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Creating Customer Personas: The Do's and Don'ts of Interviewing

In-person interviews are the best way to create your personas and user journeys. Make sure to have at least eight interviews for each persona.

How do you create your customer personas and their conversion funnels? On our side, we always try to conduct in-person interviews, about eight interviews for each persona, to figure out a target audience. The interview methodology we follow is one recommended by MIT’s Design Thinking online class, specifically by instructor Eli Itin

How to organize an interview:

  1. Aim to have eight interviews for each persona.
  2. Pick a range of people to interview (from extreme users to less engaged users).
  3. Have two people conduct the interview: one to takes notes; one to ask questions.
  4. Cap the length of each interview at 30 minutes.
  5. Always schedule in-person interviews. Talk to people in their environment. Use Skype video if you need to save on the budget.
  6. Don’t interview customers who “fly first class.” In other words, the super happy customers.
  7. Don’t pretend you understand the problem. The idea is to throw out assumptions and preconceived ideas and understand what is really happening: the thoughts, emotions, motivations, choices, behaviors, and needs.
  8. Don’t surprise people. Call ahead and explain what the interview is about. It’s always better if the other person thinks about it a bit about it.

What to say/ask during the interview:

  1. I’m [name/title] I’m interviewing for this reason… in the area of...
  2. What does [the topic] mean to you?
  3. What is your role? Please describe it.
  4. Tell me about the last time that…
  5. How did [the topic] make you feel?
  6. What was a recent success or a good experience?
  7. What was a recent failure or bad experience?

Do’s:

  1. Follow the rules of the 5 WHYs? After the first answer, ask “Why?” The second answer, ask “Why?” again, and so on. This way, you will really dive into the process.

    - “I don’t like the interface.” | “Why?”

    - “It is too complicated.” | “Why”

    - “I can’t find what I am looking for.” | “Why?”

    - “I don’t see the search box.” | “Why?”

    - “It is hidden at the bottom of the page.” | “Why?”

  2. Encourage stories. Ask people to tell you a story.
  3. Ask short questions that are no more than 10 words.
  4. Pay attention to nonverbal cues (expressions, body language, etc.)
  5. Capture good quotes.
  6. Take a photo of the person if he or she agrees.

Don’ts:

  1. Never say “usually.” Instead, say, “Last time...."
  2. Don’t be afraid of silence. Allow for silence. Don’t jump to the next question.
  3. Don’t suggest answers to your own questions.
  4. Don’t ask binary yes/no questions. Instead, say, “Tell me about….”

By the way, we really love the MIT Design Thinking online class proposed by Emeritus. It’s $900 for about two months. Our team even tested it by taking it for you. The class is great, so make sure to take it!

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