“People have the stories you want to hear tucked away, but they don’t always remember them at first.”

Paddy Long, Customer Journey Specialist


Last week we kicked off our conversations with customers. We introduced our intention to have convestations with customers in our blog post 'The importance of understanding people' and also in some of our lab planning posts over the past few weeks, and we set out our rationale on how we intend to use the insights we gain from them in our blog post ‘How we are using personas’. We’ve got lots more conversations to have, but we’ve made a good start.  

Our first approach to recruiting customers was to take a list, a very long list of all our customers, and pick a cohort at random (ensuring a good cross section across a range of criteria such as tenure, geographic location and service usage). However, this meant that recruiting customers was like a cold calling sales pitch, and perhaps unsurprisingly, it didn’t really work out that well - even with our offer of a £20 shopping voucher. We needed to find a better way. We needed the help of our Neighbourhood Coaches. So, Michelle put a shout out for coaches on Yammer, and I spoke to a coach who I had already made contact with as part of the original ‘cold calling’ recruitment drive. It turned out that giving coaches the low-down on what we were trying to achieve and asking them to recommend customers who they already had relationships with was a much better way to recruit. The calls we made to arrange visits were expected and the initial telephone conversations were less awkward - but we know we need to approach this kind of recruitment with caution. Often the most valuable insights emerge from people who wouldn't normally engage with us. We need to interview a range of people, not just the easiest ones to find, but we also know that we are lucky to have Neighbourhood Coaches, so it would be crazy not to use their help. Moving forward I’m interested to find out how we might utilise the coaching network to help the business pick up signals from our communities, and feed insights back into the design process in a more organic way, but more about that in a later blog most.


“You know when you hear a story that’s going to deepen your insight, because it’s the kind of stuff you can’t make up.

Paddy Long, Customer Journey Specialist


Good interviews usually take a bit of time to organise so we didn't expect it to be easy. However, the benefits make it all worthwhile. We wanted to meet people face to face in order to take our conversations deeper than a questionnaire or focus group. Hearing what people say is important, but looking out for the things they don’t is where the more personal nature of interviewing really pays off.


“People don’t always say what they mean, mean what they say, want what they need, or need what they want”.

Audree Fletcher, Barnardos


Using a topic guide we have been able to guide our early conversations rather than dictate them. As we have more and more conversations we will rely on the guide less and less. A good interview is one in which we are confident enough and familiar enough with the subject to leave the topic guide in our bag.


“If you’re actively listening, and you have a good idea of the general topics you want to cover in your interview, 80% of the time you should be able to smoothly flow questions and topics together in a way that makes sense and also covers most of what you wanted to talk about.”

Nicola Rushton, Pivotal Labs


We’ve already started to embrace going off course in the initial conversations we have had, because it's the off-course conversations that can often provide the biggest insights - insights like someone describing their first holiday abroad and proudly reaching into a draw to get some postcards they bought of the resort - showing us, without telling us, that they like to own a physical memento and qualifying it by asking “why don’t people develop their photos anymore?”. Building a relationship with the customer in the early stages of the conversation is important. Our common link with the Neighbourhood Coach provides an initial level of trust which we didn’t get from ‘cold calling’.


“If they’re engaged, what they tell you will be more natural, your insights will be deeper and learnings more nuanced.”

Nicola Rushton, Pivotal Labs


We’ve learned a few things over the past few weeks and we’ve also reinforced some existing beliefs. Here are five key takeaways that we would like to share:


  • Having one person to ask questions and the other writing notes is a good way of working. It made for a more personal conversation and also allowed us to compare viewpoints and consolidate our thoughts after the interview;
  • Don't go in cold. Utilise your networks in order to recruit customers. Get help from people who are known and trusted by the community;
  • Offer an incentive (but be careful that it doesn't compromise the honesty of the conversations);
  • Allow yourself to go off topic. Be open to learning stuff you didn’t expect;
  • Interviewing is a little like riding a bike; you never forget, but if you haven't ridden one for a while, it takes a little time for the action to become fluid again.


We are currently planning conversations with around 12 to 15 more customers, but whilst we love getting out and meeting customers (it's honestly one of my favourite parts of doing this kind of work), the power for the business, and the benefit to our design process will emerge once we make sense of what we have learned from all of the customers we have spoken to. After our all of the interviews are complete, we will synthesise our findings in order to highlight key themes, identify customer needs we may never have previously considered, identify customer priorities and identify customer behaviour patterns. We will use anonymised quotes, in the same language as the customers used, in order to better reflect the stories they told us. The personas that we will create alongside the insights document will help us design better services based on real life stories, evidence and insight.


“The interview is the basic unit of ethnographic research”

Erika Hall Mule Design


We will be writing more about our conversations as they progress, but in the meantime, if you are looking for some more reading on the subject, I recently came across this great set of resources which have been suggested by The Evidence Based UX Design Guide.