How to prepare for an empathy interview that dig out the real user experience and emotions

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Empathy interviews are the basic cornerstone of Design Thinking, by understanding another person’s point of view, thoughts, feelings, and motivations; we can identify the choices that a person makes and his or her behavioral traits. This helps us to create a solution that answers the needs of our customers. Therefore, it is of essence that we understand their stories, as they reveal personal insights and feelings that we can just be aware of by interacting with our end users.

All this can be achieved through an empathy interview. This article will give you the details about how to prepare a great empathy interview that helps you to see through your customer’s eyes.

Why Empathy Interviews are important?

There are several reasons why an empathy interview is of such a high essence. Some of them have been outlined below for better understanding: –

  • Empathy interviews allow your users to come up with their real needs, what is important to them based upon their emotions and subconscious needs.
  • Empathy Interviews help you fine-tune your solution by confirming your assumptions of your user’s likes and dislikes.
  • Empathy interviews allow you insights into solutions that you could not even have imagined since you are not the user of your product.

How to prepare for empathy interviews?

An empathy interview is all about active listening and active hearing. Hence, preparing for an interview requires you to think through each step. This includes finding the right person to talk to, define what questions you need to ask, and where you will be conducting the interview. Type of recording is also important since at times words get lost in translation.

The first step is to have a clear idea of what you are looking for as an outcome of the interview. While defining this purpose and the questions, always remember to include all stakeholders to ensure buy-in. A good way to do that is to make sure they are involved from day one, you can start by organizing a brainstorming to exchange on the questions around the main objective.

Great questions

When you conduct an interview, you must ensure that your objective is clear so you get what you need by the end of the interview. You also need to make it easy for the person you are interviewing so he responds in with his natural flair. Questions should be relatively brief and easy to understand, try to use vocabulary and language that is familiar to your interviewee.

Some of the best questions are open-ended questions. Never ask, when did you last visit the coffee shop? Ask your user to tell you about the last experience he had in a coffee shop. With that question, you are going to get much more information as he may speak from the heart.

Rules of the engage club

One of the best tools to keep track during an interview is to retain the “Rules of the Engage Club” while you shot away from your questions.

Let us go through these rules for you to understand them in a better way:

  1. Never start the question with “usually”? Avoid questions like “Do you usually have coffee for breakfast?”
  2. Rule Number #1 is so important that Rule #2 is the same. Never start a question with “usually” as it depicts a leading question.
  3. If someone has an “I think” in the answer, follow it up with a ‘why do you think…’. This allows you to get deeper information regarding the topic at hand.
  4. Do not exceed more than 10 words with a question. The longer the question, the easier it is for the person answering to forget what the real query was.
  5. Do not ask more than one question at one time. Do not ask questions like “Wouldn’t you agree that today in this busy and digitally connected world where people are in a rush, and life speeds, a convenient breakfast choice like instant coffee would be extremely efficient?”
  6. Do not ask leading questions developed to get the answer to your liking. So, don’t ask things like: Do you have coffee yesterday in the morning, afternoon and evening? Ask: Tell me what you had for breakfast yesterday. Let that evolve, and then turn to the lunch question and the dinner question.
  7. Pay attention to the answer rather than what you need to ask next. More importantly, when the person you are interviewing is answering a question, let him go on till he wants to.

Overall, during the interview always remember the real purpose of the interview. Write it in your notebook so you can glance at it now and then.

Tools and tips

Another tool to go deeper on user needs is to use the “five why technique”. This technique helps you to get to the real views of the person you are interviewing. How to use the Five WHYs? you keep asking whys iteratively until you feel that you got to a real understanding of your user drivers.

A final old school trick comes in handy at the very end of the interview. While you close your notebook the person across the table may be dying to tell the last and real heartening story or an experience. Be ready to let him or her speak and use the recorder to keep track of this last story.

Always resist the natural temptation to interrupt when the other person is speaking. This is one of the keys to success. You may be the expert or know some facts more than a common user, but let him finish before you interject with your opinion or a new question. Remember, the more you listen the more you gather info for your business. It may be your business but your user is the expert here and the interview is not about you or how you perceive your ideas and strategies.

The Interview Script

The interview script is the basic document that you prepare which has the questions jotted down that you need to ask during the interview. The script keeps you on track for the reason for the interview. You can always iterate and update your script. I use to highlight key questions with a blue pen and interject follow up questions with a black pen so I know at a glance, what is the importance of the question and what questions can be skipped. More often than not you do not follow the script, but it keeps you on track within the original scope of the interview.

Remember, that you need to keep the aim of the interview in mind all the time. Great questions will not make a great interview, the play is what makes a great interview. You need to plan every action according to a script and improvise when required.

You can look at this interview play in three phases:

The first phase is where you listen and build up the act, whereas the second phase is where you come up with follow up questions and dig deep into the emotional connections. This leads to an emotional insight that you get from your user or customer when he is allowed to express himself in an empathy interview.

Furthermore, the final phase is where you wrap up and look for the low hanging fruit which is at times more important than the whole interview itself. Be prepared for that nugget of wisdom that will surface the minute you’re about to wrap up.

“The best scientists and explorers have the attributes of kids! They ask questions and have a sense of wonder. They have curiosity.” Sylvia Earle, Marine biologist, explorer, and author

Writing a script before you go in for the interview always gives you a heads-up and keeps you within the scope of the interview. It also gives you flow with the questions and the necessary consistency required to keep an interview fruitful till the end. However, if you see the need you can get off track with the five why technique or just keep listening till the time the person you are interviewing is talking.

To wrap up, a good interview script should:

  • Consist of the following components: an introduction, a series of questions, and a statement of thanks for their participation
  • Keeps the focus on your user’s experience
  • Ask open-ended questions, leading questions like “why you did a certain act?” and questions that allow you to test assumptions and hypotheses

If you have ever been a part of a great interview, share the story with us.

Moreover, if you are looking for the right script, or have any questions do comment below, glad to provide you feedback on your first draft.

Stay safe, be well, and be kind.

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