User research and the challenge of recruiting respondents

User research and the challenge of recruiting respondents

When you want to make improvements to your digital assets, it’s a great idea to collect qualitative user research input from your target audiences. This gives you a major advantage, providing valuable insights, and recalibrating your design decisions. 

Being able to see your potential products through the eyes of your intended users gives you a better perspective. You’ll iterate more effectively and you’ll have greater confidence in your roadmap. User research, done well, makes a big positive difference. 

But there’s a problem. Recruiting the right respondents yourself can be tricky, even at the best of times. The hours and energy that you need are often underestimated. Before you know it, you’re behind schedule, your planning has taken a hit, and those deadlines are looking very shaky indeed. 

Barriers to user research recruitment 

Recruiting people from your customer base, which originally seemed like a convenient, easy access and inexpensive strategy, may turn out to be a logistical nightmare. 

The cause of the problem usually falls into one or more of these four categories: 

  • Finding the right respondents 

Finding suitable respondents from your customer base can often be more difficult than originally expected. Even when you’ve contacted people and they’ve agreed in principle, sometimes they’re just not the right contact in the first place. That great looking list can begin to dwindle very quickly. 

Perhaps they initially said yes out of courtesy, but then work gets in the way. Or they subsequently decide to delegate it down to somebody who is far less suitable. Either way, things start looking awkward. 

  • Response expectations 

Perhaps you have a core group of friendly clients. They’ve been with your business for years and the relationship is solid. Their response is a sure thing. Or so you expect.  

A common problem is that surveys and interviews often take place during office hours. Even with the best intentions, it’s just not convenient for many people to participate once the demands of the working day take hold. Sometimes, it’s just assumed that most people who are asked will participate, but that’s not the case. And it’s an easy trap to fall into. 

  • Scheduling setbacks 

Maintaining a respondent calendar can be a challenge in itself. Your contacts can cancel on you, or postpone to a date beyond your deadline.  

Plus, if you have a limited number of timeslots, scheduling can become compromised because a respondent is already booked in at the only time that another respondent can make themselves available. Scheduling all those respondents can be a colossal undertaking in itself. 

  • Incomplete instructions  

Whether it’s an under-developed brief that causes them confusion from the outset, or simply an insufficient time allocation. When your respondents don’t have the full picture beforehand, things can get muddled.  

And if they’ve been told the interview will take half an hour at the most, although that’s just not enough time, relationships can become strained.  

Ways to improve your user research recruitment 

So, we’ve explored some of the user research recruitment hurdles that you need to watch out for. Now let’s take a look at some of the ways to reduce the risk of wasting valuable time. When you get it right, you’ll be sidestepping a whole load of worry, stress and frustration. You’ll stay on track and you’ll keep on smiling. 

Make sure that you: 

  • Oversubscribe 

It may seem obvious, but it’s worth mentioning anyway. Your project will run a lot smoother when you have more respondents than you need. People will drop out, and you don’t want to be scrabbling around to make up the numbers.  

If you need five respondents, make sure you have double that number of participants. 

  • Never underestimate how long recruitment can take 

Recruitment isn’t easy. Make sure you plan in advance. The time you need not only depends on the number of people you’re going to approach. It also hinges on the complexity, seniority and scarcity of your target group.  

Starting your recruitment drive a week in advance is an absolute minimum. Even two weeks before is already pretty tight. Recruit early and stay ahead of your deadlines. 

  • Reward your respondents 

You don’t want your respondents just going through the motions because there’s something in it for them. However, an incentive will definitely make it easier for you to recruit people. It also shows that you appreciate the input.  

There needs to be a balance. Think about the payment that you’re going to offer before you start recruiting. There’s a big commitment difference between doing remote research and asking someone to attend an interview or focus group in person. 

  • Use a screener survey 

To get the right answers, you need to be asking the right people the right questions at the right time. A screener is a quick questionnaire that helps you filter out those participants who don’t match your target audience.  

People may think they meet the criteria. With a screener, you’ll know for sure. You can be confident that you’ve recruited the right participants, you’ll capture the right data, and you’ll make the right design decisions. 

Set yourself up for success 

User research recruitment forms the platform from which everything else is built. Give it the attention it deserves, and the insights will help you build a better product, service, concept or process.  

However, never underestimate the time and effort it can take to call people yourself, address all the criteria, schedule appointments, send instructions and reminders. It’s almost always better to leave it to a specialist. Particularly if you’re looking to interview a specific, hard-to-reach target group. 

Sure, it’s great for the process if you can warm up the respondents in advance, but handing everything over to the experts will make things run smoothly, preventing a lot of frustration.  

You’ll stay on track, work much more efficiently, and, as a result, you’re likely to save money in the long run. Are you ready for the next step? Then we’ve got just the solution for you. Take a look at our essential guide to building powerful, consistent brands, and set yourself up for success. 

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