How to Conduct a Research Interview

Sometimes you just need to take matters in your own hands when it comes to conducting research. You don’t always need to spend a lot of money to get the insights needed, as we have previously discussed in our article on how to right-size your research.  In some cases, you just need a handful of qualitative interviews to get the needed information.

Assuming you already have your objective and target audience identified, next is to conduct the interviews. We personally prefer to conduct them over the phone than in person. It helps in scheduling and we’ve found that it minimizes time spent on discussing topics that may stray from the objective. Here are a few guidelines on how to conduct your interviews:

Start with establishing a good relationship with the respondent. This is all about breaking the ice, and getting your respondent comfortable with speaking.

  • Establish personal contact early on.
    • Refer to the person by name and be sure to thank her for participating.
    • Confirm how long it will take and that you plan to stay on time.
  • Help the respondent feel relaxed from the beginning.
    • Simple humor tends to work here.  Seriously, even talk about the weather.
    • Ask her to tell you a little about her role and responsibilities in the organization (for a business), or her family (for a consumer).
  • Win the respondent to your side.
    • Let her know you are dependent on her to inform you about her world because she is the expert.
  • Create an environment where anything the respondent says is ok.
    • There are no right or wrong answers, and that you are simply looking for her opinion.


Don’t lead the respondent

It’s very tempting to lead the respondent down a certain path.  This is particularly the case as an employee of the company who knows a lot about your product or service.  Ask each question in a very open manner without any opinion.

Do Ask:  

  • What do you think of XYZ Company's service?

Do not ask:  

  • XYZ Company prides itself on its service, what do you think of the service?
  • What do you think of XYZ Company’s service?  Everybody has been saying it’s great.

Don’t be defensive if the respondent says something you don’t want to hear.  Simply note the statement and follow-up with clarifying questions if you would like.  Do not try to explain why it is or why that perception is incorrect.  This is not a debate, regardless of how incorrect their perception of your company may be, stay objective and note the response.


Ask only one question at a time

In everyday conversation we ask multiple questions of someone at once.  In research, you want to take your time and only ask one question. Asking multiple questions is natural. It’s how we normally have conversations, such as, “How was your dinner party?  Sorry, I missed it.  Did you get the turnout you expected?"

  • Ask one question at a time.  Then wait for the respondent to answer before moving on to your next question. It may seem awkward at first, but it’s the best way to get accurate answers.
  • Become comfortable with pausing. The urge will be to fill the silence with another question or comment.  Wait a few seconds – they will respond.
  • If they ask you a question, answer it back with what do you think it should be or what would you like it to be?  For example if they ask, is the XYZ product available online or only in stores?  You would say, what would you like it to be?


Avoid “Why?”

Based on responses you are receiving throughout the interview, you may want to probe deeper to get a better understanding of an answer.  If so, try not to ask “why.” It puts people on edge and seems like a test or that you are challenging their answer.  Softer ways to get a better understanding of their answer include:

  • Help me understand.
  • What are the reasons for that?
  • Tell me more.
  • Can you elaborate on that?
  • What was the thought process behind that?
  • Could you explain a bit more?

Good luck, and have fun with it.  Interviews can provide a wealth of insights you just can’t get any other way. If you have any questions or would like to discuss more, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.