what the interviewee is struggling with and why. Dig deeper to gain context — have they used something similar that was far better? Why was it better? Getting to that understanding arms you with insights to improve your work.

5. Have a chatty conversation with your colleague during the interview

Show some respect — it’s rude! You are there to talk to them (the customer!) not your colleague. No bickering or brainstorming new ideas on the fly.

Instead: If you have more than one person from your side in the room, define clear roles. Say — one as a note taker, one leading the questioning. If any ideas do crop up, make a note of it and park it until after the interview.


Interested in reading more about customer research?

Adam Morris

Adam Morris, Design Lead

Through the use of visual and interaction design, I continually balance customer needs with business requirements. I believe in user-centred design, rapidly testing assumptions early and often to help bring new digital products to market.


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