Trying to be a mind reader in the mobile app industry is a bit like playing the lottery. ‘Having a hunch’ may get you lucky once in a while, but guesswork is definitely not the rule of thumb if you’re aiming for long-term product success. With more than 4 million other apps competing for users’ time and attention, it’s understandable that most product managers are not willing to roll the dice this way. In 2019, user interviews continue to be a fantastic research method for learning more about your mobile audience and their needs.

Why You Should Make Time for User Interviews

In a recent product management insights report, PMs from a range of industries agreed that direct customer feedback was the best source of their new ideas. However, 86% of the same group said they didn’t spend enough time talking to users and 81% specifically said they didn’t have enough time to conduct user interviews.

User Interviews Video Chat

If you’re a mobile app product manager with the resources to devote enough time to this research method, there is a clear advantage to be won here. The reality is that most apps fail because the maker didn’t validate the product with enough feedback from actual users. Carefully constructed user interviews can help to ensure both your product and the validation of the ideas behind it are as strong as they can be.

Conducting Mobile App User Interviews the Right Way

Effective user research can help you to extract previously unknown attitudes and feelings about your product, providing direction and prioritization for product development in the future. However, simply spending more time conducting user interviews won’t bring the insights you need – you’ll also need to ensure you’re going about things the right way, and take steps to eliminate user research bias. In order to this, you’ll need to consider your targeting, your goals, the nature of the questions you ask, and more

This isn’t always an easy endeavor, so read on for our helpful mobile app-focused recommendations for conducting successful user interviews.

1. DO – Define the Goal of your User Interviews

Define goal of user interviews

Before thinking about anything tactical, you’ll need to define the purpose of your user interview in a clear way. For a mobile app, a goal such as ‘learn more about the users of our gaming app’ is likely to be too broad to derive anything valuable. Instead, consider an objective that relates to a specific aspect of your user’s behavior or opinion in a concrete way. This could relate to attitudes around a specific feature offered by your app or opinions regarding particular stages of your mobile app experience.

For example:

  • How do business professionals make use of our in-app tutorial screens?
  • How do our online bankers feel about our new in-app ‘spend-tracking’ feature?
  • How do our new app users feel about their onboarding experience?

2. DO – Choose the Right Audience for your User Interviews

Choosing audience for user interviews

If you fail to choose the right audience for your user interviews, it’s likely that your insights will come to nothing. The selection process here will depend on the type of project your conducting your user interview for:

  • A specific persona group and their use of a particular feature
  • A group of new users that just underwent the onboarding process
  • A new app feature you’re in the process of testing for

The Goldilocks method is a good approach here – this method is all about figuring out the audience that is the best fit for your study, The sample should be representative of your eventual users (you’ll want to consider demographics, psychographics geographics and more) and you should ensure your eventual interviewees align with the goals of your study,

As part of this research, you may also want to consider which types of potential interviewee are outliers and unrepresentative of your target user base, then feed this information into your screening process.

If you’re building an educational app for children between the ages of 10-15 years old, but conducting your user interviews with adults, it’s unlikely the answers you receive will give you insights representative of your eventual target audience.

3. DO – Ensure your User Interview Participants are Comfortable

A successful user interview has as much to do with making your participants feel comfortable and asking questions the right way as it does with the specific questions you ask. After all, if your interviewees aren’t feeling relaxed and comfortable, you’re unlikely to receive anything much in the way of helpful insights.

Comfortable user Interview participant

Whether you’re conducting the user interview in person or by video or phone call, you’ll want to ensure you’re not distracted by outside noise and others listening in, so pick a suitable environment for the conversation.

You also want to avoid logging everything your interviewee says in real time as that can add pressure and a hurried sensation. We recommend recording (with your interviewee’s consent) the user interview or having at least one other person with you to assist with note-taking.

The worst thing you can do on the day is to fail to allocate enough time to the interview – rushing your interviewee would be a big mistake and may render the whole exercise as a waste of time.

4. Do – Spend Time Crafting your User Interview Questions

When it comes to the type and structure of your questions, you’ll want to eliminate the risk of user research bias as much as possible – after all, you don’t just want ‘answers’. You want ‘insights’. The key to constructing a well-thought-out user interview is to script your questions in advance and to know the difference between open-ended and closed questions, as well as leading questions, like the back of your hand.

a) Do – Use open-ended questions

For exploratory studies, you’ll want to use open-ended, non-leading interview questions wherever possible. Consider the difference between a question like ‘How did you find our business app’s tutorial?’ vs. ‘Did you like our business app’s tutorial?’.

