This has to be one of my favorite customer development tips: using Mechanical Turk to do customer interviews.
If you haven’t heard of Mechanical Turk (mTurk), here’s what you need to know:
- it’s a website were lots of people, do small amounts of work, for small amounts of money
- Who does work on mTurk? Although a bit stale, these stats indicate a fairly representative cross-section of the population.
- Why would they do work for such little $? Something to do during free time. It’s a replacement for solitaire, not a replacement for a job.
Since Nick and I talked, I’ve done a couple dozen interviews this way and the results have been fantastic. Nothing like “getting out of the building” at home, at midnight, with an ice cream sandwich in hand.
[Update – 5/29/2015]
There’s an easier and faster way to do everything listed here. Our friends at Customer Discovery Ninja have automated this entire workflow below and made it easy for folks outside the US to access Turkers.
Feel free to familiarize yourself with the steps below if you like, but the fastest way to talk to customers is going to be Customer Discovery Ninja.
Sample interview and instructions:
1. Write the interview script
To make sure I accurately test my hypothesis, and so I don’t forget any questions, I always write up my interview script ahead of time. Coming up with good interview questions is another post on its own, but here’s the intro I use:
Hi there, my name is Justin. Can I get your first name please? *
Great, thanks ______. Like I said, my name is Justin and I’m here in Seattle doing a little research. I’m happy to tell you about the project I’m working on, but so that I don’t accidently bias any of your answers, I’ll wait until we finish the survey. Is that alright?
Great. So that I don’t have to slow us down to take notes while we’re chatting, is it okay if I record this call? Great, here we go.
*Note: about half the time, people hang up after my first line. My assumption is that the hangups were expecting an automated phone survey, as opposed to a personal interview.
2. Get a (new?) Google Voice number
You’re going to post this number on mTurk, and strangers are going to call it so if you’re not down with that, create a new Google Voice account and grab a new number. I’ve been using my actual Google Voice number and haven’t had any negative affects so far, but do what makes sense for you.
Outside the US/Canada: Google Voice is restricted to US/Canada so if you’re not there, here’s a great blog post on how to borrow a Google Voice number. (Note: may be against Google’s TOS. Use your judgement.)
3. (Optional) Forward Incoming Google Voice calls to your Gmail
I like answering my interview calls via GTalk within Gmail for a couple reasons:
- The gmail interface makes it easy to record the call
- It’s easier for me to talk hands-free with my computer
Instructions on forwarding Google Voice calls to your gmail are here: http://support.google.com/chat/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=187936.
4. Create a HIT on mTurk
Create a new HIT on http://requester.mturk.com
Describe the HIT
You must turn off “Master Turkers.” Master Turkers are a pre-screened, and very small, subset of the MTurk population. We want any folks on MTurk to be able to contact us, as long as they meet our qualifications. Here’s how to do that:
Pick a Price
Write up the HIT
Feel free to copy and paste this HTML:
<p><span style=”font-family: Arial;”>If you are a parent who picks your kids at day care at least once/week, please call us for a 5-10 minute phone survey.</span></p>
<p><span style=”font-family: Arial;”>Please dial the following number:</span></p>
<li><span style=”font-family: Arial;”>*67 [your google voice number]</span></li>
<p><span style=”font-family: Arial;”>Note: dialing *67 before the actual phone number will protect the privacy of your phone number. </span><span style=”font-family: Arial;”>If you reach voicemail again, please wait 10 minutes.</span></p>
<p><span style=”font-family: Arial;”> <b>Required after Calling</b> - after we finish the survey, we will give you a password to confirm you successfully completed it. Please enter it below:</span></p>
<p><span style=”font-family: Arial;”><b>Password:</b> <textarea rows=”1″ cols=”80″ name=”answer”></textarea></span></p>
<p><span style=”font-family: Arial;”>Thank you very much! We really appreciate your help! </span></p>
*Note: the “password” is a word you tell your interviewee to type in once the interview is complete. You’ll see what they type in before you approve the HIT (i.e. pay them) so you can ensure only the people who successfully completed the interview get paid.
Outside the US – mTurk needs a US address to sign up. I’ve heard of people using any US address to create their accounts if they’re outside the US. Again, may be against TOS. Use your judgement.
5. Publish the HITs
6. Get an ice cream sandwich
Now it’s time to wait for your first call. When it comes, answer it with your intro and once you have permission, record the call so you can share it with your team or review it later.
When you’re done, you can review the calls on Google Voice
Using mTurk for the first time can be a bit confusing, so here’s a video walkthrough of the mTurk steps above:
If your target customers are on mTurk, which is likely if you’re building a B2C company, this is an awesome way to get lots of interviews in a short amount of time.
Thoughts, questions, or other suggestions for quick customer interviews? We’d love to hear ’em.
Outside the US? Or Don’t want to Mess with Mechanical Turk?
There’s an easier and faster way to do everything listed above. The guys at Customer Discovery Ninja have automated this entire workflow, which also makes it easy for folks outside the US to access US Turkers.