Conducting Switch Interviews

Switch interviews detail the timeline of a recent purchase or change. First, we go back to the beginning when the person thought they had found a solution to their problem. Then, we jump ahead to when they decided to try something different. We walk through the steps they took to find this new solution and the pain points that drove them there. Switch Interviews help us understand the problem in the context of a person's motivation and desire to fix it.

Who to interview

We interview people who have recently switched products or solutions because the timeline of why they switched is still fresh in their minds. They solved this same problem with something else before and now have a new solution.

Typically it takes about 8-10 interviews to get valuable information, but we have gotten away with less.

Use the instructions for sourcing interviewees in Usability testing.

Conducting the interview

Make sure you're recording and documenting these and that you've tested out the tools that you're going to use beforehand. For remote interviews, Zoom is a useful tool for both host and record the interview. For additional information on recording interviews, check out how we record them for usability test.

Have the rest of the team listening in on them. Similar to a usability test, the best insights come from hearing the interview first hand.

Right before starting the interview, draw a line on a black sheet of paper to serve as your timeline as you facilitate the interview. While the interviewee is talking, add new significant events on the page in the series that they happened. This is important because the interview rarely will be linear. Keeping track of the process as it happened rather than how it came up in the interview will allow you to ask more informational questions.

Having that sheet in front of you also allows you to write down questions that you might want to ask later because you don't want to interrupt the interviewee now.

Let's pretend that we're making a documentary about your purchase…

To set the stage for the interview, we'll start off telling them that we're going to make a documentary about their switch. This allows you and the interviewer to have a shared mental model of how the interview might go. This also allows you to ask some more detailed questions without seeming to go off course. You can set up questions asking for them to "set the scene".

Set the scene of the documentary for me here; what were you wearing that day.

After setting the expectation around, ask them when they first started thinking about the purchase. As best as you can, work your way from the start of the process, to other options considered, to their decision, to a switch. Then ask about they're usage and timeline directly after the switch.

During this process think of questions like:

  • What were the emotions that were pushing or pulling them to arrive at their new solution?
  • What solutions did they ultimately compare the product against?
  • Why did they believe it's better?
  • How are they feeling about the switch after?

Dig into weird details during the interview as it helps jog people's memory on important information. Little questions about obscure details can ultimately lead to significant breakthroughs.

Example questions:

  • What were you wearing that day?
  • What are the details of that room?
  • What music were you listening to in the car ride?
  • How much packing had you done up till that point?

Throughout the interview focus on emotion / mental state. While we like to believe that we're logical, most decisions are emotional. Emotions will help us better understand the situation they're in when looking to switch solutions. Emotions amplify the pushes away from their current solution and down-play the fears of switching to a new solution.

Some of the best insights come towards the end of the interview. Make sure that you're leaving enough time to get to the meaty part of the conversation or ask the participant if they would be willing to spend more time with you.

So far, this conversation has been great! But I can see us running overtime. Would it be ok for us to run over the allotted time, or do you have a hard limit to your time today?

After the interview

As a team, regroup and share any immediate insights found during the interview. If in the middle of several interviews, ask what improvements that you could make or if there is anything else that you should ask in the next interview.

In the next couple of days, sit down with the recording and timeline, and further document the interview. The documentation should follow a Jobs Profile format for just that interview.

Resources to learn

Talk to one of our product experts about building success into your process.