In Part One of our SLOW Interview series, we gave you a top-level overview of the SLOW interview. We explained that, at its core, it’s about digging deep, asking targeted questions, and uncovering insights that help you piece together a narrative to understand every facet of the job people are trying to do. In this way, you can determine -- and correct -- the roadblocks that are keeping your users from adopting your product and becoming fully engaged, avid customers.

But maybe you’re concerned that SLOW interviews will simply take too much time .. after all, there must be a reason they aren’t called QUICK interviews, right? (There is a reason, but it’s not what you think.) Plus, you’re probably wondering if SLOW interviews could possibly provide you with value given the effort that goes into them. (They really do, we promise!) Add to that the fact that you’re worried about annoying your customers and rocking the boat -- let alone trying to find enough people to actually agree to do a SLOW interview -- and you’re probably wondering what on earth we’ve been smoking.

But let us reassure you: We are completely in our right minds. The fact is, SLOW interviews are the only way to get a leading indicator of the four factors of disengagement -- and ultimately churn, the five-letter word no one wants to utter. It’s not called SLOW because it takes forever; rather, the letters in SLOW stand for those four factors of disengagement that you must address to have a successful product. We’re talking about struggles, lapses, obstacles, and workarounds, which we’ll walk you through in a bit. The SLOW interview will last only as long as it takes to definitively uncover where your customers are experiencing these forces of disengagement. And let’s be honest -- is there any such thing as putting in too much effort to save your product from the failed app dustbin of history?

And as for all of those customers you’re worried about rounding up and annoying? First off, because SLOW interviews are qualitative rather than quantitative, you only need a minimum of five users to get a good idea of where your base is experiencing pitfalls. And in our experience, customers actually appreciate being asked to participate -- knowing that you care enough to find out what their needs and concerns are usually makes them feel like VIPs.

Who Shouldn't Do SLOW Interviews 

As you may have deduced by now, we’re pretty hyped about the power of the SLOW interview. But even so, we know they’re not for everyone. So before we go into more detail, we want to be completely upfront and honest and save you some time off the rip. You really shouldn’t bother with a SLOW interview if:

  • You aren’t going to act on what you learn: If you aren’t willing to follow through, it actually is a waste of everyone’s time.
  • You aren’t willing to learn what to do with the qualitative data you gather: All the data in the world is useless if you don’t want to understand how to act on it.
  • You aren’t willing to put the time into asking the right questions and digging deeper: Asking pointless questions and just scratching the surface isn’t worth the time.
  • You aren’t willing to reach out and recruit at least five users: If you aren’t willing to do this, what does that say about your relationship with your customers?

Don’t see yourself in the above? Great! Then you’re ready to learn how to harness the power of the SLOW interview, fix your customer's’ problems, reduce churn, and foster increased engagement and stickiness within your product.

The Forces of SLOW

As we’ve mentioned, SLOW stands for the forces that cause your users to drift into a state of disengagement, and eventually churn. Struggles, lapses, obstacles, and workarounds are the four primary problems your users will face when trying to make progress in your product. What are they, why do they matter, and how can you pinpoint which problem(s) your users are facing? That last part admittedly involves a bit of detective work, as you’re piecing together the clues that will tell you the story of everything that the customer does before, during, and after using your product to make progress. But don’t worry -- once you understand what clues you’re looking for … it’s elementary.

Struggles

What they are:

Struggles are caused by consistent roadblocks and frustrations your users experience when trying to accomplish tasks and make progress with the job they’re trying to do.

Why they’re important: 

Struggles add up. The more of them there are, the more frustrated users get. The more frustrated they get, the easier it is to leave and hire another app. That app may have fewer bells and whistles, but does the job the user hired it to do better, and with more clarity. Remember: more is not always more.

