KS&R Blogs


Lucy, our 7-year old Labrador Retriever, is recuperating from double knee replacement surgery. The operation mimics that in humans – the damaged part of the dog’s knee joint is replaced with a metal implant. This pricey procedure (read: $$$$) was my husband’s wedding anniversary gift to me this year. It included a post-op in-home visit from Suzy, the vet tech, who wanted a first-hand look at our household environment as a starting point to set up Lucy’s physical rehab program.

I am a big fan of on-site interviews. Seeing respondents in their own world, instead of in front of a one-way mirror, is the most close-to-reality way to understand who they are and what they truly care about.

Going on site to learn about behaviors and attitudes is not new. It has been the stock-in-trade for generations of anthropologists, who collect data by observing and interviewing people in their own environments.

When are on-site interviews right for your qualitative research project? When do you "take the show on the road"?

When the goal of the research is to...

  • Learn what drives consumers. It has been said that 90%+ of our decision making is subconscious. On-site interviewing is highly effective when you are looking to understand what really makes your target market tick – what truly shapes their decision making. During an in-home interview in support of an Italian furniture company’s rebranding efforts, the homeowner was asked why she purchased a particular brand of leather sofa. She talked openly about price and the durability of the leather holding up to spills, kids and pets. But after an impromptu visit from the next door neighbor, the on-site visit revealed the underlying emotional outcomes / benefits driving the woman’s purchase - to be admired and envied by others and, ultimately, feel good about herself.

  • Identify unmet customer needs. On-site interviews are a highly effective tool for clients looking to expand product lines and/or develop new services. Sitting in a shipping manager’s office and observing first-hand how he uses a handset telephone, while tracking the progress of an urgent overnight shipment on the computer, and dealing with co-workers dropping in with questions, provides a wealth of information and insights to help kick-start idea generation for a telephone device manufacturer.

  • Explore how a new product / service concept can potentially fit into the target market’s life. A veterinary pharmaceutical client was in the early stages of developing a vaccine targeted to koi pond hobbyists. On-site interviews conducted during feeding time revealed subtle behaviors that would help determine the delivery system for the vaccine.

  • Understand product / service usage. Consider the difference between asking people about their contact lens care routine compared to watching them struggle to take their lenses out at night, clean (or not) their contact lens cases, pour solution into the case (empty / refill or just top-off?) and fumble for their eyeglasses!

Lucy’s recovery is going great, thanks to her customized rehab program. She’s even adjusted to the “collar of shame”. Two paws up for the potential of the on-site interview in action!