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Survey or interview?

Deploy Empathy
Deploy Empathy
This was written as part of the rough draft for Deploy Empathy, a practical guide to interviewing customers.
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I was talking to a Calm Company Fund founder the other day who was preparing to interview customers.
They built their script based on the Deploy Empathy scripts, most of which you can find in the newsletter archive and all of which you can find in the book.
(A little aside: you should absolutely customize the scripts! Nothing to be sheepish about—it is allowed and encouraged that you adapt them.)
They happened to show me the previous script template they had been using. It was full of yes-or-no questions, and I found myself saying “This looks more like a survey than an interview script.”
That got us to talking about the differences between when to use surveys and when to use interviews.
Here’s a rough cut you can use to ask the right questions in each setting.

How does someone answer the question?
To figure out whether a question is better suited to an interview or a survey, think about the kind of answer someone would give.
If someone can answer a question with one of the following, it’s a survey question:
  • yes/no
  • choose from a list of the following
  • rank the following (without added input)
  • give a score to something
  • select multiple options from a list
I interviewed Stripe product manager Theodora Chu for my book, and one of the first things they do after writing the rough draft of a script is to make sure they haven’t asked any yes or no questions.
If the answer prompts context and explanation, it’s an interview question.
Oftentimes, it makes sense to use both. Perhaps your interviews have surfaced that people in your target audience send invoices multiple times per week. You could ask “How many invoices did you send in the last week?” with a range for people to choose from.
Big picture
On a broader level, interviews are great for figuring out what the process and problems are and why people do them in the first place.
Surveys, on the other hand, are helpful for figuring out how widespread those processes and problems are.
To put it simply: Use interviews to discover context and surveys to understand scale.
This is why I tend to do interviews first when I’m exploring a problem. The interviews help me know which questions to ask in the survey. (But it’s not black and white. Our NPS surveys lead to a lot of interviews; see more here.)
Book update: it's happening!
Just this morning I submitted the book for review with Amazon and IngramSpark. This review process can take some time, so I don’t have a hard publishing date.
But you can still pre-order. When you pre-order the book, you’ll get the PDF, Notion + Google Drive script templates, and access to the forthcoming audiobook private podcast. That bundle will be $59 when all is said and done, but you can grab it now for $29.
Deploy Empathy | Learnetto
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Deploy Empathy
Deploy Empathy @mjwhansen

A practical guide to interviewing customers

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