In the first, you’re allowing for a free-form answer, hopefully, rich with qualitative insight. In the second, you’re prompting a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer which will ultimately close down the conversation. You’re also asking for an evaluative opinion which may make your participants feel uncomfortable if they feel it’s not the answer you wanted to hear.

b) Don’t – Use ‘why’ questions

Constructing questions with ‘why’ question words may seem like a natural fit for obtaining an open-ended response, however when it comes to mobile app usability, a question like ‘why did you press rather than swipe on the screen’ can pressure your interviewee to come up with a reason when they didn’t really have one. Asking them to justify their behavior this way may prompt an inauthentic answer.

c) Don’t – ‘Lead the witness’

Leading your interviewee in terms of their response can be very hard to avoid. This is why it’s so important to prepare your questions in advance.

Consider the wording of “I saw you were experiencing difficulty with our mobile app signup process”; This sentence comes pre-loaded with a set of assumptions because the user didn’t behave in the way you desired or expected. A better way to phrase this question would be, “How did you find our signup process? Was there anything difficult or easy/appealing or not-appealing about it?”

D) Do – Plan Follow Up Questions

For all the important questions in your user interviews, you’ll need a store of follow-up questions in the event that your app users don’t respond in enough detail to begin with. These are important to prepare in advance, as you can easily fall into the trap of paraphrasing, leading or expressing a personal opinion when making questions up on the fly.

Here’s an example. Your user is testing out a new feature in your quiz app and mentions a negative experience at a particular point of the game.

By paraphrasing them with a question such as “You mentioned you didn’t like this feature of our quiz app” you’re making assumptions about a struggle they experienced and their attitudes toward this particular moment, but there may be a detail here you’re missing. What you don’t know, is that they simply don’t enjoy those kinds of games in general, or that they loved some aspects of it and not the rest.

A better replacement example for this question would be something like, “Can you tell us more about your experience of this feature in our quiz app”. It just leaves things more open for you in terms of obtaining qualitative insight and detail.

Non-Leading, Open Questions for any Mobile App Product Manager

To bring our ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ to life when scripting questions, we’ve come up with a few examples below. The table provides a useful reference for mobile app product managers looking to understand question formats for their own user interviews.

How would you describe what you look for in an app? It’s your job to understand your market’s underlying thoughts and feelings. This question is open-ended enough to help you prompt some of the basic things your users may be searching for in a mobile experience.
How do you feel about the app experience overall? Which features would prompt you to keep coming back? Ensuring your app has the potential for strong user retention is a priority. However, it’s also a priority to determine if your app doesn’t have the potential for good retention, We’re only looking for honest answers here, and staying open to hearing both good and bad will benefit everyone.
Can you describe any positive or negative app experiences that you had?

Can you tell me more about the last few positive/negative ratings that you left in the App Store or Google Play Store?

Asking this two-part question is mostly about gauging character traits. What makes your audience happy? What makes them upset? Different user demographics can vary greatly, so figuring out what makes your ‘tick’ is essential. Once you’re able to determine what compels your audience to leave App Store or Google Play Store ratings, and how they interpret positive/negative app experiences in general, you’ll also know what causes your users to invest in an app and what causes them to mentally eject.
What goes on in a typical day of your life? Towards the end of your interviews, your users will likely become more comfortable with answering in-depth questions. This will be the time to figure out what your target market does for a living, where they’ll use your app, what kind of people they associate with, and what they think about on a day-to-day basis. After all, your app has to integrate with your audience’s lifestyle – so learning more about their habits will be crucial.
Can you explain to me how this app could do more for you? You can think of this question as an opportunity to seize authentic, one-on-one user feedback that you can’t always receive from users remotely. It’s their chance to tell you directly what they think is missing from your experience.

Don’t Just Listen to the Answers

Since some of the most telling human communication can take place nonverbally, staying conscious of small details like body language, the tone of voice and even eye contact can help you to gauge how your audience thinks about certain aspects of your app, or even how they like to use technology in general. When it comes to user interviews, we encourage you to pay attention to even small details of user behavior as it is these insights which may possibly lead you to your next breakthrough app feature or viral release.

You should also pay attention to your own body language if you’re conducting in-person user interviews. Nikki Anderson, a professional qualitative user experience researcher, provides a number of helpful tips here for best practices in this respect.

Are you Representing your Users?

A great mobile product manager is often seen as the ambassador, leader and #1 fan of their mobile app product. This can be a challenging role to fill and an octopus-like existence at times. However, it’s also this combination of tech-savviness and responsiveness to genuine market demand that perfectly positions mobile product managers to deliver and act upon insightful user interviews.

Ultimately, it’s the rare ability to channel your customers’ authentic thoughts, beliefs, and feelings and direct them towards mobile solutions that can give you an enormous competitive edge. Think strategically when it comes to your user interviews, ensure you’re mining the insights you need to, then take steps to perfect your product. All these steps are essential for ensuring your mobile app stays relevant and beats the competition.

What Next…?

If you enjoyed this read, you may also find our Playbook of User-Centered App-Making useful – you’ll find further tips and resources relating to the subject of user-centered design for mobile.

Read more: How to Pose Interview Questions You Should Never Ask?