Human Insight

When We Realize Our Ns Are Human, The Industry Will Change For The Better

An email landed in my inbox recently that I just had to open. The subject was ‘Why most respondents don’t like participating in research’. I was compelled to read further because quite frankly this headline went against my personal experience. And if true, it is something that anyone in the research industry and the clients we service should want to know about.

The message was from Lenny Murphy, editor in chief of a well-known industry organization, Greenbook Blog. Lenny’s message shared findings that the research industry is not doing a stellar job when it comes to thinking about respondents. In fact, the recent Consumer Participation in Research (CPR) study found, ‘Only a quarter of all respondents globally are satisfied with their experience participating in research’.


The Sad Reality: Respondent Experience is Not Being Considered

When the research industry conducts research on research we’re bound to find something new and interesting. We are fortunate that there are leaders who take time every year to investigate changes in the industry in the annual GRIT report (GreenBook Industry Research Trends). This year, the study included a section that looked at what participants thought of the research studies they’ve been completing. Interestingly, the most recent GRIT report indicated that Respondent Experience was at the very bottom of the list of considerations for both buyers and providers. This is shocking when we think that without ‘respondents’, we wouldn’t have an industry! So knowing the industry is not placing emphasis on respondent experience, it’s not surprising that respondents aren’t enjoying themselves.


Qualitative is Different… Sort Of

As one digs further into the full GRIT CPR report it is evident that there were differences between qualitative and quantitative results.

  • Those participating in qualitative research are motivated by emotional feelings of contributing to or helping shape decisions as well as being ‘in the know’. Cash is king for quantitative survey takers.
  • Those recruited from qualitative panels participate in research considerably less frequently than those from quant panel providers. This  suggests there may be far more ‘professional/fraudulent respondents’ coming from quant panels.
  • When asked what they’d like to see changed about the research they participate in, over 70% of those participating in qual research had either nothing to suggest or didn’t know. This is a big difference compared to only 32% with no suggestions to improve  surveys or polls.

While those participating in qualitative research were more altruistic, their general dissatisfaction with qualitative forms of research is still quite high.


We Need a Mindset Change

The writers of the GRIT CPR report offered up their suggestions to the wave of change that is required if our industry wants to survive the next decade. Their list included items like:

  • Go mobile first
  • Stay under 10 minutes
  • Think like game designers
  • Reward them fairly
  • Use research as brand engagement

At Upwords, we pride ourselves in exceptionally high completion rates, typically 90% +, and very positive participant engagement in our online qualitative studies. Below are some guidelines we have been following. We tangibly see these items contributing to each person feeling more satisfied at the end of an online qualitative study.

Five Participant Engagement Tips from Upwords

  • Our Ns are human beings

    The industry continues to use the word ‘respondent’, which to me feels robotic and one-sided, like much of the research these ‘respondents’ say they don’t like. If we treat each people like a statistic or a number (i.e. ‘N’) it will reflect in how they feel. These ‘N’s are human beings who are taking time from their busy lives to spend with us. At the very least let’s think of them as ‘participants’.

  • Think in terms of activities or tasks rather than questions

    Get creative when writing your guides. Find ways for participants to have some fun, and they’ll forget that they are taking part in ‘research’. This means there will be more work analyzing the data rather than simply ‘reporting’ what you heard. However, it also enables far richer insights to emerge that can lead to a more compelling story for the client.

  • Explain in the invite what they can expect, then stick to it

    Yes this might mean you’ll have to manage client expectations about how much you can ask before fatigue sets in. But trust me, no one wants feedback from a fatigued person.

  • Engage at a personal level with participants at every touchpoint

    From the start of our online qual studies we take the time for personalized welcome emails, a video welcome message from the moderator, personal notes when someone starts a study. We also ensure there is personalized moderating, customized nudges and an approachable tone with reminders about tasks to be completed. This all makes it feel like we’re having a human conversation and more importantly, that we value their time and opinion. It’s extra work, yes, but well worth it in the long run.

  • Ask for feedback and then implement it

    Since our first online qual project in 2008 we have included an open-ended feedback task at the end of every online qual study we field. This is the only way we can continuously improve. And guess what? Client observers can see the feedback that our participants leave. That’s great  incentive for our team to continuously design studies that leave participants raving about their experiences. This also provides us with opportunities to share the feedback with our technology platform and recruiting partners. Feedback help improve the user experience from all angles.


Let’s Make it Better

‘Respondent’s’ poor perception of the research industry is not a problem that’s going away anytime soon. This is not someone else’s problem. We all need to work together to solve it or the day may come when our N=0. We would love to hear what others think, feel and do related to this issue.
How else can we start to see our Ns as humans?