Customer Interview Best Practices – Part 1: Questions
by Terrance Kirkwood

6 Best Practices for Better Customer Interviews
Asking the wrong questions during a customer interview can result in your interview participant giving you invalid and useless feedback. For example, if the questions in your discussion guide don’t address your stakeholders’ concerns or the project goals, the feedback from those questions can turnout to be irrelevant and uninteresting. Alternatively, asking the right questions but in the wrong way can lead to potentially bad data. Presenting your questions in a way that influences or alienates the interview participants could result in responses they think you want to hear, or even worse, cause them to shutdown altogether.

Formulating good discussion guide questions is essential to receiving the best possible insights from your interview participants. Asking the right questions will increase the chances the responses you receive are both relevant and interesting. And asking questions the right way will decrease the chances your participants tell you only what they think you want to hear or shut down during the interview. Here are six best practices for writing questions that will help you to conduct a better customer interview.

1. Keep Interview Questions About Problems, Not Solutions
When formulating your interview questions, it’s important to stay focused on understanding your customers’ problems. Do not depend on your customers to provide you with solutions. Focusing on the customers’ problems keeps you open to a wide variety of potential ways to improve your product for them. Focusing on solutions limits your possibilities for improving the product.

2. Keep interview Questions About The Participant’s Recent Experiences
When formulating your interview questions, design your questions so the participant responds to recent events and experiences. You don’t want to have them trying to remember events and experiences from years ago or even months ago. If at all possible, have the interview participant draw on the most recent memories available to them.

3. Keep Interview Questions Short
When asking the interview participant a question, it will be difficult for them to process long and complex questions. Try to keep your questions short, less than twenty words. Keeping your questions short will increase the chances that your interview participant will understand the question and respond with the most appropriate feedback.

4. Keep Interview Questions Simple
Try to keep your questions focused on one concept at a time. Do not try to get your interview participant to address multiple issues at once. Keeping your questions clear will increase the chances your participant will address the question fully. Additionally, keeping interview questions simple and singularly focused will make analyzing your data easier.

5. Keep Interview Questions Non-Biasing
Using interview questions that incorporate one or more of the five non-biased question formations encourages your interview participants to speak freely and tell you what they truly think and how they really feel—as opposed to what they think you want to hear or what is most acceptable. Non-biased interview questions include one or more of these five key characteristics:

1. Nonjudgmental
2. Nonleading
3. Open-ended
4. Grounded in a real time, place, activity, and situation
5. Able to elicit first person responses

6. Test Your Interview Questions
Once you have a final draft of your discussion guide and interview questions, it is super important for you to conduct a pilot study. Because customer interviews are often time consuming and expensive, the pilot will be the last opportunity you have to validate that you are asking the right questions and asking them the right way, before bringing in real participants.

A successful customer interview results in feedback that is interesting and valuable to you as a designer or product manager. An unsuccessful customer interview results in customer feedback that is not useful and a session that is a waste of time.

In Part 2, I’ll go provide more details about each of the non-biasing interview questions and provide examples for each one. If you want to get notified when Part 2 is published subscribe to my newsletter. You’ll also get access to all the FREE CDUX UX News, Information and Resources.