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User Interviews for a SaaS Product

david.stadlerdavid.stadler

Customers are the lifeblood of our organization

It’s an often redundant, perhaps even overlooked thought, but it bears repeating that any product facing team is only as good as their understanding of their customer’s needs, wants, and desires. When it comes to product planning often it’s easier to tell, rather than ask what should be our next new feature? We’re as guilty as any other shop in this regard, but recently we’ve been checking our ego and opening our ears. It may be humbling to hear… but when it comes down to it,

“We are not our users.”

Reading the Signs

A good product follows a trend, while a great product defines it. The silver lining of our experiment in building a marketing product is that we can dogfood our application not only internally with our own Marketing folks, but by simply reaching out to our many customers around the globe. The diversity of our customer base is a great asset toward garnering valuable feedback. There are many ways to collect user feedback, but one of the simplest and most effective is still nothing more than simple interviews. If you take nothing else away from this post it’s that,

“Any product team would be well served to at the very least set aside a half-hour for a video hangout with one of your users and see what you learn!”

Walk a Mile to their Shoes

When you can, visit your people-in-person. A car ride across town is easy, a day trip gets a little harder, and if you fly to your customer you’re making quite a commitment! Budgets and ROI may seem to be daunting roadblocks toward meeting your users, but listening to feedback is worth its weight in gold. Finding what your users truly desire, as opposed to your team’s best guesses, can save you hundreds of thousands of dollars in product development in the future.

Get to know your customer’s environment, their workflows, interactions, and any other tools they use during their day to get things done. I’ve yet to see a SaaS product that cannot be defined at its simplest roots as, “It does something.” If you’re with your user you get to discover their persona and how they do things!

 

Exercises to Use

So you’ve set up a time with some users to talk about their experiences with your app. Now what? There’s a lot of different approaches you can use to soak up all that good feedback. Simply listening is a good start, but having a more directed conversation will better utilize your time and hopefully enhance your results. To this end, there are a lot of different exercises you can leverage to make the process more seamless. A simple one I like to use is called a card sort. We separate our application into discrete elements that are shown on index cards(see below), and then ask users sort them twice. The first time we want to see a stack ranking of importance. The second time we want to see groupings of how they desire these elements to work together. Great conversations are started with this exercise as users will open up about different expectations, desires, and frustrations within the app as they think about each element.

Running the Numbers

After we collect the raw data, we enter the information into a spreadsheet to do some light statistics. These values seen below represent the main aspects or features of our application. From our interviews, we found the average desires for these features ranked from most important to least important. This data and more helps inform the hard application decisions we’re making back in our office.

 

Discerning Value from Noise

Caveat Emptor, depending on what type of data you are collecting there is a danger that your research will capture the vocal minority, while bypassing the silent majority. To combat this bias make sure your internal planning is robust, and attempts to cover the use cases that had no voice in your interviews. More so, you can always fall back on the triangle of value.  

So Upgrade your Next Trip to the Icebox

Your team’s time is extremely valuable. I think we’ve all pulled some half-baked stories out of pivotal or jira before to keep folks resourced. Why not invest a little more in the front of your process to find those really great projects that will reward your team and end user alike? Working together, both with your team and users we can begin to narrow the gap. By taking out the guesswork we’re closer each day to becoming our own users.

 

I love being a part of a great software team! My background is in fostering UX teams integrated within an Agile Development environment. Design is so much more than just artwork; rather it's a craft that is built upon research and problem solving. Solutions thrive within context, rationale, and results.

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