User interviews are the best way to research and validate product ideas. Yet, getting user interviews right sounds easy but it’s in practice very hard. Here's 7 proven steps to get interviews right from the start.

7 key steps to get user interviews right


User interviews are the best way to research and validate product ideas.

Every methodology – from Lean Startup to Design Thinking – relies on talking directly to users to learn and improve.

Yet, getting user interviews right sounds easy but it’s in practice very hard. We tend to be biased and look for confirmations of our ideas.

Here’s 7 proven steps to get interviews right from the start.


Define what you want to achieve with your interviews

The first step to get user interviews right is to ask yourself what you want to achieve by interviewing users. Are you trying to learn about a problem they have or to check if your product can solve that problem? Or do you have many different ideas and you want to get a sense of where to start?

Try to solve one problem at the time. Set a clear goal and write it down. This way you make sure that when the interviews are over, you will have results you can compare.


Are you talking to the right audience?

Only interview people in your target group. Why? Because only who’s experiencing a problem or pain themselves can tell you if a solution to that pain is worth it.

You’ll often interview people saying “yes I see a lot of people struggling with this problem, you’re definitely on top of something” or “oh yeah I think it would be a great idea. I think it’s especially interesting for x, y, z..”. These answers, although encouraging, are not feedback you can use.

You need to make sure people talk about something they experience themselves, or it’s not a “user interview”.


Set the scene for your user interviews without telling too much upfront

People are usually more helpful when they understand the context of your request. If you ask a stranger on the street to answer a few questions, they’ll be more willing to help if you explain the reason why. Why should they spend their time with you?

At the same time, make sure you don’t reveal too much. You don’t want to bias your interviewees. They may be inclined to please you or try to get rid of you. If this happens their answers won’t be helpful.

Set the right scene by giving the minimum context people need to have to be able to help you.


Get to the why behind the problem

This is perhaps the most essential point to get user interviews right. The majority of our daily actions are things we don’t pay attention to. Even when we do, we don’t always ask ourselves why we prefer to do A instead of B.

To understand the ‘why’ behind things we shouldn’t stop at the first response. Usually the first answers describe but don’t explain. “I don’t do it because I don’t have time”. Ask “why do you decide to give time to A instead of B?”, “what makes you prioritize one thing over the other?”.

An effective method to use is the “5 whys”, where you ask 5 times “why” to the answer you hear. It will seem clunky at first but it will deliver great results once you nail it!


When to ask open questions

The goal of user interviews is to understand the point of view of your users. It’s a good idea to have a blend of open ended and closed ended questions in your user interviews.

When to use what? To discover a new problem and empathize with users, open questions are usually a great way to start.

You should favor questions like ‘how’, ‘how often’, ‘why’ and avoid ‘do you’ questions. If you do use yes/no questions, make sure they’re only used to nudge the conversation and to exclude possible alternatives to your understanding of facts.


When not to ask open questions

When you’re working on validating an hypothesis with your user interviews, you may want to work with close-ended questions. Close-ended questions will give you the chance to compare results.

In this case it’s better to work with yes/no questions, A/B tests, votes, or other metrics you can compare.


Don’t make it feel like an interview

We are more honest when we feel we can be ourselves. User interviews can touch sensitive topics (you ask about problems after all) and this can cause people to close up. Think of fintech: if you ask people about money, who would say to a stranger “yes, I do have a problem with money”?

To help people open up just show you’re listening with interest. You don’t need to show you agree with their problem. Don’t only ask questions, but try to rephrase what you hear to make sure the interview won’t sound like an interrogation.


How to get your user interviews right?

These 7 tips will help you get user interviews right from the start. Yet, it’s understandable that every niche is different and every test requires a tailored approach.

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