A Step-by-Step Guide to User Research

I’ve been doing a lot of user research lately at Coach and I’ve got what I think is a great system for conducting and analyzing the interviews. I thought I’d share my system with you all to help people who are new to user research as well as welcome any feedback on how I can improve.

If you’re looking for an intro to speaking with users, check out my last article Why Entrepreneurs are Scared of Talking to Users. While that article was more about talking to people that are not currently using your product — this article is going to focus on existing users. I’m going to run you through how I do user research, from start to finish.

A Step-by-Step Guide to User Research

It starts with emailing your users

We have a custom Admin dashboard at Coach where we can view the name and email addresses of all of our users along with a lot more information. After I downloaded a complete list of our users, I created a Google Sheet (named “Current Coach Users - Product UX Research (People)”) with six columns: Email Address, First Name, Last Name, Emailed, Scheduled, Interviewed.

I transferred the Email Address, First Name and Last Name from our list of users and inputted it into the sheet. I then went through the list to cross off folks that wouldn’t make sense for me to interview: people on our team, friends, and family. I was specifically looking for people who we don’t already know.

Once you’ve got your final list of users you’d like to speak with, you can now craft your outreach email.

The email I sent out to our users

In a Google Doc (named “Current Coach Users - Product UX Research”), I drafted an email template that I would use to ask our users if they’d be available for chatting.

Here’s the email:

Subject: Just checking in

Hey << First Name >>,

Thanks again for signing up for Coach. I hope everything is going well and your tutoring business is thriving.

In our continued effort to help tutors market and build their businesses, I was hoping I could learn more about your experience with Coach thus far and how we may improve the product to better suit your needs.

If you’re interested in sharing your thoughts, let’s set up a quick 10-15 call on Thursday or Friday morning this week - I promise to keep it short!

Talk soon,

Founder, Coach

I tailored the email slightly depending on the person and the day I was sending it out.

The reason I like the email above is that it: (1) is friendly in tone, (2) gives them the “why” in the second paragraph, (3) only asks for 10-15 minutes of their time, and (4) is coming directly from the founder, so it’s more likely that the recipient will respond.

Preparing the questions and asking them

Before I sent out the emails to our users, I prepared a list of ten questions to ask each user, knowing that I’d let the conversation take its own course and probably wouldn’t get a chance to ask them all. There are a lot of great articles written by prominent UX folks about what questions to ask, but the bottom line is:

  1. You never want to ask a leading question.
  2. You want to focus on “who, what, where, when, why and how” questions.

Here are the questions I asked (many were found Googling for question ideas), but keep in mind that I stuck to asking about half of these and then let the conversation simply flow:

  • What did you expect would happen when you signed up for Coach?
  • What actually happened after signing up?
  • What did you do next?
  • Help me understand what benefit you want to get out of Coach.
  • What are you trying to get done?
  • How do you currently do this?
  • What could be better about how you do this?
  • What is the hardest part about using Coach?
  • How do you currently solve the problem of X?
  • If you could wave a magic wand and do anything on Coach, what would it be?

Of the above questions, the ones that yielded the best results for me were:

  • What did you expect would happen when you signed up for Coach?
  • What actually happened when you signed up?
  • Help me understand what benefit you want to get out of Coach.
  • If you could wave a magic wand and do anything on Coach, what would it be?

I also asked impromptu questions based on how the conversation was flowing.

Sending the email out

I didn’t want to get overwhelmed with interviews too quickly, so I spaced them out by emailing only ten users a day. I sent each user an individual email from my @withcoach.com account, so that it wouldn’t be perceived as bulk email.

After I sent all ten emails out, I inputted the day’s date in the “Emailed” column of my spreadsheet. As users responded back with time preferences, I sent a Google Calendar invitation with the date/time and updated the “Scheduled” column in my spreadsheet.

Analyzing the results

Ideally, you’d want to record the conversation you have with your users, but I’m a fast typer and didn’t want to bother with setting up the audio recording. I took notes in iA Writer and then transferred them over to my Google Doc after the interview was over. I then checked off the Interview tab in my Google Sheet.

As more and more interviews were completed, I began to analyze the results. Personally, I waited until I had completed ten before analyzing them. I highlighted parts of each interview that I found helpful for our Product. For each interview I did, there was at least one actionable item.

I then summarized my findings and shared them with my team. Within hours we were already implementing some of the smaller nuggets we obtained from the interviews. A lot of the bigger pieces were already on our Roadmap and just helped to solidify in our mind that we were on the right path.


I hope that sharing my user research process helps you start user testing at your own startup. It yields immediate results and is a really easy process to set up and execute. Good luck!


comments powered by Disqus