User empathy design thinking

How long should your customer development interviews be? #napkinStage

Since many accelerators have been asking startup entrepreneurs to “get on the phone” with customers and talk to real users, I have been getting a lot of emails from folks asking me how long their customer interviews should be.

While there is no right answer, there are a few guidelines that you can use, which come from th best User experience designers.

First, it is best to schedule your customer interviews and in step function of availability. Ideally you want 10 time as many surveys, to the number of calls and 3 times as many calls to the number of face to face meetings.

If you want to get feedback from 10 customers / user in a face-to-face setting, then 30 people on a call is ideal and 100 people filling out an online or email survey is the best.

Where did I get these numbers from? Most sample size calculators will give you numbers based on your population (total customers who you expect for your first version of product (segmented), confidence an margin of error.

Second, if it is possible, get users to commit to giving you 30 min of their time, for which you will have to give them something meaningful in return, else they will be unwilling to give you the benefit of doubt.

The best way that I have seen great customer interviews being conducted is to have user empathy sessions.

  1. The first step before your interviews is to prepare and brainstorm questions.
  2. The second step is to identify the focus of what you’d like to learn from your users.
  3. The final step of your preparation is to ensure you have the right questions.

During your interview, I’d recommend you “break up” the allocated time into 7 sections. These are scientifically proven, so you don’t have to take my word for it.

User empathy design thinking
User empathy design thinking

1. Introduce your self – typically this should take less than 10% of the time of the interview. So, if you have 30 min, less than 3 min to introduce the participants.

2. Introduce your problem statement (or project). This should also take less than 10% of the overall time of the interview.

3. Build common ground or rapport – Usually empathy is shown by framing the user problem in their daily scenarios. Typical items to cover include – “Some of our other users have told us …”. Or “the problems our users have encountered so far include…”. Most of this part should take you another 15% of the time.

4. Get them to talk about their problems in the context of the discussion. The best interviews are those when your users are doing most of the talking. The bulk of your interview time should be spent here. Close to 30%.

5. Explore the current solutions and how those solutions are deficient or how they dont empower your user. This part usually takes about another 15%.

6. Ask more questions that help you clarify the statements and positions users take. Most people end up spending 10-15 % of the time here.

7. Thank the user for their time. Typically 5 to 10% of the time is spent on this.

These numbers are purely indicative and will change based on your relationship with the user and their constraints on the ability to express their usage and user behavior.

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