Building an Interview Guide
Speaking to prospects, competitors’ customers, and ex-customers is a key factor in the process of going to market. By conducting qualitative interviews with these individuals, we can get outside of our circles of influence and hear the true voice of the customer. Every one of these interactions can uncover valuable insight.
But voice of the customer (VoC) calls aren’t always straightforward. If you misconduct VoC calls, you can merely validate what you already know. To avoid this, it’s important to create a guide to conducting an interview that’s free of bias and that organizes the questions you want to ask and the information you hope to obtain.
Here are some tips that help make this process work::
Write Your Questions in a Way That Avoids Bias
Have you ever been asked whether you care about the safety of a car? What did you say? You probably said yes. Who wants to drive an unsafe car? But how important is safety compared to other aspects of the car? Will every customer mention safety as one of their key features without being prompted?
A researcher who proactively asks about the desirability of an attribute – including safety – is making assumptions about what customers care about.
While you’ll usually be conducting interviews to test your assumptions, you’ll want to keep those assumptions quiet. In her article on conducting VoC interviews, GLG Council Member and VoC expert, Shoshana Burgett, advises never asking things like, “Do you like product X, or how much do you need feature Y?” These are leading questions.
When creating your guide, make your questions broader. For example, “What features are most important to you?” Safety might be one of them, but let the customer tell you that. Remember: you’re not trying to teach your customer how to use your product. Listen and understand their pain points so that you can better address them in your strategy.
Include Groups of Questions with Standardized Answers
After dozens of interviews, hours of conversation, and a healthy stack of transcripts, you’ll need a way to keep your info straight. For projects where you have a higher N (N=10+), you should ask a series of “rank these variables from 1 to 10” questions that you can aggregate into a useful data set.
For example, if you’re looking to evaluate the effect of a specific purchase-decision criterion, avoid explicitly asking whether it’s important. Instead, include it in a longer list of potential decision-making criteria and ask the respondent to rate, on a scale of 1 to 10, how important each is. This will help you compare results across respondents. As discussed above, this form of questioning will also help you avoid biasing your respondents’ answers.
Go in with a Plan…
State the goals of your study and the assumptions you’re testing at the top of your interview guide.
Whether you’re trying to understand why the adoption of your product has been slow or trying to test effective messaging before a product launch, your study begins with a hypothesis. Using the question writing tips above, map out all the questions that will put your theory to the test in a logical flow. Prioritize high-value questions vs. nice-to-know questions and proceed into your interview accordingly.
…But Don’t Be Afraid to Deviate from Your Plan
Sometimes you’ll be taken in a direction you didn’t expect. Your subject might go on and on about their love of a competitor that you didn’t even realize was a competitor, and that’s perfectly okay. Remember that your conversations will not follow a strict agenda. The best participants will be excited to talk about their areas of expertise and might have limited input into other areas. As the moderator, you have a responsibility to be cognizant of this. And if you stray too far from the core conversation, your interview guide can always lead you back to the heart of the matter.
Looking for more tips on qualitative interview prep? GLG has put together a guide that includes sample questioning frameworks, along with some templates to organize your findings.
About Michael Ottaunick
Michael Ottaunick is a Marketing Manager at GLG, focusing his efforts on helping product marketers, product managers, and corporate strategists get access to extraordinary B2B insights from subject matter experts. Michael holds his BA in economics and finance from Villanova University.
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