Difficult Participants in remote user interviews

remote user interviews

No-shows, late arrivals, distracted environments, and participants with extreme behaviors in remote user interviews are painful scenarios for both researchers and participant recruitment companies. Despite best efforts to avoid unsuitable participants, slip-ups still occur. These issues can only be minimized, not eliminated, through careful diligence and well-defined SOPs during the recruitment stage. Viewing these participants as opportunities can be rewarding in various ways.

These challenges not only affect researchers but also disappoint stakeholders, observers, note-takers, and recruitment partners due to the potential distraction caused by specific user profiles.

While most people are generally helpful in providing feedback, some participants can render a user interview ineffective. Dealing with such participants requires skill, especially when conducting remote interviews via video call tools like Zoom. Communicating effectively becomes tougher compared to in-person interviews.

In this article, we discuss strategies to manage challenging participants during remote user interviews to extract insights without skewing the results. These tips are especially valuable for new researchers encountering such situations. Expecting participants to conform to the researcher’s expectations is unrealistic. While “firing” a participant might seem convenient, it’s not always optimal or fair.

Remember, some of these challenging individuals are potential users of your product. Learning to handle diverse user behavior in interviews is not fruitless; it’s an opportunity for growth. Overcoming these situations through experience is more beneficial than solely relying on external sources like ChatGPT or books.

Participants don’t purposefully behave in counterproductive ways. No user thinks, “Let me be unhelpful to this research.”

We’ve compiled a list of participant types to watch out for and potential approaches when interviewing these profiles. Just instructing the recruitment company isn’t enough to eliminate unexpected participant types.

Happy & Chatty

Participants who talk excessively can derail interviews. To manage this, set clear rules at the start, explaining the need to use time effectively. If a participant goes off-topic, politely interrupt and reiterate the question. If they provide unrelated details, refocus them by restating the question assertively. Be prepared to repeat clarifications multiple times. In remote interviews, assertiveness is crucial due to reduced reliance on physical cues.

Pessimists & Optimists

Participants with extreme attitudes—cynics or over-optimists—can provide unconstructive responses. Researchers must stay neutral, frame questions clearly, and ask for specifics. Breaking down questions into smaller, focused parts helps. Encourage participants to share their actual experiences and actions taken.

Designer & Researchers

Designers or researchers being interviewed require distinct handling. Redirect them if they focus on aspects you’re not interested in. Use appropriate terminology to guide responses toward the desired insights. Request them to share their non-confidential work to assess suitability for the interview.

Busy & Silent

Participants giving brief, unhelpful responses may be busy or hesitant. Explain why their answers aren’t aiding the research and adapt based on the situation. If needed, pause the interview and reorient the participant. Scheduling interviews when participants are less likely to be occupied can yield better results.

Interviewing diverse participants, even challenging ones, offers valuable experience. Dealing with such situations cultivates empathy, informs business decisions, and enhances product development. Instead of dreading imperfect profiles, view them as opportunities for growth.

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