The Value of Doing On-Site Customer Interviews

Customer interviews are an essential part of successful product development. They provide a rich context to help you make decisions about what your customers need. Without doing interviews, it’s easy to rely on assumptions and personal preferences, which is a risky path forward. Interviews allow you to understand someone’s role and responsibilities in great detail. They help you gain insight into how customers might use your product or service. They are also a great method for gathering feedback on things you’ve already built (or need to validate before building).

If you’re planning to conduct interviews with your customers, it’s important to know when you should do them in person or remotely. You need a good reason to go on-site, and you should be prepared to explain the pros and cons of doing them IRL. Remote interviews are more convenient and automated. In-person customer interviews require more resources and coordination. However, there are certain benefits of doing interviews in person that are often missed when done over a video call.

Instead of doing them virtually, facilitating customer interviews on-site will:

  1. Allow for a more detailed review; and
  2. Build rapport with your customers.

Gain Greater Context

On-site interviews will often provide greater context about the subject matter than doing interviews remotely. You will learn much more about what else is happening around the individual when they interact with your product or service. It’s critical to consider the environmental factors that might affect a person’s job, even if solving for those factors is not within scope. These are often subtle yet significant: their desk, the people around them, or the equipment they’re using to perform the task at hand.

You’ll be able to read more into their body language and better recognize certain emotions. Did they say something was not a burden, but then clearly look burdened by performing that task? You would most likely miss this detail while on a Zoom call, but you’ll almost certainly catch it while in person.

You can also pick up on non-computer interactions. This could include analog tasks they might perform on pen and paper or other human interactions they may have throughout the day. Did they need to jot down some information or contact someone before they completed the task? You’ll want to know those steps are happening in the background, but those things are hard to catch if you’re not sitting with them.

Uncover More Details

Whether reviewing concepts or gaining context of someone’s role, you’ll be able to review the information in more depth when in person. On-site interviews simply allow for a more detailed, intimate conversation. You’ll better understand what you need feedback on, and uncover things you weren’t aware of.

When in person, you’ll have greater visibility into how or why a customer did something the way they did. You can see how much effort it takes them to complete a task or hear how many clicks it required to proceed to the next step. It’s easier to pause and ask for clarification about a decision they made or something they mentioned in passing. When interviewing over a video call, it’s easy to interrupt someone or miss important details.

The in-person method will also allow the customer to show you how it’s done “in their world.” They can perform a task on a machine or device right in front of you. If you have to rely on screen sharing or them talking you through every step, you’ll miss important details.

Build Stronger Rapport

Lastly, doing interviews on-site establishes trust with your customers. You’ll more effectively build rapport than would be possible while remote. Setting aside the resources to be there in person means a lot. It demonstrates to your customers that you are willing to invest in something they deem valuable and that you’ll go the extra mile (sometimes literally) to get things right. It’s much easier to do this all over Zoom, but it takes effort and dedication to show up IRL. Most people will recognize and appreciate this.

On-site interviews also provide more personable, human interactions between you and the customer. This goes a long way in trying to decode all those subtle human-computer interactions. It makes it easier to engage with that customer down the road now that you’ve met them in person. Additionally, in-person interviews are a more memorable and enjoyable experience for the customer. You may be a complete stranger to this person, or you’ve had minimal interactions before meeting them. Connecting in person provides an opportunity to have greater dialogue before and after the interview. This makes the whole experience less transactional and more fulfilling for all parties involved.

Weigh the Tradeoffs

If you plan to conduct interviews with your customers, consider the tradeoffs between doing them in person or remotely. It’s important to determine this ahead of time, and you should be ready to explain why it’s worthwhile. There is no doubt it’s more cost-effective to run an interview over a video call, but you will likely miss important bits of context that are invisible through a computer screen.

It will require more planning and coordination to go on-site, but you will walk away with greater insights about the people you’re making products for. Once underway, you’ll be able to go into more detail on certain aspects of your work and more respectfully follow up with questions. And at the end of the day, you’ll be forging greater relationships with your customers, and it’s hard to put a price tag on that.


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