This was just one of the topics discussed by our panel of experts on the future of the online sample business at SampleCon earlier this month. The panel was made up of:
- Bonnie Breslauer, ActiveMeasure
- Baillie Buchanan,Research For Good
- JD Deitch, P2Sample
- Andreas Wech, Netquest
Here are some key take-aways from the discussion:
Make participant engagement a KPI
If it does make sense to invest in engaging participants, as opposed to simply fishing for new respondents, then participant engagement should be a key KPI for sample companies, especially for their top management. The CFO of a sample company needs to be asking the questions: “How are we doing on participant engagement?” “What do we need do to improve?” Without the commitment of senior management, there is a real risk that initiatives to improve participant engagement will fall flat, and for all the talk, little change will happen with respect to the way participants are treated day in day out.
A quick show of hands from the audience confirmed that very few companies currently have participant engagement as a senior management KPI, so the audience was encouraged to do put such a KPI in place.
treat Survey participants with respect
There is also a strong ethical responsibility argument to treating participants well – that is to treat them as real people and with respect. Many researchers are very disconnected from the people answering their surveys and as a result empathy is low. The future of the sample business cannot rely predominantly on people, who are willing to accept bad experiences and an abuse of their time in return for a financial incentive.
Not all online sample providers treat participants in the same way, and agency and client-side researchers alike have a responsibility to hold their sample suppliers to high standards on this and ask them to be transparent about how they treat participants, especially if they use third party sample sources.
Technology to the rescuE
Germàn Lowe, Netquest CEO, reminded us awhile back that when he started out in the online panel business, taking online surveys was one of the most fun things you could do on the internet. Fast forward 15 years to today, it is probably fair to argue that it is one of the least engaging experiences you can have with your smartphone.
Whilst technology has been successfully deployed to increase the efficiency of the online sample business, it has not yet been used to anywhere near full effect to improve the survey participant user experience. The call to action to the audience was to start leveraging the technology out there, in particular in the mobile UX space, to create better survey experiences.
How to get MORE agencies motivated to take participant engagement seriously?
GRBN research-on-research data shows that end clients can have significant brand equity uplift from research participants being given great experiences, and conversely end clients have much to lose by providing, or letting their agencies / data collectors provide bad experiences. As one end client put it: “We need to appreciate the fact that research participants are our customers or our potential customers. We need to treat them as such.” Therefore it should be relatively easy to convince clients of the importance of participant engagement.
The question is how to convince research agencies? The problem is that in addition to the distance agency researchers have from survey participants, agency business models do not have a short-term benefit from increasing participant engagement. In fact the opposite is true. In the short term agencies lose money if they make changes to their processes and practices. They also risk losing business if they propose significant survey design changes to their clients, since the client may say ‘no’ and/or put the work out for tender.
At GRBN, we believe that the answer to this question is client pressure. If clients can see a significant positive or negative brand effect based on the quality of the participant engagement, they will want to work with agencies, which can create the brand uplift and avoid those who are causing damage to their brand.
The question for agencies is can they see new business potential from creating great research participant user experiences or at least can they see they see business risk in not doing so?
Change or be changed.