Kobot’s hot tips for conducting interviews that are good for everyone
In recent years, the importance of conducting research before you begin work on a project has started to gain more clout. Professionals in all sectors are realizing the full scope of what they need to do before starting a project—and it can be daunting! We get it, we know it, we feel it too.
But, speaking from personal experience, research saves you SO much in the long run. And truthfully, if you can demonstrate the value of research to your client right from the beginning by showing them that you’re really listening and understand who they are (their personality, their clients, their hopes, their dreams…) it builds trust and equity on both sides.
That said, there is a LOT of literature out there on the subject (These are a couple of our faves). So, to minimize the risk of muddying the waters even further, we want to keep it short and simple. Here are some Dos & Don’ts about research interviews we’ve learned out in the trenches to help you start your research.
DO start with a plan
As much as you’re conducting these interviews to get a better picture of which direction to take this project, it’s still important to have a general plan heading into the interviews. Having a game plan gives your questions some direction, and helps clarify which questions you need to be asking.
Think of these interviews like you would think of testing a hypothesis. The people you are interviewing are the subject matter experts, but you’re the one who knows what works well in your arena (that’s why they hired you in the first place). So, if you go into the Research phase with your initial information and suppositions from the Kickoff, this is the place to find out if you’re on the right track, if you’re way off base, or if you’re just missing some bits and pieces of information that subtly change the project’s direction.
DON’T lead the witness
As much as we strongly recommend going in with a plan, don’t let your personal bias affect the results of your research. You are still in the learning phase, after all.
Some tried and true pieces of advice that you’ll see in almost every discussion of research interviews include: ask open-ended questions, avoid questions that need only yes or no answers, and don’t let your preconceived ideas bleed into the way you phrase your question. They’re common recommendations because they work!
It’s important to let the interviewee speak. From personal experience (and reading some behavioural literature), most of us have a tendency to avoid silences, so we fill lulls with chit chat or move right on to the next question on our list. DON’T. It’s often best to let the person you’re interviewing fill the silence themselves—you may get far more out of them if you let their response breathe for a minute. Plus, being interviewed is stressful for many people, so they may need more than the first 5 seconds to get their thoughts in order.
DO respect your interviewee
There are multiple ways you can do this. Obviously it’s always important to be polite. But also make sure you explain exactly what’s going on from when you first make contact, and reiterate when you actually meet up with the person.
Depending on the way that you have been introduced, they may or may not actually know who you are, what this interview is about, or why they were asked to be here. It’s courteous to make sure you’re all on the same page, giving them context gets you better answers, and it allows them to ask questions. Let them know how the information will be used, and how it won’t be used (not gonna tattle on them!). Building trust and equity with the interviewees in this way can make them feel comfortable giving you fuller answers.
Time box your interview. Their time is valuable, and they’re sharing it with you! So don’t let the interview drag on and on; let them know their time isn’t being wasted. It’s what you would want if the situation were reversed, amiright? It’s great to delve into topics that are relevant and interesting to the project, but that may mean you need to prioritize your questions.
DON’T feel obligated to stick to your questions
Many of us interviewers get nervous, too. And with that there is a tendency to just stick to the script. Consider yourself warned: this can make the conversation a little mechanical, or actually make you miss out on something vital! So, remember that you can always ask for elaboration on a response. If something is unexpected, unclear, surprising, keep digging. Every person has a different perspective, find out why! If you sense a gold mine…DIG!
To conclude: DO THE RESEARCH
At a certain scale of project, you need to invest the time to orient yourself. With the popularity of sites like Wix or Squarespace, almost anybody can build a website. But real value comes when you understand what the client actually needs and what it gives back to them. Research interviews are a way to deliver this value, and now you’re better equipped than ever to conduct these interviews!
This blog post is based on a recent episode of Ask Kobot Anything, our weekly Instagram Live where we let you ask us, well…anything! Questions or comments about this post, or just want to see something discussed on the show? Email us! And catch Ask Kobot Anything every Friday at 11:30 MST on our Instagram.