7 Questions To Ask In A User Interview
Seven questions you should be asking in every user interview you do. Start asking the right questions at the end of every interview to build the feedback flywheel and drive your next interviews.
The devil is in the details, or, rather, the follow-ups when conducting user interviews for customer discovery. That said, there are about seven questions that I find a way to ask in almost every user interviews that I lead.
- Tell me about the last time you did x.
- Why do you do x?
- How much did you pay for that?
- How long did that take?
- What question haven't I asked that I should be asking?
- Who else should I speak to?
- Do you have any concerns we haven't addressed yet?
1. Tell me about the last time you did x.
Ok, not technically a question, but I could't bear to leave this one out. As a user interviewer, our job is to collect sincere, vivid, and emotional customer stories, so I almost always start with this question. It's so much more useful to ask about the last time a user did something rather than how a user "normally" does x because it gets the nitty-gritty details that we don't think about when describing how we "normally" do things. Even if what the user did the last time was an outlier, we get to find out why it was an outlier.
If we're in the customer discovery phase for a new low-code platform for teachers, and we ask a teacher, "How do you normally share lesson plans with your students?" She might respond with, "I send it via email each day". On the other hand, if we ask, "Tell me about the last time you shared a lesson plan with students."? We are much more likely to receive a response closer to, "I logged into Blackboard, found the email list of each class, uploaded the pdf of the assignment and sent it out to each class individually." We now have so much more to dig into; what's Blackboard? How does it work? Why do you use PDFs?
2. Why do you do x?
User interviews can be gold when we get to the heart of why users do what they do. It sounds effortless to ask, but I miss it sometimes when I assume the answer is so incredibly apparent that I don't need to ask it all. Don't fall into the same trap I do; when I ask, why do you do that? About a quarter of the time, I hear something I didn't expect to hear or additional context that leads to the next great question.
I was conducting a user interview for The User Interview Exchange, and I asked an expert user experience professional why they do user interviews. I heard many of the same answers that I've heard so many times before, but I learned that they like to have members from the content marketing team take notes on the interviews so that the content team can better empathize with their target segment and ultimately write content that solves underlying issues their customers have. It was a brilliant tidbit I had experienced but not intentionally pursued before.
3. How much did you pay for that?
Rob Fitzpatrick talks about this question a lot in his book, The Mom Test. The key is getting comfortable asking the question. Some hate talking about money, but it's essential to ask about it because it helps you understand how much customers might be willing to spend on your product. Rob Fitzpatrick points out that this question gives you an eye into who holds the purse strings for buying your product. Anyone who has tried to sell a product to software developers has probably learned this.
If you ask someone, "how much did you pay for that?" and they respond with, "I don't know, my manager pays for it," it's probably a good time to start talking to those managers. One example of this is that developers hate paying for anything. Do you know who doesn't mind paying for things if it's helpful? The people that manage overworked developers and need to offload some work. Also, marketers who would rather buy plug-and-play platforms than jockey for developer time.
4. How long did that take?
If someone has a real problem today, chances are they've already taken some steps to solve it. Sometime's they've found a way to achieve it for free or very cheap. Asking, "how long did that take?" is a great way to understand how important the problem and how much it needs solving. For example, if someone spent an hour solving this problem, it might not be worth it.
The other day I was conducting a user interview with an expert user experience professional. I asked him to tell me about the last time he sought out users to interview. He told me that he used $200 worth of Facebook ads to drive users to a Google Forms landing page, where he filtered the users and picked the best options. He then scheduled each, conducted the interviews, and sent them each a $50 Amazon Gift card. All in all, $600 for eight user interviews is not a bad deal. Then I asked, "how long did that process take?". The Facebook, Google Forms, vetting, scheduling, and gift card follow-up took about two days. Not an astronomical amount of time, but if you're a senior UX professional in the U.S., that's about $1,400 worth of time. Recruiting didn't cost $200; it cost closer to $1,600. In my research, I've found that time cost is one reason agencies have a tough time selling user interview research to clients, even if they know it's vital. If an agency bills at $200/hr, it'll be thousands of dollars to do a proper round of user interview research; lots of that money is recruiting or (more likely) the outsourcing to a service like User Interviews.
5. What question haven't I asked that I should be asking?
Before UIX, I researched digital strategies for corporations. As part of our research, we interviewed digital executives in firms across the globe. "What question haven't I asked that I should be asking" was my favorite question to ask. One of the user interviews' strengths is the ability to pull off the blinders of our own experiences and immerse us in others' experiences. This question is a fantastic way to strip our biases and ask questions that may never have made it to our list.
6. Who else should I speak to?
This question can be gold for two reasons. 1. It's an excellent way to understand markets whom you may not have sought out before for user interviews, and 2. you may get a referral to your next user interview.
In 2018, I researched what corporations should do when the next recession hits and was mostly interviewing CX and UX folks on strategies to respond to their customer's when it comes. When I asked, "who else should I be speaking to?"; an interviewee recommended that I get in touch with someone in the digital advertising sector. Before long, I had spoken to a half dozen digital advertising execs that had held their clients' hands during the 2008 recession; their effect and collaboration with non-marketing teams during times of crisis was much more significant than I had expected.
7. Do you have any concerns we haven't addressed yet?
I've found that asking about concerns is more effective than saying, "what's keeping you from signing up" or "why won't you sign up." This question is a perfect way to uncover potential marketing headlines (if you have solved the problem but haven't made it clear enough) or clarify the product as sometimes interviewees turn into customers.
Now that you know some great questions to ask, I recommend implementing these within the user interview template, here.