How To Conduct Effective Interviews For Product Discovery

If you're building a new product or service, it's critical to understand the needs and emotions of your target customers. In-depth interviews are one of the most effective methods for gaining inspiration..

Luke Fraser
August 8, 2022

If you're building a new product or service, it's critical to understand the needs and emotions of your target customers.  In-depth interviews are one of the most effective methods for gaining inspiration for products and services — and are a vital component for early-stage startups. In product discovery, we aim to develop empathy for the people we are designing for.   In this article, we’ll share our approach to conducting in-depth interviews, to help you better understand your audience.

Preparing for the Interview

The interviews will consist of 60 to 90-minute conversations with people who share certain characteristics—for example, they might be all working moms or all retirees—and you want to learn more about them. This type of research usually involves fewer participants than traditional focus groups. We find that a smaller number of conversations and interactions produces a significantly greater amount of useful insights. 

The goal is to learn everything you possibly can about your participant— what they think about themselves, their situation, and the product or service you’re working on. To conduct these interviews properly, you have to have a strong understanding of your target market as well as solid interviewing skills. If you are unsure about either of these things, then we recommend hiring a professional researcher or marketer who has experience conducting these types of interviews.

The Interview Guide

Even in the early stages of a project, good research requires thoughtful planning. This begins with an interview guide. Make sure you know what you want to learn and organize your questions into logical groupings to guide your conversation. 

Once you have an interview guide, share it with relevant stakeholders to confirm alignment on the goals of your interview, and that they understand what you will be asking. However, as the researcher, you are ultimately responsible for deciding which questions make it into the final draft of your guide and which ones don’t make the cut.

An interview guide can be a helpful tool to keep your research on track, but it's important to remember that your goal is not to just generate data—it is to understand what motivates people and what would motivate them to buy a new product.

Conducting the Interview

We recommend conducting these interviews in the individual's natural environment, such as their home or workplace. This provides a more realistic setting and allows you to see how they interact with your product or service in their everyday life. In some cases, it may also make sense to do these interviews in pairs, for example with friends or co-workers who share similar circumstances.

Before starting an interview, it is important to make the participant feel comfortable and at ease. This includes introducing yourself, asking the person to give you a short bio of their experience or background, confirming they signed the consent form, reminding them that they are being recorded, and letting them know the purpose of the interview. You should also discuss the logistics of compensation and make your expectations for the interview clear. Lastly, give them the space to ask questions as well. 

Customer-led interviews should always begin with open-ended questions. Asking the customer to talk about their experiences, preferences, and current issues will allow you to have a conversation rather than an interrogation. Beginning with “tell me about” prompts the customer to discuss their experiences and allows you to explore multiple areas of your research.

The middle portion of the interview should concentrate on topics that are relevant to your learning goals. You should lead the conversation by asking questions that solicit information and leave room for discovery – but don’t be afraid to ask your own questions as well. 

At the end of an interview, make sure to ask specific questions that will help you understand the customer's demographic background and to gather the information that you can compare across different participants. This way, you'll be able to get a more complete understanding of your customer base.

Incorporating Prototypes

At any stage of research, it is always a good idea to bring visual aids with you so that those you are interviewing can more easily react to and engage with your ideas. If you have already developed some concepts or value propositions that you want to test, prepare one-page mock-ups for each of them. However, if you are just starting, try coming up with "sacrificial concepts" for products that may or may not exist today - this will help generate a different type of discussion with participants.

Pro Tips

  • Structure your research to achieve your objectives, but also allow for flexibility so that the participant can lead you to unexpected places.  This is essential for gaining valuable insights for product discovery.

  • It's important that your interviewee feels comfortable talking about sensitive topics such as their finances, health, and family life. You can encourage this by using open-ended questions and asking questions in a nonjudgmental tone. This will help you gain more honest responses from your participants.

  • You may not get to address every question listed in your interview guide. Go with the flow. Try to remain nimble and flexible.

Consumer interviews are an essential part of any product discovery process. They can help you understand unmet needs, uncover the motivations and barriers that prevent consumers from buying new products, and even help you identify what would motivate people to purchase your product. 

Are you bringing a new product to market?  Contact us with your comments and questions.

Luke Fraser

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