5 lessons user researchers can learn from a longtime interviewee

6 min read Stef Miller

Giving someone feedback takes guts. In the professional sense, as you already know, feedback is critically important for building empathy and helping others make informed decisions.

At the heart of it, for those of us sitting on the interviewee side of the table, this act of sharing can be intimidating. Sharing our opinions or our experience with someone means we have to open up. We’ve got to accept that there might be resistance or even retaliation based on what we say. What we share could alter the way someone views us, for better or worse. And when it comes to providing feedback to UX researchers, product managers, and designers — I remain in awe of their thick skin and tact in these moments.

Which brings me to my second point. Asking for feedback is a difficult task that many of us need to do. Talk about vulnerability. Feedback may be a gift, but it can crush ideas, wreak havoc on roadmaps, or derail entire projects. And that’s the point right? The sooner you can sweep the junk aside, the sooner you’ll be able to find the right solution.

After working both for and alongside many impressive marketers, UX experts and creative folk I have picked up a few nuggets of advice I think seekers of feedback of all kinds can benefit from. Over the years, I’ve participated in over 30 user feedback sessions. I’ve collected notes on many of these — whether they were in-person or remote, ad-hoc exchanges or carefully planned studies.

Convenience is everything, schedule like a pro

Let’s face it, scheduling is a nightmare. As a participant I fully expect that professionals running a formal study will have ironed out the kinks on this. That means using a scheduling tool. It means setting up automated reminder emails. It means there is a calendar integration. And it means making it easy to reschedule, because we’re going to cancel. And when we do, the thought of doing everything all over again is just plain depressing. Oh, and sorry for canceling.

Here are a few options for improving the scheduling headache:

  1. Try ScheduleOnce or YouCanBookMe to automate scheduling
  2. If you’re on the cheap, use Boomerang for Gmail to schedule reminders
  3. Go virtual with a Zirtual assistant to handle the details and reminder phone calls
  4. If you’re scheduling a multi-user session, try Doodle
  5. Scheduling in different timezones? Double check your times with the Globo app
  6. Make sure it makes it onto my calendar, use AddEvent links in emails

I love your glasses! Rapport, rapport, and more rapport

I mentioned it earlier, but even those of us who have done this before get a teeny tiny bit nervous right before jumping into a session. The most important thing a researcher can do is focus on putting us at ease. I cannot stress enough how far this will go in getting me to relax and open up. There are a ton of great tips on how to run a user interview in this ebook, but here are some pointers for instantly building rapport during a research session:

  1. Don’t be late, and don’t appear to be rushed or nervous. Practice, it pays off.
  2. First things first, give me a compliment — on my glasses, my email signature, my first name. Find something, and roll with it.
  3. It’s OK to reference a checklist, or read off important information from your computer, but otherwise, please make eye contact.
  4. Remember, you’re representing a brand — so put your best foot forward, and smile a few times!
  5. Whatever happens during the session, DON’T YAWN. This has happened so many times that I’ve lost count.
  6. Find a way to casually yet earnestly tell me that whatever I say won’t hurt your feelings.
  7. Before we get started please offer me a glass of water, or, if we’re in different locations, remind me to grab a glass.

Technology is tricky

Maybe you’re a wizard of tech, but many of us aren’t. Trying to use new tools without any proper training can be very frustrating. Even moreso if the instructions aren’t in my native language, or are difficult to follow. So take the time to become an expert yourself. Know how to help me share my screen or find the video button on Skype. Oh, and please don’t make me download and install software in order to participate in your study.

Why yes, I’d love to cash in on my opinions

Let’s talk compensation. While it can be a really helpful way to recruit people to your user research studies, compensation can play a bigger role for you and your company. First, it’s only fair to give people a thank you for their efforts. Second, how you structure your compensation reflects on your brand. It points to how seriously you take yourselves, your customers, and the time it takes to get things right. Not to mention that the work you do can pay dividends in improved UX — leading to increases in bottom-line revenue and customer satisfaction.

If you need to justify compensation, or build a case for more research, here are a few of helpful resources:

  1. Practical reasons to invest in UX research, via UserTesting
  2. The maturity of your organization when it comes to experience design, via UX Magazine
  3. Cost-justifying user experience design, via Forrester
  4. Testing incentives, the best way to pay, via Cliff Anderson//Boxes and Arrows

If you’re on a limited budget, consider entering people into a draw for their participation. Or, focus on people who already have a high affinity for your product as they may be willing to meet with you for swag, or even for free. Now, that may not be my cup of tea, but it’s mainly because I find that these days, time is precious and I never have enough of it. The reward has to be pretty big for me to give you 30 or 45 minutes. And, cash (or online credit) is king in my book.

Thoughts on length: On the receiving end of your communications, 60 minutes sounds like a ridiculously LONG time. You might consider ways to reduce the time you need in order to avoid the dreaded one hour, especially if participants won’t be in-person. If you position your study as a full hour, give me 10 minutes back at the end, and I still make the total compensation you offered, I’ll really feel like I came out on top.

Ego? What ego?

There are a lot of people who don’t want to admit it, but it feels really good to have someone massage the ol’ ego every now and then. If you take care to properly acknowledge a participant’s time, effort and opinion it can go a long way. This ties into building rapport, but it should also serve as a reminder that we truly do want our voice to be heard.

“My favorite music app cares about what I think!” and “Super cool, I got to meet someone who works at my dream company,” are underlying factors in our decision to dedicate part of our day to your research endeavors. Don’t forget the power of your brand, and think about how this can work to your advantage.

Soft skills for the win

Feedback is a magical thing. It can shape the future, help us be better, do better, and inspire new ways to think about problems. Hopefully these tips and my insider view will help you or your team level up when it comes to gathering feedback. Because, who doesn’t want feedback on their feedback process?

Have you ever been an interviewee? Comment below with some tips for interviewers!