Feedback via email: new phrases to add to your phrase bank
Interviews where you physically speak to someone—whether over the phone, Zoom, or in person—are where you can get the most information and insight into someone’s process and goals. The richness of texture is difficult to replicate via text.
But man… sometimes, you just don’t have the time. Or timezones are against you. If you’re in Auckland, NZ and need to talk to someone in Reykjavik, Iceland, it’s gonna be tough to find an agreeable overlap during normal work hours… and even with a less extreme example like, say, purely hypothetically and not from my own experience at all, Copenhagen to San Francisco.
(As you may have just picked up, I really feel that lately, myself.)
Between big projects for Geocodio, timezone challenges of having North American-based customers but working in Europe, and being in Danish language school twice a week with my fluency exam coming up in a few months, I’m pressed for time, and I’m not able to do nearly as many interviews as I used to be able to. Honestly, that makes me sad. Interviews give me fuel in the business: both for product and strategic direction, and as a reminder of why we do what we do and how we help people. Not how we help businesses, but how we help people. That’s what drives me.
I could wax poetically about interviews forever… or for 322 pages to be exact… so I’ll stop myself here, and get back to the point of this newsletter: some phrases I use for “interviewing” over email.
A few people have asked me if it’s possible to interview someone via textual means. Interviewing can sort of be done over live chat—I’ve done it. I’d estimate you can get about 30% of what you might get over a spoken interview via live chat. But given that live chat still requires some amount of synchronicity, let’s focus instead on email.
⚠️ Just to make this abundantly clear: Textual interviews should not replace verbal interviews in your research workflow. You still need to talk to people! (sorry.) ⚠️
With that said… Here are a few phrases I like using via email. It’s amazing how sometimes—not all the time, but sometimes—you can get paragraphs and paragraphs of useful insights back from people with this phrase:
“I’m just curious, would you be able to give me some context behind what led you to….” [switch to our service/ask for that new feature/etc]
“Out of curiosity, could you give me some context on what’s leading you to…”
The key words in those sentences are curiosity (which is disarming), context (gets them thinking big picture), and a form of leads you (rather than why, which is a problematic word as it leads to spontaneous narrative-building).
This also works:
“Out of curiosity, could you give me some context on the big picture of what you’re trying to do overall?”
Just recently, Geocodio’s new content and support engineer, Cory, used the curiosity+context+leads phrasing during the course of an email support thread. To our delight, the customer not only provided their background context on why they were switching but also their full competitor analysis and how they made the decision. It was a goldmine, and all it took was that simple phrase.
I encourage you to come up with your own formulations of the curious+context+leads format. You can also add additional padding with something to the extent of “We’re always interested to learn more about our customers’ needs.”
You can use these phrases in other long-form-friendly formats outside of email, such as GitHub issues.
Give this is a try in your support email conversations/GitHub issues with coworkers/Slack threads with internal stakeholders and let me know how it goes! (And let me know if you’ve got other phrases you use that you’ve found effective.)
Podcasts, talks + workshops
Inside Intercom Podcast
I was recently interviewed for one of the biggest product podcasts, Inside Intercom (a show which has received over 3 million downloads in its lifetime!). I’m a big fan of Intercom—we use them for Geocodio, they’re a JTBD-driven company and I reference this blog post from one of their co-founders often, and in the book—so it was an absolute delight to be able to go on their podcast.
Why do people cancel? What feature should you build next? Which potential customers are the best fit for your business? The answer to all of these questions don’t lie in spreadsheets or charts, but in customer interviews.
Mind the Product: Hamburg
I had an absolute ball presenting at Mind the Product: Hamburg in June, and the video is finally online! If you’ve ever tried to introduce research to an organization, or suggested it to a skeptical stakeholder, you probably received the retort, “If Henry Ford had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”I dug into the origins of that quote, why it’s absolutely bogus, and what to do when someone throws it at you.This talk is dedicated to everyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of that phrase, and I hope you enjoy watching this as much as I enjoyed giving it!
Which product person hasn’t despaired the famous Henry Ford quote, which is popularly used to discredit user research in general?
“If Henry Ford had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
In-person workshop: October 5th
One last reminder that I’ll be giving an in-person workshop on interviewing at Full Stack Europe in Antwerp, Belgium on October 5th. (I’ll also be speaking at the main conference on October 6th along with a bunch of other great people.) The conference is geared towards developers working in a team environment, so the workshop will cover interviewing clients and stakeholders as well as customers.The workshop is 3 hours, and you’ll get a signed copy of Deploy Empathy.