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How to successfuly realize qualitative interviews in market research studies

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Conducting good market research often requires to carry our a qualitative study. This is particulary true of customer satisfaction surveys that are often poorly designed and are not based on sound assumptions.
In today’s article we reflect on some essential aspects of good qualitative research.
We discuss a four-step iterative guide for interview design proposed by J. Arsel (2018) in his article entitled “Asking Questions with Reflexive Focus: A Tutorial on Designing and Conducting Interviews

Step 1 : Define the types and purpose of your qualitative interviews

Before starting your research you should be clear about why and how you’ll conduct qualitative interview. In Arsel’s words :

“you should have a clear understanding about what you expect interviews to reveal and what kind of theoretical stories you can tell with interviews.”

Not all interviews are alike. Different settings require different types of interviews. For instance:

“Ethnographic interviews are short, in situ, and impromptu conversations that take place within the constraints of the field site. This type of interviewing might require more emergent design, and more spontaneous questions tailored for each observed moment to make the best use of time and space restrictions.”

Step 2 : the interview guide

The interview guide should be divided into 3 parts :

  1. In the first part you’ll inform the respondent about the study
  2. In the second part you’ll get her consent (and you’ll make sure you tape this to avoid any ethical issue afterward)
  3. In the third part you’ll ask your questions

Arsel’s article is very detailled about how you should prepare your questions, how to translate your market research questions into interview questions, documenting interview insights in a central document, getting to know your participants, interviewing other types of actors to complete your understanding of the market, and embedding ethics in research questions.
As Arsel puts it :

“the interview should have an overarching purpose that persistently and progressively seeks new knowledge around an ever-evolving research question.”

This is a very important piece of advice. Interviews are not en end in themselves. They are an instrument to reveal the truth on a market, on customers’ expectations or behaviors. It’s therefore instrumental that interviews be allowed to evolve to adapt to the truth being revealed. An interview guide is a living document and you’ll only be able to make it live if your document your findings progressively, after each interview.

Here’s how Arsel sums up this interview process

“Start your conversation by concisely and clearly explaining that you are a researcher studying [the subject matter], and are interested in hearing their experiences on this subject. If you are using a tape recorder, keep it very visible so that participants have no doubts about whether or not they are being recorded (though in most cases you might not even record these interviews). As soon as you leave the field site or take a break during data collection, write down your recollections in as much detail as possible.”

This now leads us to the 3rd step, conducting the interviews.

Step 3 : conducting the interview

Every interview starts by building rapport with the respondent. To achieve this Arsel suggests to

“Explain the study, tell a bit about yourself, and say why you are interested in this project. Make yourself human.”

The success of the interview will depend on your ability to include probes. If you’d really only one pat of Arsel’s article, read the one about probes (pages 7-8). The section on probes starts like this:

“Probes are the most important type of question in an interview, and the most difficult to master. While your participant is answering your question, you should be carefully listening to the answer to identify opportunities to dig deeper.”

Step 4 : iterating

Step 4 is also important. Iterating will ensure your interviews evolve around the way to reach a better and more complete understanding of the market you are studying.
Too many market researchers think the interview guide must be followed whatever happens. This is not true. The interview guide reflects what you have learned along the way and, ideally, should be revised after each interview.
While a revision may in practice not be necessary after each interview, what must be done after each interview however is to reflect on what you’ve learned. Our market researchers for instance use to record their thoughts after each and every interview. These deriefings are also transcribed to help consultant afterwards when it comes to analysing the research material (for instance during the coding process).

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Author: Pierre-Nicolas Schwab

Pierre-Nicolas est Docteur en Marketing et dirige l'agence d'études de marché IntoTheMinds. Ses domaines de prédilection sont le BigData l'e-commerce, le commerce de proximité, l'HoReCa et la logistique. Il est également chercheur en marketing à l'Université Libre de Bruxelles et sert de coach et formateur à plusieurs organisations et institutions publiques. Il peut être contacté par email, Linkedin ou par téléphone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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