Experience Design Int
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Understanding the Customer Psyche

Crazy Aunts Make the Best Moderators

"You must be doing something right because everyone walks away smiling", said a client last week in NYC after a series of intercept interviews. 

I am living proof that you can be both a solid qualitative researcher, and also be authentically you when interviewing respondents in both B2B and B2C research studies. The client quotable is music to my ears as being who you really are in business is what makes work feel like play rather than work. This would come as no surprise to my nephews Tyler and Aiden who affectionately call me "Crazy Aunt Delanea". 

While my graduate school mentors taught me to "stick to the script" many moons ago, I have learned over the years that qualitative interviewing can be fun for you, the respondent and the client. And when your respondents have fun with you, you "get to the gold" in your interviews and focus group sessions.

Whether you are facilitating one-on-one interviews or focus groups with first-timers or seasoned respondents, there is an expectation of seriousness and dare I say it "dryness", especially when financial services research. So, when you kick off a session with a statement like "I am here to make insurance sexy, and we are going to have a blast together today", not only do you get them laughing but you are also setting yourself up to get deeper insights than a run-of-the-mill qualitative session.

If you've ever read or written a qualitative report and heard, "We didn't learn anything new from this research", it doesn't necessarily mean your research design or interviewing guide was flawed. It could mean your moderator didn't completely connect with the respondents. When the moderator thinks of his or her role as a job versus a passion to learn about people, it comes through in the interview and as a result, insights can be shallow.

The secret to producing great qualitative research, surprisingly, is to have fun in the process. Assuming you have a great discussion guide, reliable recruitment and award-winning report writing skills (who doesn't ;-), the magic really happens during the interview process. Consider these simple before-during-and-after FUN power moves to make your groups come alive.

Tip #1: Before you begin, create a mental profile of your respondent base. What might it feel like in a day in the life of this respondent? If they are insurance agents, what made them choose that profession? If they are wealth management advisors, what about their job is most satisfying? What is the basic psychology and lifestyle of these professionals? If you are unsure, call someone you know in the role and ask these questions. You will find that certain personality types are drawn to certain professions. The more you can lock into the work personality of your respondents before you begin, the easier your sessions will flow. 

I recently interviewed gym owners about their insurance needs. Before my sessions, I called a former CrossFit gym owner to ask all about what inspired him to be an early adopter of the CrossFit gym movement in Connecticut. I also asked him about the culture of gym owners. This not only helped me design a great discussion guide, but also gave me a sense of what to expect during my groups which made a big difference on moderation day.

Tip #2: Set a goal of making a personal connection with your respondent during the interview. Think of it more like a conversation versus an interview. Before the camera starts rolling, share a fun fact about yourself. Keep your tone upbeat and conversational. The more you genuinely enjoy the conversation, the more enjoyable it will be for your respondent. If you are staunchly sticking to a script, the experience is boring for you, your respondent and your client who may be sitting through 12 focus groups or 20 IDIs. Smile, nod to demonstrate active listening, and offer affirmation by saying things like "that is a great point", or "I am fascinated by what you are saying... tell me more". Remember that people enjoy telling you about themselves and like flexing their intellectual muscles by sharing what they know. 

Tip #3: Build in a follow up. While not the norm, I often plan for an opt-in recontact with respondents at the end of most focus groups or IDIs. If you've successfully established a rapport during the interview, nearly everyone will agree to speak with you again if you have any follow up questions. Time flies when you are leading a discussion, and there are always those few respondents who are creative, innovative thinkers that offer the "money quotes" for your reports. Having the ability to call the best respondents for a follow up 15 minutes can really make your analysis sing when you are in the final hours of insight generation.

Tip #4: Last but not least, have FUN! Rather than go into interviewing with your serious face on, be yourself. It's okay to laugh and let who you are shine through. When you make the experience memorable, your client is more apt to pay attention during live sessions rather than check emails in the back room. Your respondents are more open, honest and synergistic in the sessions. And, you are more inclined to remember those magic moments that happen in your sessions that take your report from good to great.

You will know you've mastered these power moves when your work queue is filled with projects that excite you. You will also notice everyone, including you, is smiling before the research begins, during your interviews, and after the research is complete. So, channel your inner "crazy aunt" and make qualitative research informative, engaging and FUN for everyone! :-)

Henry Edinger