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Malcolm Ridenour for Codédex

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User Interviews for Dummies

Hi Devs! 👋 My name is Malcolm. I’m a brand new Customer Success Manager in my first tech job. When I was told to conduct a batch of user interviews, I assumed it would be easy. And after I completely bombed the first few, I knew this was out of my element.

My team then gave me a tiny pink book called The Mom Test by Ron Fitzpatrick, and it immediately changed not only the quality of my user interviews but also my thought process on identifying the good ideas from the bad IRL!

The Mom Test Book

I’d like to share three takeaways from the book and perhaps help someone new to user interviews like myself:

1. Customer conversations are bad by default and it’s your job to fix them by asking better questions.

This is a cardinal rule from the book. Here are some examples of some bad questions (that I personally asked) that can give false positives and empty compliments that don't identify problems or offer solutions:

  • Do you think X is a good idea?
  • Would you buy a product that did X?
  • How much would you pay for X?

These questions lead to fluff - answers based on hypotheticals and detached from historical facts.

Here are examples of some good questions:

  • Talk me through the last time X happened?
  • Have you ever purchased a product like X?
  • How are you dealing with this problem now?

The good questions focus on specifics of the past instead of the generics or opinions about the future.

You won’t be able to completely stop some user interviews from being unproductive or awkward, but your questions are the only way to mitigate the dry and interrogative nature of them.

2. You can’t learn anything useful unless you're willing to spend a few minutes being quiet.

This is something I struggled with:

I talked too much and listened too little during my interviews!

During lulls in a conversation or when the user would say something that would spark my interest, I would allow the conversation to travel to a place that isn't useful anymore. And that's a no-go from the book. 🙅

The interviewer should only be speaking to ask or explain a question or guiding a user to the next question; the rest of the time should be listening to what your user has to say.

A great way to discover whether or not this is a problem for you is to record your interviews (with their permission of course) and listening to them afterwards. If you are talking more than they are, you are not using your time wisely.

3. Don't pitch your ideas to customers and don't mention your solution.

Naturally, when a customer gives you a negative critique or shares a problem they encountered with your product - it is almost reflexive to apologize and tell them what your intention was and what the team is doing behind the scenes to work on that problem. But don’t do it! 😱

There are two reasons you shouldn't pitch your ideas or explain your solutions to customers:

  1. It is a waste of time that you could be using to listen for more information to solve the problem, instead of apologizing longer than you need to.

  2. Most people are friendly and want to tell you what you want to hear. Little white lies told to appear amicable, but those don't help your business! What you want is the truth. So keep your plans and pitches to a minimum and let them tell you their opinions unsullied by letting them know what your plans are.

Everybody Lies GIF

So learn from my mistakes when conducting your own user interviews and don’t let any of these obstacles get in the way of collecting the information you need from the most important part of any project or build – the folks that use them!

Happy interviewing and pick up The Mom Test by Ron Fitzpatrick to put your user interviews into overdrive.

💖 Malcolm from Codédex

Top comments (3)

michburkhalter profile image

Thanks, Malcolm. Especially the first part is very interesting to me an I think I need to learn more about this.

bobliuuu profile image
Jerry Zhu

Super informative! Thanks Malcolm!

sonnynomnom profile image
Sonny Li

LFGGGG @normaltheclown! First article completed. 🏆