This was written as part of the rough draft for Deploy Empathy, a practical guide to interviewing customers.
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This is also called a “switch” interview in Jobs to Be Done (JTBD) literature, and the goal is to be able to diagram the Timeline
someone goes through from becoming aware they had a problem to solve => deciding to solve that problem => deciding to use your product.
I suggest doing this interview with people who have started using your product/service within the last 1-3 months. I find that if you do it too soon (say within a week or two of signing up), people tend to think it’s an onboarding call and will have questions about getting set up. Onboarding calls make sense in a lot of contexts, but is a separate conversation from this interview. The goal here is to talk to people who have already started using the service and are successfully set up so you can dig a level deeper into why it is they started using your service.
The goals of this interview:
- What was the journey they went through?
- How did they discover your product?
- What prompted them to switch from one provider/tool/process to yours?
- So far, are they satisfied with that decision?
I’m going to include a sample script at the top, and then some more in-depth notes at the bottom.
I’ve intentionally written this as casual and conversational as possible. It is close to what I might actually say in an interview. The grammar is not perfect, and that’s on purpose.
Remember that these questions are only a small percentage of what you’d say in an interview. You’ll use a lot of validating statements to encouraging someone to continue talking.
The questions in the middle are intentionally formatted as bullets, because I find that interviews rarely follow the questions in order (more on this below).
- Hi, is this [person]? Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. I’m so excited to talk to you. I’m [briefly introduce yourself]
- Before we get started, I just wanted to ask if you had any questions for me?
- [Optional: if you promised them an incentive] I also just want to check if it’s okay I send you a [$25 Amazon gift card] after we get off the phone here? (More on incentives/thank-you gifts below)
- [Optional: if you’re recording] Oh, just before we get started, is it okay if I record this interview? It’s just so I can listen to what you’re saying and don’t have to be scribbling notes the whole time. It won’t be shared outside.
- Ok, so to get started, can you just tell me a little about how you got to needing something for [process your product/service solves] in the first place?
- Can you walk me through a little bit what the end result you’re trying to get to is?
- What other tools or things have you done manually to try to do this?
- Can you tell me about when you started thinking that maybe you could or should use something else to get this done?
- [follow up: when was that?]
- So when did you start looking for something new to [solve problem]?
- Before you started using [product], what were you hoping it would solve?
- [follow up: Is it helping with what you hoped it would help with?]
- Before you started using [product], was there anything you were unsure about or nervous about?
- Before you decided to use [product], was there anyone else you asked about it or places you looked for information about it?
- Before you decided to use [product], were there any other alternatives you looked into?
- Before you decided to use [product], was there anyone else who needed to weigh in on whether it was the right fit before you could use it?
The reaching for the door question* – after you’ve covered the above and feel like you have a good grasp of the timeline (~ halfway through the time you’ve told them this interview will take)
- Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. I’ve learned so much from you today. Is there anything else you think I should know?
When you’re actually ready to get off the phone
Thanks again for taking the time to talk to me today.
[if you promised them an incentive] Is it okay if I go ahead and send you that Amazon gift card now? Can you confirm that [email address] is the right place to send it to?
[if you didn’t promise an incentive] To show my appreciation, I’d love to send you some swag. Would that be okay? We have some [stickers/socks/baseball hats/etc]. If so, where should I send them?
If they say they can’t accept swag: I totally understand. I’d still love to send you a thank you note, where could I mail that to?
Well great! Thanks again. Have a good one!
——Notes and References———-
*The Reaching For the Door Question
There will be a whole issue about this, I promise. It’s one of the most important parts of the interview. For now, I’ll just tell you what it is.
Most literature will recommend scheduling interviews for an hour. I’ve found I can get great information in 30 minutes, or even 15. Sometimes we don’t hit every point in detail but I still gain insights into someone’s process. I’ve also had interviews that went for an hour and a half because the person was really open to talking.
Whatever the time you promise, stay to that. I suggest starting with half an hour (if only to reduce the anxiety and time commitment on your side about being on the phone for an hour). If you’re in a good flow and the person is an eager participant, you can ask to extend. If you find you keep needing to extend, consider asking for more time in the future in advance (i.e. make the calendar invites for 45 minutes instead of 30).
As I noted above, the Reaching For The Door Question should be asked halfway through the allotted time to give ample space for the great stuff that usually follows.
Interviews always veer off track… in fact, that is often the sign of a great interview!
I don’t think I’ve ever had an interview follow the exact order I laid out in the script, and that’s okay. Don’t feel like you need to force the person to follow your order… let them wander a bit, and gently guide them to your questions as necessary.
Thank you gifts/incentives
I’ve found that people who are already customers are more likely to feel uncomfortable or reject a gift card, unless they’re college students.
For customers, I’ve found that swag works great. The cheapest swag option is stickers, which I tend to find are are met with more delight than I would expect. If you do have a bit more budget for swag, I suggest getting something that is gender-neutral and does not need to be sized (i.e. no t-shirts). Think: baseball hats, pens, notepads. Our current swag is socks from Sock Club Custom
and they’ve been a big hit.
Some companies don’t let their employees take gifts, so I always ask “Is it okay if…” because the answer could be no. In that case, just sending a thank-you note (with your business card if you have them) is fine.
Regardless of whether you send swag or not, I suggest sending a mailed handwritten thank-you note. Old school and incredibly charming. I like this set
because they’re neutral and professional without being stuffy.
The thank-you note can be straightforward. Here is a template you can use:
Thank you for taking the time to talk to me about why you use [your product/service]. I learned so much from you about [process your product/service solves] and how we could improve our product.
There are different schools of thought on whether and how you should take notes during an interview.
Some people might find it distracting from fully absorbing themselves into what the other person is saying, and recommend that you record interviews and make transcripts/notes afterwards. Some people might be able to type/write notes on autopilot and not find multi-tasking distracting.
I suggest experimenting with a few different capture processes until you iterate into something that works for you.
A process that worked well for me for the first ~100 or so interviews I did (i.e. before the scripts were second nature) was to print out my interview script with 5-6 carriage returns in between each question, with a single-sided print. This would help make sure I didn’t forget any questions (since interviews rarely follow the script in order). I would often flip the paper over and start free-form diagraming the process/decision matrices/etc that a person went through.
However, you may type faster than you write, or simply not have a printer, and decide it makes sense to pull up a new doc in Google Docs/Notion/Roam, paste your script in there, and type as you listen. I suggest having a blank piece of paper and a pencil next to you just in case you find yourself wanting to diagram something.
These days, I take notes within Intercom so it’s tied to the customers’ other communications. I also tag that I’ve had this interview with them, so my automated recruitment emails don’t accidentally get sent to them again.
Most UX researchers will record their interviews and get them transcribed afterwards. Zoom makes it easy to make a recording, and Otter.ai
is a pretty cheap way to get 90% transcripts. Always get someone’s permission before recording.
Recording interviews is helpful when you need to share what you’ve learned. I tend to find there’s a relationship between how robust your process is and how many other people you need to share the insights with. If you’re in a company with more than 3 people, it probably makes sense
When I worked in a larger company and needed to communicate insights, transcripts were an integral part of that. We would print them and clip out specific phrases and use them to create our journey maps, which we’d eventually turn into infographics that we plastered over the doors of the office or shared on Slack.
If you’re a solo/duo founder scenario, or getting this business going on the side, that probably doesn’t apply to you.
Our sharing/storage process is that I keep notes in Intercom so Mathias can read them, and usually (excitedly) debrief him afterwards with what I’ve learned. But just because that works for us doesn’t mean it will be the right process for you.