Customer Interviews & Usability

By Acacia Krebs on February 23, 2011

Recently, I gingerly confessed to a colleague that I don’t really interview customers as often as he apparently thought I did. It’s not that I have anything against talking with customers. In fact, as Winshuttle’s new Product Usability Manager, it is crucial that I get to know our customers and how they use our software because I am responsible for ensuring the usability of our products. However, there are a number of reasons why I don’t solely rely on customer interviews in the usability process.

For one thing, customers may not be representative users of the enterprise software they buy. While they may include “usability” among other factors when making a purchase decision, they aren’t necessarily going to have first-hand experience with the product on a daily basis.

Secondly, customers are usually very willing to discuss what they want and are also good at providing feedback on products they can see and experience for themselves. However, coming up with something new and better is much more difficult, especially in the context of an interview.

Thirdly, customer interviews can reveal areas where an existing product’s usability falls short, especially if they are aware of similar complaints from other users. Understanding that there is a problem is not enough, though. Before a successful solution can be developed, it is necessary to pinpoint why the current design is a problem and to be knowledgeable about the potential impacts of various design alternatives.

Finally, designing usable products requires a deep understanding not only of what people do, but also of how they do it. One can learn a good deal from a conversation with someone about what they are doing (or trying to do) with a piece of software. However, when it comes to learning about how they do it, other methods (such as observations or recording their actions) provide a more useful wealth of information. As Yogi Berra is quoted as saying, “You can observe a lot just by watching.”


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