CX Insights

Mastering User Interviews: Never Ask Users What They Want

5 min read

Collecting user feedback is a critical element in developing and improving your product. However, there has been some debate regarding how it can impact innovation. In an article by Helpscout, the following valid question is posed: “How can you get ahead of the curve if your customer feedback mostly consists of today’s popular ideas?” This is a common pitfall that companies encounter; the feedback they receive can be generic and of limited value. When this is the case, you can be sure that the interview techniques and processes used are probably at fault.

Listening to your users can be one of your most powerful tools. However, securing quality feedback that will propel your product ahead of the curve requires a well-designed interview process.

If only you could just ask your users what they want!

What do u want final

Source: “Never ask them what they want”, Kissmetrics

Unfortunately this question will lead you to the wrong insights mainly because the feedback will be based on their ideal solution and limited to their personal perception of what is possible. The feedback you receive will be influenced by competitive products and will lack the creativity you need to encourage real innovation.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”, Henry Ford

Below we outline some recommendations that will help you in conducting efficient user interviews that encourage creativity, deep insights and positive change. Use the following tips to leverage the full power of user feedback:

Ask the right questions

The steps for successful user interviews

Step 1: Understand your user (get the bigger picture)

The first step to really understanding your users is to identify their main challenges. Having a clear overview of these challenges, as well as knowing your user’s KPIs and their role within the organization, will give you the context you need to conduct a successful interview. The 5-Why’s methodology can also be used in order to understand your user thoroughly and drill down to the root cause of their problem.

Key Questions:

  • What is your role within your team and the wider organization?
  • What are you trying to achieve?
  • What is the main business goal of your organization?
  • What are your KPI’s?
  • What would you personally like to achieve through this role?

Step 2: Understand how they do it (outline the workflow)

In understanding how your customers actually use your product, you can identify use cases and clarify which tasks are more important to them. By doing so, you can pin point parts of the workflow that can be improved.

Key Questions:

  • Can you explain and show me how you are currently using Product X?
  • Which tasks are most frequent? Most important?
  • What are your primary goals when using Product X?
  • How do different people within your company use Product X? Do you have different responsibilities?

Step 3: Understand what keeps them up at night (find opportunities)

Now that you have outlined your user’s workflow, you can dig deeper in to the problem areas. Encourage your users to tell you what they think can be improved and how. Pay special attention to the instances where your users mention high levels of frustration because of product deficiencies hindering critical day-to-day tasks. At this point you can also show your users prototypes in order to validate current design ideas.

Key Questions

  • What is frustrating in your current workflow?
  • Can you show me how you complete task X and why it is frustrating?
  • Do you have ideas on how this task can be completed more efficiently?

Do you have these necessary soft skills?

Emotional Intelligence - User interviews

Besides asking the right questions, possessing the capacity for empathy and making the users feel at ease can be the difference between a good interview and a great interview.

Here are three basic “soft skill” interview tips for better results:

1. Don’t rush but be aware of the time

Make a structured plan of the elements you want to cover and try to stick to it. Nevertheless don’t give the interviewees a feeling of being rushed and try not to use body language that might signal a lack of time or boredom. Avoid looking at your watch or engaging in repetitive actions like drumming your fingers or playing with a pen.

2. Focus and be the best listener

People open up best when they know they are actually being heard. Some simple ways to show that you are actually engaged is to maintain eye contact and not shift your attention to other things like your phone. Encourage the interviewee by nodding your head and summarizing the points mentioned. Asking follow up questions and validating certain statements creates a strong feeling that you are paying attention. This will also prompt a more thorough explanation of the topic at hand.

3. Be compassionate and don’t judge

Your role is to make the interviewee feel at ease. Don’t become defensive or dismiss a statement you disagree with. As far as body language is concerned, try and avoid crossing your arms, lean in slightly when the user is speaking and remember to smile. Smiling always creates a positive connection.

How many test users do you need?

If you’re tight on time and money, the good news is that according to the Nielsen Norman Group, you only need 5 users to get good results.

The graph below shows that in order to identify 100% of usability problems, interviewing 15 users is the way to go. However, the article states that: “it is better to distribute your budget for user testing across many small tests instead of blowing everything on a single, elaborate study.” So a good approach would be to spend your budget on 3 studies with 5 users each.


How many users to test with

Source: Neilsen Norman Group

What process do you follow and what questions do you ask your users to improve or validate your products? Let us know in the comments!

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Cassandra Michael
Head of Marketing @ Usabilla