Category: UX advice / Research articles

Do you really need to record customer interviews?

Photo by Denisse Leon on Unsplash

Have you ever failed to hit record when creating a piece of audio or video? It’s a heart-sinking moment when you realise. Inevitably you only notice after the event too.

When teaching user research, one area I’ll always get questions about is the practicalities of recording their user or customer interviews. People can be a bit nervous to ask their interviewees to do this, as well as seeing issues with using and storing this data. This is particularly true with video recordings as they can intimidate interviewees but for certain products (such as internal company ones where comments might be trackable back to the person) even audio recordings can put them off.

In my workshops I’ve always recommended recording interviews as a good idea without fully thinking through what I practice in the interviews I carry out for clients. If I’m being honest I actually don’t worry about recording interviewees these days. So why is this?

I’ve found recording interviewees has two meaningful things going against it:

Instead of recording

There are three ways that I find I am able to not worry about recording interviews:

The interview notes should then be written up into bullet points summarising the points and issues raised. This may not take long and is often a case of tidying everything up so it’s easy to dip into again in future.

There’s another way that can help avoid recording now too but I’ve yet to use it: by having an automated dictation service taking the notes, you know that you’ll get everything that was said. Although you might need to check and correct any mistakes the machine makes.

Of course if you are in disagreement with the other facilitator or you want to be thorough then listening back to exactly what was said might help get to the answers but this something I’ve rarely felt the need to do. Generally by talking through each of your perspectives you should be able to come to an understanding of what was said, or you could follow up with a quick question to the interviewee to clarify a certain point.

Reasons for recording

One main reason for doing recordings is if a wider group in the company want to hear straight from the customer. Even then the likes of a management team are never going to listen to them all the way through and you’ll have to edit them into the most important bitesize clips.

It’s worth keeping in mind that research (rightly or wrongly) is usually presented in the form of slide decks, which are the most easy form for people to digest in different settings so written quotes will do the job just fine. If you did want to bring them to life and make them more ‘real’ then someone in the design/research team could read them out and create a clip. Thus you should only record them if you know that you’re going to use the actual audio of interviewees speaking.

The other key reason is for future reference within the company. Perhaps what you’re doing is evergreen research that will be useful for other projects that are going to work in similar areas. Again most people working on the project will only ever read the summary findings so think if there’s a real need before deciding to record for the sake of it. The point of synthesising the research is to make it manageable and easy for others in future to digest.

Default to don’t

To summarise, as a rule of thumb I’d default to not recording customer interviews, unless you have clear use cases for when you will actually use those recordings. You should tell them what the notes and research will be used for but in some cases not having the ‘tape’ running will help people open up.

In a world of growing customer suspicion of what is happening to their data it’s good to not worry them and make them nervous of what they’re saying. Equally importantly it’s one less thing to think about in the research process and anything that makes you more likely to carry out interviews is definitely a good thing.

Finally, I’ll be updating my workshop slides to make it clear that recording is optional.

Last updated on 29 October 2019
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