design thinking research

Active Listening & Customer Research: What Not to Do

In our series on Active Listening, we’ve not only introduced what Active Listening is, but we’ve provided a practical introduction to utilizing the method in customer research. In the latter piece, we told you the best way to know if you were utilizing the approach correctly was to know when you were doing it wrong, and that is what we’ll discuss today.

There is one key way to know if you’re not practicing active listening during customer interviews, and that is you find yourself more in your head, than in the head of the participant. What does this mean? Usually it looks something like this.

You have your interview script in front of you, and after you ask the first question you begin trying to remember the second, third, etc question, instead of listening to the response from the participant. This sounds obvious, but we assure you it’s often the case that researchers are thinking “what’s next” as opposed to being present and listening. In fact, many researchers will try to run through the script verbatim from start to finish, instead of listening actively and adjusting their questions to participant response.

This is doing it wrong.

If you find yourself doing this, stop and listen! It is better to hear what the participant is saying and to understand their responses than to “get all your questions answered”.

You may be thinking, “Wait. Don’t I need a research script to ask all the questions that will meet my research goals?” The answer is yes AND no. We encourage you to create a script and to practice that script ahead of time, but not with the goal of memorizing it. Rather the practice is meant to help you internalize the questions and the purpose behind them so that, when you are in the interview, you can adapt these questions to each participant.

In this way, you maximize the outputs of your research; both by getting the most in-depth, honest responses from participants, and by matching those to your research goals. It’s a win-win.

If you choose not to practice Active Listening during research you’ll get feedback, but it will take you much longer to get the most valuable feedback that drives your product. Therefore, we encourage you to give listening a try. You won’t be sorry.