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Jobs-to-Be-Done Interviews & Usability Tests

 

Jobs-to-be-Done Interviews

One-on-one customer interviews are the most reliable way to gather revenue-generating A/B test ideas. One particularly useful genre of them is the jobs-to-be-done interview, which focuses on the customer’s motivations for purchasing something, their thought process as they explore the competitive landscape, and especially their objections before they pull the trigger.

Some background

This interviewing style was influenced by Clayton Christensen’s famous book The Innovator’s Dilemma, in which he stated several key concepts about disruption and incumbent businesses. One of the biggest was that consumers “hire” products to perform a specific job in their lives. For example, I bought this computer specifically because it performs a role for me: to execute my business and communicate with great folks like you every day. I hired it to do that for a few years.

The goal with a jobs-to-be-done interview is threefold:

  1. Understand the context in which they purchased – as well as any friction points they may have encountered in that context.
  2. Audit objections that customers may have had before purchasing.
  3. Assess the competition that may be eating into your bottom line.

The process

Invite someone to an interview within 12 hours after their purchase. Jobs-to-be-done interviews work best as soon after a purchase as humanly possible – so the transaction, and its corresponding thought process, can stay as fresh in the customer’s mind as possible.

Send a Calendly link for the coming week, say there’s an incentive for their time, and provide instructions for connecting. Phone is usually best. Interviews should take about an hour, with 30 minutes before and after for preparation and decompression.

This is a great thing to automate after purchase for, say, approximately 100 new purchasers of your flagship product(s) per month. Only send the link to new customers, make sure it’s a custom link that doesn’t utterly hose your calendar with appointment requests, and ensure that you’re capping it at around 100 per month. That way, you can keep your schedule relatively clear with new customers requesting whenever it’s convenient for them.

Expect about 10% of customers to sign up, and about 70% of those to actually perform the interview. Interviews should continue into perpetuity – and they could even comprise most of your qualitative research strategy, depending on how many qualified customers you keep receiving.

The questions

A jobs-to-be-done interview asks most of these questions (adapt them to your own situation!) while listening to responses and providing clarifying follow-up questions. For example, if someone says they purchased a product “last week,” you’ll want to ask about the time of day and the day of the week to get a more precise answer.

The final two questions are meant to get any free-form responses out of the customer. You should allow at least 5-10 minutes of gap at the end of the interview in order to solicit free-form responses and questions that may provide unexpectedly valuable insight – and make the customer feel more heard, too.

Here are some of the questions you should be asking in a jobs-to-be-done interview, with follow-up based on the customer’s responses (these are adapted from this blog post and this sample script):

Who, What, Where, When
  • Where did you purchase this product?
  • When did you purchase this product?
  • What was the weather like that day?
  • Was anybody else with you at the time?
  • Did you buy anything else at the same time?
Why
  • When did you first realize you needed this product?
  • Do you know where you were at the time?
  • What were you trying to do when this happened?
  • How did you look for a solution to this problem?
  • Did you try any other solutions?
Who Else
  • Did you look at any competitors? Who? Why?
  • Did you ask anybody else what they thought about the purchase you were about to make? What was that conversation like?
  • Did you look at any alternative products from our business?
  • Did you look at any other stores that might have carried our product?
How
  • What was the purchasing process like?
  • Was there anything you might have improved out of the purchasing process?
  • Did you have any anxiety about the purchase? What about it made you nervous?
  • What was the last thing that held you back from purchasing this?
Wrapping Up
  • Is there anything else you’d like to add?
  • Do you have any other questions for us?

Synthesis

Once you have an interview together, how do you turn it into solid, testable ideas? You should do several passes of the past 3-5 interviews you’ve conducted, to gain several layers of insight:

  1. First, use them to assess new competitors, and do SWOT analyses of each for further research.
  2. Then, use them to audit objections, and square those objections against how forcefully they’re addressed on your site. This can often result in several new testable ideas.
  3. Next, track the context that the purchase occurred in. Was it on a mobile device? A desktop computer? Was it at home? At work? On the train?
  4. Finally, assess the broader thought process of the customer. How are they considering your product? What specific problems were they facing that motivated them to visit your business? And what can you do for them once they arrive? This could significantly impact and shape your pitch, landing page strategy, or ad buys.

Overall, this follows the three-step process of – recruiting, interviewing, and synthesizing in a compressed, ongoing manner that drills into the very specific ways that people can get value from your product.

Jobs-to-be-Done Usability Tests

In regular usability tests, you have customers perform typical tasks – browsing, checking out, purchasing – while voicing their inner monologues.

How do you run a usability test that focuses on what people hire your products to do? This is important because it turns the team’s attention away from how the website works (which is still important!) and towards what the website means to the customer. This sort of qualitative insight is vitally important for crafting your pitch, addressing objections, and establishing your business’s credibility.

And it’s far easier to get qualitative insights from automated, remote usability testing than through in-person interviews or deep-dive surveys.

Recruitment

Unlike with typical usability tests that vet only functionality, you’ll want to be very clear about your recruitment profile when performing JTBD usability tests. Only recruit people who are likely to be your customers in real life. This is critical for ensuring that JTBD usability tests succeed for you and your store.

If you run, say, a skincare brand for older women, and you run a usability test with 5 men ages 18-24, you aren’t going to get any useful insights. Make sure you’re recruiting people who would buy from you, but don’t know much about you yet.

Start with the 5 second test

First, you’ll want to present your store to the participant, and tell them to look at as much as they can for 5 seconds – and then record their thoughts. Commonly called the “5 second test,” this allows the customer to talk about who you are, what you do, and how you could fit into their lives.

As UsabilityHub says in the aforelinked, you should ask the following:

  • What is the purpose of the page?
  • What are the main elements you can recall?
  • Who do you think the intended audience is?
  • Did the design or brand appear trustworthy?
  • What was your impression of the design?

I would add a few store-specific questions here as well:

  • What do you think you can buy at this store?
  • What’s a key benefit of the thing this store offers?
  • What questions or concerns do you have after seeing this page?
  • What would you want to know about this product before buying?
  • What would do you next?

If you have only a few flagship products, show your store’s home page. Otherwise, show the detail page for the product you want your participants to evaluate.

Then, move into JTBD-focused questions

Then, you should move into questions that actually focus on the job to be done by the product. Here are some example questions that you should adapt for your own purposes:

  • What are your 3 biggest concerns when evaluating products like this one?
  • Would you go somewhere to comparison shop for this? If so, where?
  • Find a few other businesses that sell a similar product. After you find their sites, talk about your impressions as you look around.
  • Do you shop for this sort of product online or in real life? Why?
  • Would you feel okay purchasing this product on your phone? Why or why not?
  • How do you think you’d get started using this product, once it arrives?

None of these have anything to do with your store’s functionality. They all have to do with messaging, competition, objection reversal, and risk reduction.

Synthesis

The process for synthesis is similar to what we do in regular JTBD interviews:

  1. First, use them to assess new competitors, and do SWOT analyses of each.
  2. Then, use them to audit objections, and square those objections against how forcefully each one is addressed on your site. This can often result in several new testable ideas.
  3. Finally, assess the broader thought process of the customer. How are they considering your product? What specific problems were they facing that motivated them to visit your business? And what can you do for them once they arrive? This could significantly impact and shape your pitch, landing page strategy, or ad buys.

Jobs to be done, as a research practice, doesn’t start and stop with customer interviews. You can incorporate the approach into any other qualitative research method. This makes your business more efficient at researching, which improves ROI as a result.

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