Not having enough time is one of the main reasons people say they can’t interview customers every week. And this is not just an empty excuse—most product people’s calendars are packed. So the idea of trying to carve out time to recruit and schedule interviews might feel like an impossible task.
But it doesn’t have to.
The idea of trying to carve out time to recruit and schedule interviews might feel like an impossible task. But it doesn’t have to. – Tweet This
As Teresa writes in Continuous Discovery Habits, “The hardest part about continuous interviews is finding people to talk to. In order to make continuous interviewing sustainable, we need to automate the recruiting process. Your goal is to wake up Monday morning with a weekly interview scheduled without you having to do anything.”
So, how exactly do you make that happen?
One of the tactics Teresa recommends is recruiting participants while they’re using your product or service. There are several ways to do this, whether you rely on existing tools or build something into your product.
For this edition of Product in Practice, we caught up with Dan Clem of Zonar Systems to learn how he set up user interview recruiting and began interviewing customers weekly as a result. And if time is of the essence, you’ll definitely want to keep reading since setting up this process only took about an hour!
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A Quick Introduction to Dan and His Continuous Discovery Journey
Dan is a Senior Product Manager at Zonar Systems, a B2B company that provides hardware and software solutions for commercial vehicle fleet operators. He’s responsible for Ground Traffic Control, their Fleet Management Solution that helps fleets improve the operating efficiency of their equipment and the safety of their drivers. Zonar Systems serves a wide range of industries, including traditional transportation providers—such as freight haulers and transit operators—as well as businesses that rely on high-dollar equipment that’s mobile, such as road construction crews, utility installers, and service technicians.
Dan says his focus is on improving two main product outcomes:
- To increase the number of users that rely on their services (WAUs)
- To be “Apple Easy” (CSAT)
Dan’s team is just starting their continuous discovery journey. In the past few months, they started automating user recruitment, began interviewing one to five users weekly, and transitioned to a storytelling model for interviews. “So far, the process has been extremely helpful for us as we’ve reached 20+ users and customers in a different segment that represents an increased focus for our team moving forward. We’ve seen some real changes in our team’s approach since starting this journey,” says Dan.
We’ve seen some real changes in our team’s approach since starting the continuous interviewing journey. – Tweet This
Reflecting on the continuous discovery journey so far, Dan says, “Storytelling has been one of the most challenging—and eye opening—parts of continuous discovery. It’s been hard getting interviewees out of speaking generally about an experience to speaking about a specific experience.” He’s found that using better framing questions like “What time was it?” and “Who else was there?” has helped them get stories that relate to their research goals. But as Teresa notes in Continuous Discovery Habits, sometimes it’s important to just let the customers take us where they want to go. “This has also been valuable for uncovering areas we didn’t previously consider,” says Dan.
Storytelling has been one of the most challenging—and eye opening—parts of continuous discovery. It’s hard getting interviewees out of speaking generally to speaking about a specific experience. – Tweet This
An Aha Moment: Why Don’t We Try Automating the User Interview Recruitment Process?
Dan was recently on a call with his design partner and two other product managers. They were planning to send out a survey to their users in-app using Pendo. This would be the first part of their research efforts to help identify opportunities for a new business direction that would focus on a different customer segment.
Their goal was to hear from as many users as possible, though they’d had some difficulty with customer interviews in the past. They were challenging to source, had long lead times, required lots of coordination, and often over indexed on enterprise customers who didn’t use the product directly.
As Dan was talking through the plan—to use the last question of the survey to gather emails, which they would follow up on to schedule interviews—he had a thought. He’d just finished reading Continuous Discovery Habits, so he brought up the idea of automating interviews. Dan says, “I proposed we create a similar Pendo pop-up in-app that’s linked to a Microsoft Bookings page that lets users schedule their own interviews based on the team’s availability.”
He chose this particular workflow because Microsoft Bookings allows users to schedule their own appointments and it was included standard and integrated into their calendars, so they could ensure there was availability when a user scheduled an appointment. “If this worked,” says Dan, “we could repeat it again and again.” Dan and his design partner spent about an hour putting the pieces together and testing out the flow until it was ready.
