Remote Research: The Best Strategies for Successful User Interviews

By leveraging essential tips and solutions for remote research, organizations can optimize their efforts in the modern workplace. Here's how you do it.


Cultivating meaningful relationships with customers and gathering essential feedback to generate business insights previously relied, to some extent, on direct face-to-face communication. This is no longer the norm. As the uncertainty and severity surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our personal and work lives, leaders across industries have strategically adapted to rely on remote-based tools to gather data from their consumers.

By leveraging essential tips and solutions for remote research, organizations can optimize their efforts in the modern workplace. User interviews are one of the most effective strategies to accomplish this, and this is why. 

User Interviews: Conducting Successful Remote Research

While the remote nature of work in 2022 continues to bring about new challenges to overcome, organizations have become skilled at leveraging innovative tools to understand their clients’ needs while gathering the necessary data to generate insights into their business operations. 

When appropriately executed, user interviews can be an effective tool for understanding user behavior, needs, and motivations and how they engage with the product and brand. Leveraging a variety of methods such as task analysis, observation, and facilitation of feedback can generate user insights that allow businesses to understand how people interact with their products and brands and identify potential ways to adapt their services to meet user expectations better.

Benefits of User Interviews

Reduced costs, less burden on staff, less constricted with reach, access to innovative technology, and maximizing participant comfort are critical benefits of remote research at large. When planning and conducting user interviews, capitalizing on these advantages will enrich the participant experience and your results. Notably, remote user interviews allow participants to remain in their environment, which minimizes anxiety and increases comfort, promoting more authentic responses from your participants. 

While there are many advantages of remote user interviews, let's look at some of the unique challenges you may face and explore some strategies for optimizing your success.

Challenges of User Interviews

Planning, conducting and analyzing user interviews in a way that is most effective for your company, product, or service poses some specific challenges. First and foremost, there are subtle emotional and behavioral considerations in how people act, their body language, and how they relate to others when analyzing face-to-face communications vs. those that occur over a video call. Remote user interviews present a trickier situation than traditional face-to-face settings. It is easier to miss these subtle cues, impacting your ability to determine when to expand a client's response with further questions. Technology glitches, scheduling challenges, time zone differences, and external environments that are noisy or distracting can further increase the difficulty of conducting successful remote user interviews.

Though these challenges can undoubtedly have significant impacts on the validity of your user interviews, strategic and careful preparation, developing backup plans to foresee unforeseen technology and logistical glitches, as well as following some essential tips and guidelines will set you up for success. 

Tips, Tools, & Strategies: Preparing & Executing Successful User Interviews 

Of course, conducting user interviews effectively requires thoughtful development of user interview questions, the interview format, and the narrative and identification of the appropriate audience, environment, and timing for the user interview to maximize participation and gather the data you need. 

Question Design

Design appropriate and effective questions are one of the most essential components for the success of remote user interviews. Here are some valuable strategies to consider when developing your list of questions: 

  • Conceptualizing a clear picture of what you would like to learn from the participants in your interview will allow you to frame your questions purposefully to generate useful feedback and responses.

  • Identify the theme of your interview, and develop questions accordingly. With the theme, you have identified as a guide, design questions that have clear answers and link directly to the goal of your research. Brainstorm as many questions as possible at this stage in your process.

  • Analyze your question list and eliminate those that do not correspond with the goal of your research. Pay particular attention to leading or biased questions that may generate a specific response.

  • Rather than specifically asking if a user felt excited or frustrated when using a new product, instead ask a more general, open-ended question such as how they felt when using the product or a certain product feature. This will elicit a more authentic and natural discussion of the user's true experience. 

  • Develop a broad list of questions that focus on key facets of the user-product interaction. First, include introductory questions to understand the client, their role, and their relationship to the product or service. Next, developing an understanding of your customer's needs, desires, behaviors, and motivations will allow you to better understand how your products can meet their business needs.

  • Questions can be related to how much time a customer uses the product, how issues are resolved and how the product is used in the issue resolution process. Of course, you will want specific questions about your product to understand customer thoughts and perceptions, the visual appeal of the product or product features, and potential issues and usefulness.

  • These questions can range from what is most or least appealing and what is or is not easy about using the product to whether or not the customer would continue using the product, what they would do to improve it, or who they may recommend it to.

Frame the Narrative

Using your questions as a guide, you should develop and communicate a clear research objective to your participants. To ensure your user interview maintains focus, determine one to three specific objectives that can help guide your research and the insights you generate from your users.

Targeting the Appropriate Population

Now that you have a clear vision for your research and specific guiding questions to facilitate a successful interview, you must determine the population to target to obtain appropriate feedback. That is to say, facilitating an interview with customers that do not use your product or who only use a minor product feature may skew results and impact the validity of the data. 

Thoughtfully assess the research goal, your research objectives, and your question list, and then determine what group of participants would be able to provide meaningful contributions during an interview session. For example, if your goal is to understand behavior surrounding getting car washes, you should, at minimum, look to recruit participants that own or lease a vehicle.

Timing, Environment, & Maximizing Participation

The need to time your user interviews appropriately may seem obvious, but it is worth highlighting its importance. When screening your participants, you can gather the information that allows you to time your interviews during your participant's day effectively and, in turn, maximize your results. For example, understanding a participant's work schedule can allow you to offer interview times before or after work, giving the participant reasonable time not to feel rushed or constrained during their already busy schedules. 

This strategy can also provide participants an opportunity to find a time when their environment is quiet and distraction-free. Asking the participant to provide some windows of time when they have the least number of distractions and can dedicate themselves fully to the interview allows you to customize the participant’s initial experience and ensure an optimal environment for the interview.

Ultimately, finding the optimal time for remote user interviews will ensure you are receiving the clearest, most unfiltered, and relevant responses to your questions. When people are not rushed or stressed, and distractions are limited in your immediate environment, they can open up, communicate clearly, and be authentic.

Respondent: A Comprehensive Solution to User Interviews

All of these strategies are, of course, easier said than done. Getting participants for your research is difficult, but Respondent offers a solution. 

Respondent begins their approach with participant screening, allowing you to clearly define your target populations while acquiring key demographic information related to job titles, industry, educational background, age, gender, and more. The platform includes a verification process to exclude those who do not meet criteria and a messaging system functionality to contact potential participants for any potential additional screening. 

Respondent strives for quality assurance through a sophisticated participant vetting process. Participant "no shows" can be documented, and this data can be used to refine and build a participant pool of responsive candidates continuously. Of note, Respondent also allows you to bring your participants to the platform, where the platform will provide participant screening support, session reminders, Outlook and Google calendar integrations, information storage with custom fields and tagging, and manual incentives payment processing. 

On a technical note, Respondent has two distinct pricing options with Respondent.io: (1) you bring your participants, and (2) Respondent sources your participants. Each option is reasonable and includes slight differences in charges and service fees.

Despite the various challenges of planning and conducting successful user interviews in remote settings, there are solutions. Respondent.io’s approach can help navigate the more complex tasks, such as building a strong participant list of people who will be engaged and responsive. Utilizing these solutions, as well as the tips and tricks outlined above, you will be able to enrich the results of your remote research and confidently make decisions related to your products.

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