How to sniff out clues:

Pay attention to the areas where users repeatedly encounter problems. Recall that struggles happen over and over -- every single time a user attempts a particular task or tasks. Struggles may happen when:

  • Users don't understand what to do next
  • Users encounter usability problems. Common ones include:
  • Confusing or non standard GUI controls
  • Inconsistencies in information display or terminology
  • No perceived affordance -- Affordance is what you can do to an object. “Perceived affordance” is what a user will expect to be able to do to an object. I.e., you can check a box or move a slider up and down. If a user has to aimlessly click around the screen to figure out what to do, there’s no perceived affordance, and that’s a usability problem.
  • Users find themselves trying (and failing at) multiple solutions to accomplish a task

As users describe struggles to you, they’ll tend to use certain phrases or words. Look out for things like:

  • “I can never remember … (which button to click, what certain abbreviations stand for,. etc)
  • “Everytime I try to … (navigate to a new page, perform a certain task, etc.) ... I have to … (remember what to do).
  • “I am never sure … (what to do next, what’s the next action to take, etc)
  • “I always .. (get confused, forget what to do .. etc)

Lapses

What they are: 

Lapses are the most insidious form of disengagement. They are subtly disguised as mere forgetfulness or confusion about what to do next, and often stem from an incomplete understanding of the benefits of your product, and a resulting inability to extract the intended value.

Why they matter:

When an app is low use, that means it’s disposable. When evaluating apps it's really easy to cut an app you lapse with out of the budget

How to sniff out clues:

Your ears should perk up when users use expressions of forgetfulness or procrastination. Look for phrases such as:

  • “I forgot… (to log on, why I bought the app in the first place, what I’m supposed to be doing, etc.)”
  • “I haven't logged in in a while because…(it’s hard to fit into my routine, I keep getting interrupted, I forget to use it, etc.)”
  • “I keep meaning to log in, but …(I’m not sure what to do first, I got busy with other work, etc.)”
  • “I only log in when … ( I meet with my CS rep, there’s someone available to help me, etc.)”

Obstacles

What they are: 

Unlike struggles, which recur often, obstacles are one-time frustrations or barriers to success experienced by your users when they’re trying to make progress with your product. They usually occur during setup or onboarding, so pay special attention when users are walking you through this part of their interaction.

Why they matter:

Because obstacles usually occur so early in the adoption funnel, they will often cause a phenomenon called instachurn, which is when your users churn before they ever get any value from your product. They can also be costly in other ways, as they may require a customer success team to help get users through confusing or frustrating obstacles they encounter in set up or onboarding.

How to sniff out clues:

In contrast to struggles, these are one-time barriers. They’re easier to identify than struggles (and easier to mitigate) because they’re usually found early in the avid funnel, and the problems are generally more clear cut. So listen carefully when users are walking you through their set up and onboarding experience. They may say things like:

  • “I don’t understand how to set up my profile.”
  • “Why am I being asked for so much information?”
  • “This tutorial is too long.”
  • “I can’t remember what the tutorial said to do first.”
  • “I would need to call my rep to help me through this part.”

Workarounds

What they are:

In the face of mounting struggles, users construct an elaborate workaround that cuts the app out of their workflow

Why they matter: 

When a workaround becomes too time consuming or onerous it will lead to a drift towards disengagement, culminating in the ultimate act of disengagement: churn. There's also the very real possibility that users will find a final workaround to your product in the form of another solution entirely when a competitor with a better solution swoops in.

How to sniff out clues:

Whenever your users indicate to you that they leave your product at any stage in their workflow to get the job done, then you’ve just discovered a workaround. When they leave the app to get the job done they will generally:

  • Use a different app
  • Open Excel
  • Use pen and paper

Once you’ve identified the SLOW forces your users are experiencing, ascertain what they hoped to be able to do in those moments -- in other words, how they would define success, or a “yay” moment, in their own words. Place educated bets on ways to ease or reduce the friction caused by those problems -- things like triggers, clarification and alignment of design, effective microcopy -- implement them, and test your solutions on users to see if you’ve truly solved their problems.

In the end, isn’t spending a little time on SLOW interviews well worth the ability to hand your product team a roadmap to improve adoption and engagement, and reduce churn while they’re at it?