By John Burns and Amanda Ford
Recruiting participants for Voice of the Customer research is often challenging. It’s particularly troublesome in business-to-business markets, but consumer companies experience difficulties as well. As a result, many companies conclude that their customers would never talk to them, and they choose not to conduct Voice of the Customer research. This is unfortunate. In most instances, customers will talk to you, but you have to know what you’re doing. In this article, we share several tips and techniques to help you experience greater success with your recruiting efforts.
Tell Them What You Want and Why
Tell customers upfront what you want to talk to them about and why. The more potential respondents know about your Voice of the Customer initiative, the more likely they are to speak with you. It seems obvious, but many companies fail to sufficiently communicate the essential details of the research to respondents. This leaves potential respondents with questions and misperceptions about what you’re doing and why. Not surprisingly, they decline to participate. Therefore, we recommend sending potential respondents a one-page information sheet. It should cover several topics:
- Explain what the research is about and why you’re conducting it
- Say what you plan to do with the information (i.e., it’s for internal purposes, not publication)
- Tell them how long will it take, where it will take place and how they should get in touch with you
- Emphasize that this is research and not sales
- Reassure them that they will remain anonymous
- Establish what they will receive as an incentive or honoraria (if you’re offering one—discussed later in this article)
Make It Easy for Them
Recruiting hard-to-reach respondents requires making it easy for them to fit the research into their busy schedules. For example, if you’re holding the research at a central location, such as a market research facility or a hotel, ensure the location is easy to get to for potential respondents. Is it accessible from the highway or public transportation? Does it have ample parking and will you validate it? In addition, cater to their needs in scheduling times that the research will take place. Corporate executives and medical professionals, for instance, often prefer early morning time slots, but construction workers may want to talk to you at the end of the day. Other respondent types, such as busy moms, may prefer a lunchtime appointment.
Go around the Gatekeeper
Busy professionals often have administrative assistants, or gatekeepers, who screen phone calls, review emails and otherwise manage access to the people you want to recruit. Although they sometimes help you with your recruiting efforts, more often successful recruiting requires getting around gatekeepers. One way to do this is to send the information sheet we mentioned previously the old-fashioned way: send a fax or FedEx mailing. With a fax or FedEx mailing, you can address the person you want to recruit directly. Gatekeepers often pay less attention to faxes and FedEx envelopes than to phone calls or emails. In addition, physical documents, such as faxes and FedEx mailings, frequently get put right on the chair, keyboard or in the mail slot of the person you want to recruit. It’s also common for employees other than the gatekeeper to sign for FedEx mailings, or pick up faxes from the machine, and bring them directly to the desk of the person you want to recruit.
Last but not Least: Offer Cash
If you can, offer respondents a cash incentive—for them or a donation to charity of their choosing. For busy professionals, $250-$500 is a common incentive amount for an hour of their time in a qualitative interview. For hard-to-reach consumers the amount can reach $100 or more depending upon the length of the interview. Although other techniques, such as providing them some form of a report at the end of the project, may appeal to some respondents, nothing motivates participation like a cash incentive. Some companies may refuse to offer incentives, particularly cash. Incentives, however, are an accepted part of the recruiting business in the market research industry. Incentives not only ease the challenge of recruiting, but also lead to more engaged respondents who are far more likely to keep the appointment they schedule with you. In summary, it’s possible to recruit hard-to-reach respondents for Voice of the Customer research. We do it all the time. But it’s critical to plan ahead. Follow the suggestions we offer here. We’re confident you’ll achieve greater success, and you’ll find that customers will, in fact, talk to you.