By Heidi Dietzsch
The in-depth interview (IDI) is one of the oldest and most reliable forms of qualitative market research. These types of interviews are often used when researchers need to gather information that is considered as sensitive or private, for example, the spending habits of the wealthy. They are also useful when expert opinions or detailed responses are required and allow researchers to garner rich, vivid data regarding people’s behaviours, attitudes, beliefs and perceptions.
IDIs involve direct, one-on-one interactions with individual respondents. They can be conducted face- to-face or over the phone, but for telephonic interviews are much more difficult, requiring specialised skills. This data collection method is also expensive since it requires considerable manpower.
While a discussion guide is used during an IDI, it can be less structured than surveys that consist of specific questions. Coupled with improvisation, a talented researcher can make an IDI feel more like a conversation than a series of rigid questions. It permits the researcher to capture the nuances and natural language used by respondents. Researchers also have the opportunity to probe deeper and ask follow-up questions. The open-ended nature of the questions, as well as the flexibility in the number of questions, can provide a deeper understanding of the respondent’s perspective.
Market researchers often need to decide whether IDIs or focus groups will be more appropriate for a specific research project. IDIs offer some advantages over focus groups. During focus groups some respondents are especially vocal and may try to dominate the discussion. IDIs eliminate such distractions. Focus groups can also be unproductive if respondents are not responsive or uncooperative. If properly conducted, IDIs seldom yield unproductive results. This is helped by the ability of the researcher to establish better rapport in one-on-one engagements and respondents have much more time to elaborate on subjects. Whereas focus groups need to take place in specialised locations, IDIs can be conducted anywhere – usually somewhere convenient for the respondent. This is especially helpful when high profile-people who are very busy need to be interviewed.
It is imperative that seasoned researchers who are adequately trained in the art of IDIs are used. A poor interviewer might decrease the success of an IDI.
For an IDI to be successful, researchers need to adhere to some fundamental rules.
Interviewers should never be condescending. They must remain detached and objective, even if they completely disagree with something the respondent says. Questions that encourage simple yes or no answers should be avoided. The researcher should be skilled enough to probe until all relevant details, emotions and attitudes are revealed, yet be sensitive enough not to overstep any boundaries. The researcher should facilitate an atmosphere that encourages the respondent to speak freely, yet keep the discussion focused on the issues being researched.
Accomplished interviewers need to have other essential skills. It sounds obvious, but interviewers need to be good listeners. Listening skills cannot be underestimated because if they don’t actively listen to respondents, interviewers won’t be able to probe on the second, third and fourth levels. Interviewers need to have good voice tone, pacing, pitch and volume. These are often overlooked, but it’s a key aspect that differentiates good interviewers from bad ones.
Interviewers need to uncover specific information during IDIs and if this is not happening, they need to find creative ways to get better responses. Therefore, interviewers need an appropriate combination of critical reasoning skills and imaginative thinking skills. Also, interviewers need to have empathy, an eye for detail and the ability to think analytically .
However, interviewers can have all the above skills, but they mean nothing without one characteristic – curiosity. A true passion for learning more about those around you goes further than any trick or even the most polished communication skills. People can cultivate curiosity in their daily lives by noticing more details, delving deeply into the ideas that grab their interest and being alert to those around them. The American writer Dale Carnegie famously said: “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
IDIs can be used as a standalone data collection method, or it can be used to complement quantitative methods, depending on the research goals. At Intellidex many of our studies include IDIs because we believe that the deep insights they uncover ensure well-rounded and comprehensive research. Intellidex’s interviewers are highly skilled, with solid interview experience.