AI-moderated user interviews 101

Are you looking for a more efficient and scalable way to collect qualitative data from users? In this article, we'll explore the basics of AI-moderated user interviews and how they compare to traditional surveys and user interviews. We'll also take a look at the future of AI in user research and provide predictions on how AI-moderated user interviews are likely to evolve in the years to come.

The basics: What are AI-moderated user interviews?

AI-moderated user interviews are a new approach to user research, where an AI-powered virtual assistant takes the reins. Unlike traditional user interviews led by human moderators, AI-moderated interviews leverage large language models (LLMs) and natural language processing (NLP) to enable an AI chatbot to conduct the interview process, making it more efficient, scalable, and cost-effective.

Conducted via text or audio-based chat interfaces, AI-moderated user interviews offer researchers and businesses a multitude of advantages. They remove the need for scheduling, rescheduling, conducting, and analyzing interviews, significantly reducing the time and resources required by humans. This allows for rapid data collection and analysis, enabling businesses to gain insights and make informed decisions swiftly.

AI-moderated user interviews can reach a broader and more diverse range of users, overcoming geographic and time zone barriers. This expanded reach provides a more inclusive representation of user perspectives, leading to a comprehensive understanding of user needs and preferences.

What's the difference between online surveys, human-moderated user interviews, and AI-moderated user interviews?

To fully understand AI-moderated user interviews, it is important to compare them to other methods such as unmoderated surveys and human-moderated user interviews.

Unmoderated surveys are typically conducted online and consist of a series of questions that respondents can answer at their own convenience; think of tools such as Google Forms, SurveyMonkey, and Typeform. While unmoderated surveys are a low-cost and efficient way to collect data, they lack the depth and richness of information that can be obtained from user interviews. Additionally, unmoderated surveys are more prone to noise. That's because respondents are more likely to select random responses or provide incomplete information to open-ended questions to quickly finish the survey.

A few of the most common online survey platforms - Google Forms, Typeform, Survey Monkey, Qualtrics XM, Zoho, Jotform

Human-moderated user interviews are conducted by a trained interviewer who asks open-ended questions and probes for more detailed responses. Human-moderated user interviews provide a wealth of qualitative data that can help researchers gain a deeper understanding of user needs, motivations, and behaviors. However, human-moderated user interviews are time-consuming and expensive, and it can be difficult to schedule (and often re-schedule) interviews with users.

Human-moderated user interviews allow teams to dive into in-depth conversations with their end users. Source: Pexels.

AI-moderated user interviews offer a middle-ground between unmoderated surveys and human-moderated user interviews. They provide the scale and efficiency of unmoderated surveys with the depth and richness of information of human-moderated user interviews. AI-moderated user interviews are conducted using AI-powered chatbots that ask users questions and follow up with probes based on the user's responses. This allows researchers to collect a large amount of qualitative data in a relatively short amount of time, and at a lower cost than human-moderated user interviews.

AI-moderated user interviews fit somewhere in between traditional online surveys and human-moderated user interviews.
One interesting advantage to AI-moderated user interviews: They can be more unbiased than other methods. Traditional user interviews can be biased by the interviewer's own experiences and biases. AI-powered platforms can eliminate this bias, as they are not influenced by human emotions or opinions, while still being able to reply with an empathetic tone.

Which survey or user interview method is right for you?

Deciding between survey and user interview methods requires careful consideration of your research goals, budget, and timeline. Each approach offers unique advantages and drawbacks that can impact the quality and depth of your insights.

Online surveys, often conducted online or via email, provide a cost-effective way to gather quantitative data from a large pool of respondents. Their main strength lies in scalability, allowing you to reach statistically significant sample sizes. However, they lack the nuance and depth of information that user interviews can provide.

Human-moderated user interviews, conducted in person, over the phone, or through video conferencing, delve into the qualitative aspects of user experiences. They enable researchers to explore users' thoughts, feelings, and motivations in detail, leading to profound insights. However, these interviews are time-consuming, expensive, and can face challenges in recruiting a diverse range of participants.

AI-moderated user interviews provide a middle ground between unmoderated surveys and human-moderated interviews. Conducted through text or audio-based chat interfaces, they leverage AI assistants to guide conversations, ask predetermined questions, and follow up on responses. This approach offers scalability and efficiency while maintaining the richness of qualitative data collection.

The choice ultimately depends on your specific objectives. If you prioritize quantitative data from a large sample size at a low cost, unmoderated surveys are ideal. For deep, qualitative insights, human-moderated user interviews are the best choice. If you seek a balance between scale and depth, AI-moderated user interviews provide a compelling solution.

