Surveys are quick and inexpensive and good for answering many kinds of questions. However, when it comes to understanding how your customers think and how they see the world, the best approach is interviews. The twin superpowers of interviews are that they allow for much lengthier answers than with surveys, and you are able to ask follow-up questions to explore topics that are important to your interviewee, but weren't on your radar screen before the interview. Between these two things, interviews are unmatched as a tool for deeply connecting with your customers as human beings.
This example comes from a project where we were developing improved technology tools to support college students working on group projects. Early in the project we used interviews to better understand students' experience working with groups, in particular what they saw as the biggest challenges. In the analysis, we gathered quotes that specifically referenced challenges; a sampling of this quotes is shown below.
- “the biggest issue was definitely scheduling”
- “pretty tough for some of the group members to get stuff done on time”
- “people not meeting at the times we set up to meet… [they] say they can’t meet an hour beforehand”
- “personalities of the people within the projects seemed to be a lot stronger… it seemed way more polarized… ended up not being as cohesive and not as functional”
- “the biggest thing was just finding the times to do it”
- “we communicated less, because we weren’t as comfortable with each other…”
- “when you didn’t know each other, you feel a little bit less comfortable saying ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea’”
The biggest thing we noticed with the interviews is that the major challenges students mentioned were all social, not technological. Typical collaboration and productivity tools don't offer solutions to these kinds of problems. This steered us in the direction of helping to facilitate effective teamwork, rather than just providing another way to communicate, schedule, track work, and so on.