How to get honest feedback from remote user interviews
By Chris Vasquez October 13, 2022
Honest feedback is absolutely necessary to create a product people love. But getting to the heart of what people need, and how they feel about what you’ve built is never easy. A remote world with challenges ranging from connecting over Zoom meetings, to audio issues, to the disconnection that comes from having a screen between you and them can make the process even more daunting.
We’ve been conducting remote user interviews for years and have learned quite a bit about making our users comfortable and understanding what’s actually being said.
Barriers to honest feedback?
People don’t want to make you feel bad
One of the great things about people is that they generally care about other people. While that’s a great thing for society, it can lead to folks not sharing what they actually think or how strongly they feel. This is especially true when it comes to communicating critical feedback.
People want to give the “right” answer
No matter how hard you try to make things conversational and tell someone that there’s no right answer, the people you’re interviewing usually recognize that interviews are structured research. That makes it natural for them to feel like they’re going to be judged for their feedback. That makes it harder to admit they don’t know something. It makes it scarier to share feedback they don’t think other people would share.
Technology adds friction
When someone joins your remote interview, they need to be using at least two programs — your meeting software and whatever you’re testing (your app, a Figma prototype, etc). Two might not sound like a lot. But that’s two programs that each have their own friction (sign-ins, buttons that do similar things in different places) and potential for bugs.
How to get honest feedback
Reduce friction as much as possible
There are two areas where you need to reduce friction when conducting remote interviews: tools and process.
- Use as few tools as you possibly can. Only test either a prototype in a third-party tool or a flow in your app.
- If possible, avoid tools that require an account to sign-in.
- Set expectations clearly ahead of time. Let people know how long the meeting will take, what the agenda is, and include any important links ahead of time.
- Ask as few questions as you can.
- Ask one question at a time.
Listen way more than you talk
- Be explicit that you trust and respect the person, want their honest feedback, and do not take any of it personally.
- Make your questions as short as possible. Write them down beforehand, then cut at least a third of the words you would have used out of each question.
- Be straightforward and direct with your questions. Don’t try to trick people into giving you the answer to a different question than the one you’re asking. People are more discerning than you think, and this is a real turn-off. Also, we’re not as clever as we think and will more than likely end up tricking ourselves.
- Ask open ended questions. Tangents can often contain gems that we never would’ve considered asking. Give people the opportunity to lead the conversation and nudge them when they say something surprising or interesting.
- Ask people to tell you about actual things they do, not theoretical things they might do. People are generally pretty bad at predicting the future. They’re generally better at describing their past.
Watch as much as you listen
- Ask people to perform a task and watch what they’re doing. Where do they click? Where does their mouse drift? Do they highlight text? If so, what text? There’s a lot to learn from where people explore.
You could sum up all this by saying treat the people you interview like humans, not subjects. Humans hate annoyances, so reduce friction. They like feeling like people care about them, so ask them to tell stories. They don’t want to feel stupid, so be clear with your questions and give them what they need to prepare up front.
If you take that attitude into your conversations with your users, I’m confident you’ll get more honest and useful feedback.
What did I miss? Where am I wrong? Let me know. I’d love to learn from you.