Setting up the Automations
The first step was to create a simple Pendo in-app pop-up. They could decide when and where it would appear as well as which users they wanted it to show up for.
When a user saw the Pendo pop-up, they’d be prompted to either book the interview or dismiss the pop-up. This would appear on the home page until a user clicked on either the “Book now” or “Dismiss” button.
If the user clicked the “Book now” link, it would take them to a Microsoft Bookings link where they could book an interview slot.
They decided to conduct the interviews with Microsoft Teams and pay each interviewee $35 for their time after.
Getting Results Right Away
What happened next was pretty astounding. “We set the Pendo pop-up to start at midnight the following day (Thursday) and signed off for the evening,” says Dan. “The next morning around 5am, I heard my phone buzzing. That’s when I looked over and saw almost a dozen interviews scheduled, most within that hour. I quickly rolled out of bed and turned off the Pendo pop-up.”
Since setting up the initial workflow, they’ve had around 20 user interviews that required no manual recruitment. “We’ve pretty quickly been able to identify opportunities and test our assumptions, with a few being invalidated in a very short window of time.”
Since automating recruiting for user interviews, we’ve pretty quickly been able to identify opportunities and test our assumptions, with a few being invalidated in a very short window of time. – Tweet This
One of the keys to their early success was profiling interviewees against their in-app behavior. “Specifically, we would look at how the user was using our product(s) to determine specific areas that may or may not make the users a good fit for our research. Since Ground Traffic Control has links to multiple products/features within it that have their own team, we started to share interviews with other teams who may get more value out of a specific interviewee.”
Sharing interviews has had a ripple effect. Not only is Dan’s team helping others understand what they’re learning from customers, but they’re also getting other stakeholders bought into the process of continuous interviewing. “This has helped us evangelize the process outside of our pod and within the product leadership team,” he says.
They’ve also begun experimenting with including engineers and even sales people in user interviews, but these are still relatively new practices at Zonar.
Looking back on what they’ve accomplished so far, Dan says, “Automated user research recruitment has been a game-changer for our team. We’re already seeing tons of value, even though it’s just a small piece of the continuous discovery journey!”
Key Learnings and Takeaways
One of Dan’s key learnings is that continuous interviewing doesn’t have to be difficult: “I’ve learned just how easy it is to start speaking with users weekly. We already had all the tools we needed to build an in-app recruitment flow, we just needed to link them together.”
I’ve learned just how easy it is to start speaking with users weekly. We already had all the tools we needed to build an in-app recruitment flow, we just needed to link them together. – Tweet This
He’s also been surprised by what he’s actually learned from customers. There’s been much more variety in users’ day-to-day experiences than he anticipated. “Before this process, I was speaking with legacy customers/users that were known names across the business. Many teams had spoken to these same users and we had a shared understanding of their stories. Now, we’re speaking with customers/users who have little exposure to our business, which has revealed really interesting dynamics within their roles that we just never heard before.”
If you’re interested in automating your user interview recruitment, Dan has a few suggestions.
Book twice as many interviews as you need.
Dan says about 50% of interviews are no shows. “There are lots of factors as to why it’s so low, but in the beginning it’s easier to book more interviewees to ensure you speak with someone.”
If you have a small user base, or specific targeting in mind, be mindful of how long recruitment might take.
“We made a novice error about four weeks into our user recruitment, where we tried to target a customer type that is more rare in our current system, and it took about a week before we got an interview in front of the team,” says Dan. He recommends using the same principles as running an A/B test and spending a few minutes before you launch to make sure you have enough lead time to get the interview you want.
If you can, include a dial-in phone number into your meeting link as an alternate method.
Sometimes users struggle with meeting links, so having a back-up can really come in handy. “Our Microsoft Teams license doesn’t include a dial-in, but our RingCentral does and has saved a few interviews recently,” adds Dan.
If you have the autonomy, just get started.
It’s easy to let a project like this get lost among other priorities and concerns, but as Dan’s story illustrates, there are plenty of tools that will help you build your own recruitment flow. “If you have the freedom, just build the recruitment flow and start getting sign-ups,” advises Dan.
If you have the freedom, just build the recruitment flow and start getting sign-ups. – Tweet This
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