Remember that the effectiveness of any method relies on careful planning, appropriate question design, and skilled analysis. By aligning your chosen approach with your research goals and resources, you can gather valuable user insights that drive informed decision-making and successful outcomes.

How to conduct AI-moderated user interviews

To conduct AI-moderated user interviews, follow these seven essential steps:

1. Define your research goals and objectives

What is your research objective? Clearly defining your goals and objectives will help you design the right interview questions. Based on this objective, reflect on the most appropriate method to collect data. Are AI-moderated user interviews the most appropriate method? Or are surveys or human-led user interviews more appropriate?

2. Develop your interview script

Your interview script should include a series of open-ended questions that will encourage participants to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. The questions should be designed to align with your research goals and objectives.

3. Choose the right AI-moderation tool

There are few AI-moderation user interview tools available in the market due to the novelty of this technology. Consider a tool that is best suited for your specific needs and budget.

This is where Perceptional comes in! In Perceptional, you provide your research objective and your interview questions to create an AI-moderated user interview. You can then easily share that chatbot with your respondents.

4. Recruit participants and send the AI-moderated user interview

The success of your AI-moderated user interviews depends on the quality of your participants. Make sure to recruit participants who are representative of your target audience and who are willing and able to provide valuable insights. You can recruit participants from your own product's user base or by leveraging participant recruitment tools such as UserInterviews and Respondent. Once you have a list of participants, you can email them with information about the study and a link to the AI-moderated user interview. Participants can complete the AI-moderated user interview on their own schedule.

5. Sit back, relax, and watch the responses come in

During traditional user interviews, this is the step where you would spend many hours scheduling, conducting, and following up. With AI-moderated user interviews, you can observe responses without active involvement. As responses arrive, you can review individual transcripts, AI-generated summaries, and key findings across all responses.

6. Analyze the data and draw conclusions

Once you have reviewed the transcripts and AI-generated summaries, you can begin to analyze the data and draw conclusions. The insights gained from AI-moderated user interviews can help you make informed decisions about your product or service. This approach allows you to minimize the time spent on interviews and focus on making informed product decisions based on rich, qualitative data.

A sample user research workflow. There are steps common among all research methods (define, recruit, and report). AI-powered user interviews allow for AI-powered analysis as results are collected.

What's the catch?

It's important to acknowledge that AI-moderated user interviews are still in their early stages, and there are challenges to be addressed. One key challenge lies in the ability of AI assistants to showcase empathy towards the respondents and ask the 'right' follow-up questions. Current models are fine-tuned to ask the 'right' questions and are only expected to get better over time.

Also consider that integrating AI-moderated user interviews into existing research standard operating procedures (SOPs) can also be a challenge. To overcome this, researchers should work closely with their teams to clarify the specific scenarios and use cases for AI-moderated user interviews. By creating a clear SOP, teams can be more closely aligned on when to use each type of user interview method. The human touch might still be needed in some cases. For example: when an interview topic is highly sensitive or nuanced; or when there is a need to validate a high-stakes decision.

Despite these challenges, AI-moderated user interviews hold immense potential to revolutionize user research. As technology continues to improve, AI-moderated user interviews are poised to become a key tool for teams seeking to gain deep insights into their users' experiences.

The future of AI in user research

There are many dimensions which hold promise for the future of AI in user research.

Crafting research studies

As AI technology continues to advance, teams may work with an AI copilot that helps them craft their study. This includes creating study objectives and interview questions based on the most pressing business problems.

Creating a more enjoyable, personalized user experience

With advances in text, audio, and video generation, there will be more than one way for AI-moderated user interviews to interact with participants. That way, participants can select their preferred method of engagement. Further, as users participate in multiple studies, there may be opportunities to personalize the experience so they feel that they are interacting with a friendly, empathetic AI that knows them.

Beyond analyzing transcripts

Most AI-moderated user interview tools rely on analyzing transcripts to generate summaries, findings, themes, etc. However, there is room for powered tools such as AI-powered sentiment analysis to observe emotions and attitudes, providing valuable insights beyond the "words." To help teams make product decisions, the AI copilot can provide its own recommendations and its own level of confidence. This may be done by combining the study objectives and the transcripts from participants.

As AI technology matures, we can expect AI-moderated user interviews to become an integral part of the user research toolkit, enabling researchers to gain deeper insights into user behavior, make more informed decisions, and create better products and services for their users.

Want to try AI-moderated user interviews? Join the Perceptional waitlist.