Interviewing Users

May 31, 2013 Lacey Kruger

You may have heard that Blackbaud recently released our 2013 Online Benchmarking Study. How did your organization measure up? Even if you do tend to outperform your peers, you may have noticed a decline in your website traffic growth along with everyone else. So, what gives? Why are fewer people coming to your website? While I have a few theories, I definitely don’t know the answer.

I do know a great research technique that you can do yourself to get some insight: User Interviews. That’s right, go directly to the source! Steve Portigal recently released an awesome book called Interviewing Users – How to Uncover Compelling Insights that will help guide this process for you. It’s a quick read that comes highly recommended by many User Experience professionals.

Here are a few highlights that may be helpful:

  • Interviewing is a qualitative research technique that offers a deep dive into the lives of customers.
    You’re not looking for statistical significance here so be sure to set that expectation. When Blackbaud conducts user interviews on behalf of clients, we typically interview six to eight people. We recommend having one to two representatives from each target audience group in the participant pool.
  • The questions you ask are signifiers that you are listening. Try to construct each question as a follow-up to a previous answer.
    I’ve found that if I go into an interview armed with a list of topics, rather than specific questions, the interview feels much more natural and conversational. Letting the user guide the interview always provides much more insight than just getting my questions answered. Some topics you may include if you’re investigating a decline in web traffic are: experiences on our website, social media interactions, email response or general web usage.
  • After you ask a question, be silent.
    This is something I constantly have to work on during interviews, especially since I’m interviewing over the phone about 99% of the time. It can feel really awkward at first to just sit silently to wait for a response but it helps establish that you’re ready to listen. I think silence is also beneficial while a participant is responding. When they pause, don’t jump in immediately with another question. I’ve learned some of the greatest tidbits by allowing the interviewee some silent space to continue a train of thought.
  • Allow time for debriefing after each interview.
    Once you’ve finished your interviews, you’ll need to report back on what you learned. To do this, I’ve found it’s absolutely necessary to write down my own observations after each interview. I actually block off an extra 30 minutes on my calendar after each interview to do this. It helps me differentiate what happened during each interview and also helps me identify trends in what different users say. I’ll typically make notes on what I remembered and highlight significant phrases or suggestions I heard from the user. These after-session notes make it much easier to compile findings after all the interviews are complete.

Hopefully these pointers and Steve’s book will be helpful tools for you to start investigating why your website’s traffic is declining. If you find an answer, please share it here so we can work together to reverse this trend!

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