At Zopa we use in-depth customer interviews to help us understand how we can really help people with their finances. Millie Findlay, who leads these interviews, explain how she makes people comfortable talking about their real money stories and what she does with them
As a Senior Service Designer at Zopa, part of my role is to make sure that we have the best possible understanding of our customers. If we can have empathy for our customers’ wants, needs and fears, then we are in the best possible position to design products and services that are useful and valuable to them. One way to achieve this is to have a conversation with someone – or an ‘in-depth interview’ as we might call it. At Zopa, this means we have to talk about money. A lot.
Talking about money is hard
But talking about money and our relationship with it is hard. It’s something that a lot of people don’t want to do, even with the people who are closest to them. And that’s before Covid-19 made us more worried about our personal finances than ever. As one of our customers, Chris, told us in his Real Money Story, “I couldn’t really talk about it because I was embarrassed that I’d got myself in to such a state. I didn’t really talk to my parents about it. I didn’t talk to my friends about it. I carried on as normal, tried to live a life like I had been living but deep down it was incredibly stressful.”
Having an open and honest conversation
So if people struggle to talk with those closest to them about their personal finances, how can they open up to a complete stranger? This is a serious challenge to anyone wanting to do research around the topic of money and what it means to people. Only by having a truly open and honest conversation can we understand what more we can be doing for our customers.
When I am doing interviews with people and talking about their relationship with money, there are a few guiding principles that I find helpful:
Be transparent. You need to earn the right to ask people about sensitive topics. You can do this by being transparent about what you’re working on and how their information will be used before, during and after the interview.
Let them lead. While you may have a list of topics or questions that you want answers to, it’s important to go at the pace that your interviewee is comfortable with. It may take time for them to open up to you, so don’t rush!
Hold the space. It may be tempting to fill any silences to keep the conversation moving, but giving space during a conversation allows the person you’re talking with to follow their train of thought and say everything they want to say.
Listen actively. Treat the interview like it is a conversation with someone you care about. Engage your curiosity about the person you’re speaking to and what their situation is – ask open ended questions and clarify things you don’t understand.
Withhold judgement. It’s really important to stay neutral during a sensitive discussion, no matter how you feel about what you’re being told. Think about the verbal and non-verbal cues that may make your interviewee feel comfortable opening up to you. This also applies to receiving any feedback about your company or its products – however much you may disagree, it’s important to accept what the participant says in that moment.
I’ve found these to be helpful for both in-person and remote conversations that tackle sensitive subjects. At Zopa, we’re also really lucky to have a great Customer Services team who are incredibly experienced in talking to customers. They are a valuable source of insight into handling difficult conversations, which has been particularly important when we’ve been conducting research during the current crisis.
At its best, an interview that follows these principles can feel like a positive experience for everyone involved. We have even been told that talking to one of our team can feel like therapy.
For the Zopa team, these conversations are incredibly helpful when developing new products and improving existing ones. Whether it’s   optimizing document verification for new applications or guiding how we respond to people affected by the COVID-19 crisis, having these difficult conversations helps us keep our customers at the heart of everything that we do.
Millie Findlay is a Senior Service Designer in the Experience Design team.