Category: UX advice / Research articles

Mistakes to avoid when doing phone interviews with users and customers

Something I’ve done a fair bit as a remote UX consultant, is to run interview calls with users (or potential users). Actually talking to people is a pretty hard-to-beat form of research for understanding what your users need and the problems they face. It often leads to all sorts of interesting insights.

An interview call over the phone/Skype/Google Hangout/some new conference call product is a quick and easy method for both sides. It can be so easy as to seem informal but done right you can make it a smooth and enjoyable experience for the user. If they enjoy it, they are more likely to want to help you or your colleagues again in future.

Then the other day out of the blue I got an email: a company wanted to interview me as a user of their product. The shoe was on the other foot and I realised it would be fun to experience it from the other side: I thought I might learn a thing or two.

It turned out to be a pretty messy experience that made me realise some of the things I try to do when organising interview calls may not be that obvious to all designers. So using that story as my basis, here are five things you should definitely not do when setting up and running your interviews:

1. Be unclear about what you require from the user

The initial contact was a very short email from a designer, asking if I would be willing to answer a few questions about a product. I responded saying something like, “sure I’ll have a go”, assuming it would be a few written questions over email or at most a short survey.

When the next email came back, it said “OK great, when can you hop on a call this week?” Now he was asking for my time, which was a bigger ask than I had expected. I had already agreed to help but it now felt like I had been slightly conned into doing a call.

I also had to work out when would be most suitable in my diary that week. I feared it might mean email tennis to try and arrange something that worked for both of us.

On top of this, the brief email had very little explanation of what he wanted me to talk about. I had to ask for more information, because I wasn’t sure I was suitable for the interview.

What you should do

Be very clear up front on what you are asking and why you are doing it so the interviewee can assess if they can help. Spell out how much time you’ll require (I find 30 minutes is enough) and make it easy for them to book in. Consider other people’s time to be very valuable.

2. Fail to send a meeting invite

Fortunately he was happy to go with the time I suggested and responded saying we’d chat then. However he didn’t send over a calendar invite, which was mildly annoying as it meant I had to do it for myself to keep that slot in my diary clear.

He had also suggested we use Google Hangouts, and without an invite it meant I didn’t have a link to that.

What you should do

Always send out calendar invites, as in my experience most people use online calendars, particularly at work. Even better is to use a tool like Calendly or Mixmax that means the user can pick a time slot and it automatically generates the meeting event.

3. Miss the call

The fact there wasn’t a calendar invite did make me think there was a decent chance he would forget and the call wouldn’t happen. Sure enough, the day rolled around and the time came and went without any call.

A few hours later an apologetic email rolled in, also asking if I could do a time the following week. I responded a few days later when I had worked out a quiet time I could do and gave him one more chance.

What you should do

This one is obvious: be on time for your own call. If you have to change it, communicate this as early as possible.

4. Change the parameters

This time he responded and immediately sent a calendar invite, with a link to the hangout. This second call looked like it might actually happen.

However the invite was now for an hour. Something that had gone from ‘hopping on a call’ had now become 60 minutes out of my day. I was beginning to regret giving this extra chance.

What you should do

Don’t take advantage of people’s assistance, and try and crowbar a call into a longer session (unless you can’t stop them talking in the call itself!). Be consistent in what you originally told them. Also don’t be sloppy with meeting invites: don’t make a meeting an hour just because the software might default to that.

5. Hope that technology will work perfectly

The day of our new call rolls around and at the allotted time I followed the link to the hangout and… nothing happened. It kept saying it was trying to connect but it was failing pretty badly at that.

A few minutes in I got an email from my interviewer saying he was on there and ready. I told him I couldn’t join the meeting. He gave me another link. Same problem.

At this point I suggested we use Skype and sent him my username. In the end, several days and about 20 minutes late, we started our call. After all this the actual call only took 15 minutes and really just involved me answering one question.

What you should do

Always assume the technology could fail (it often does for a variety of reasons) and have a backup prepared. If in doubt, get a phone number for them.

There you have it, what not to do with the practical side of your user interviews, so you don’t risk turning something quick into a week-long minor hassle. If you’re not careful, a series of small things can easily add up to frustrate people and potentially harm their perception of your brand.

Last updated on 6 November 2019
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