Your Customers Are Lying to You (or Your Biggest User Research Problem)

Your customers are lying to you and your biggest user research problem

It usually goes something like this: you ask your customers (or people you want to be your customers) if they would use your fancy app with fancy features. They answer: what a great idea, they can definitely see themselves using that! And then you wait. And nothing happens. No one signs up and no one pays you money.

In your user research, do you ask people questions like “would you use this product?” If so, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

Yes, your customers/users/research participants lie to you. They don’t have malicious intentions, of course, they’re just human. Below are three common problems and solutions to get authentic, actionable feedback:

User research scenario 1
The problem: Your customer or research participant is trying to please you. People don’t want to hurt your feelings. They may sugar-coat negatives and offer undeserved compliments. If you’re offering an incentive to research participants, they may feel obligated to give you positive feedback or just “go through the motions” to get paid.

The solution: If possible, have someone who is not directly related to creating your product (it could even be a friend) to talk to your customers. That way, customers are more likely to be honest because the designer/founder/CEO isn’t asking the questions. If you suspect you’re getting inauthentic responses from paid participants, talk to people who have already reached out to you and aren’t expecting an incentive. If you get an email complaint, for example, follow up with that person who is already offering feedback (and will appreciate the time taken to address their problem).

User research scenario 2
The problem: People have no idea what they will do in some imaginary future scenario when you ask them questions like “would you buy this?” You’re guilty of this, too. How many times have you said, “well, I would never do that” and, given the right set of circumstances, you find yourself doing whatever it is you would “never” do.

The solution: Ask about past behavior. Ask people what they did and how they did it (for example, a past purchase or how they chose the last movie they went to see). Avoid asking what they would do. If you must ask future-based questions (for example, you ask people to sign up for your service and they say they will), measure who actually followed through with what they said they would do.

User research scenario 3
The problem: People “fib” to make themselves feel better or to appear better than they actually are. You could get skewed results from questions participants may not want to answer truthfully (for example, questions like: How many cat videos did you post on social media last week?).

The solution: Asking about past behavior will not necessarily produce an authentic response to questions that people are reluctant to answer. If possible, talk to customers in person or over the phone to start a conversation around the topic. Often by admitting your own guilt (“I ate four donuts yesterday”), you’ll establish the camaraderie to get an authentic answer (“Oh don’t feel badly, I ate half a box of leftover pizza for breakfast today”).

The more research you do, the more you start to recognize the patterns and typical, but unhelpful answers people give. This makes it easier to either dig deeper, try a different tactic, or recognize the feedback as inauthentic.