Market Research Participants – Please Don’t Let Us Down!

By Maya Middlemiss

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People can be strange sometimes.

Every week we receive emails from people disappointed that they can’t take part in a research event they applied for with Saros, for which they didn’t quite fit in the end but they were really interested in.  These emails are full of frustration especially if they have tried before, and we do our best to explain that we cannot recruit people who don’t exactly match the requirements and also that for commercial confidentiality reasons we cannot even tell them exactly what factor did not match.  Hopefully these people will try again, and I firmly believe there is a project out there for everyone if we can only find it.  But the process can take a while, and altering the requirements to fit the project to the person is simply not an option – goodness knows our lives would be easier if it were.  We completely understand, and do our best to acknowledge, the frustrations involved for these people.

Then there are the people who apply to take part in something they do seem to be a good match for, and when our interviewer calls them they say, “Oh, sorry, no longer available on Thursday…” Well that is actually fine, because they may have been rejected before and we don’t expect anyone to sit waiting by the phone for our acceptance.  We know our members have busy and interesting lives  (that is what makes you all such fascinating research subjects!)  We know you might be too busy to take our call as well, and to be fair to you our interviewers won’t usually leave a message if they have lots of potential fits for the research –  we cannot hold spaces open in most cases due to our deadlines and may well close the project with the next person we speak to.  Of course that means if we do leave a message, we *really* want to talk to you, so please respond!

Once we do the telephone interview though and double-check all your eligibility criteria and book you in for a specific time date and location, then you are booked in – that means other people get rejected, you are logged on our database as participating in that project, and the researchers proceed to put everything in place for the research event: Venues are rented, incentive cash prepared, refreshments ordered, arrangements made for video streaming or travel for clients viewing directly.  The researchers hire Saros to get the right people there, at right place, at exactly the right time – that’s our job, our business, it’s what we do.  We know that for each participant, it’s far less of a big deal, they are simply committing to come along to a single interview or discussion group, and that has to fit in with the rest of their complicated lives which contain lots of other constraints and commitments.  We also know that priorities can change very quickly, and in response to things outside of your control.

That’s why we ask, when we send out our emailed confirmation details, you tell us immediately if for any reason you can no longer take part.  We do understand that requirements at work can change, that social invitations can come up, and you have always have a choice and a right to withdraw if you simply change your mind.  We usually have other people who are keen to take part and waiting to hear from us, so if you get a shift change or something then just tell us, we can work with that and we really do get it.  This is our job, it’s not yours, and we completely expect you to put your work or other commitments first – like I said, we usually have other potential participants waiting in the wings in any case.

But those other people also have lives and things going on, and need time to make arrangements if they are going to come along in your place.  So, if you wait till when we are doing our last minute reminder ring-around to tell us “oh no sorry something’s come up!” and it’s now the day of the research, then it’s really difficult for us to deliver the service our clients have asked contracted us for.  Our committed and tenacious interviewers will do everything they can to replace you, but it is incredibly hard for them to do their job under those circumstances.  And if they can’t get through to remind you and have to leave you a message, and you don’t reply to confirm everything is gravy and you are on your way, then this is the worst of all worlds because they are left not knowing – we can’t replace you if you are probably on your way, because we can’t have two people turning up for one slot!

Saros Interviewer

So are you going to turn up, or not? PLEASE just tell the interviewer!

I had an email earlier this week from someone saying “sorry I didn’t make it to the focus group last night, had a rush on at work – hope this won’t stop you asking me again?”

I wasn’t really sure what to reply.  We had done more than ask her, we had interviewed her, booked her, send her the details, and reminded her – and rejected others that had been unsuccessful. We had sent her full details of the venue and interviewer contact numbers.  We had left two urgent phone messages for her in the run up to the session, pleading with her to confirm her attendance one way or another.  We had fielded anxious calls out-of-hours from the research facility when she didn’t show, and had turned off her phone.  We had a disappointed researcher, waiting to hear from her client whether they would regard the smaller-than-contracted group as undermining their entire research validity – she had been put on the spot and left hanging, the group had even started a little late waiting for the missing link so every other participant was put out.  The viewing facility were throwing out over-ordered refreshments, and trying to keep their clients happy… All in all, a disappointing mess, that undermined our professional credibility and that of the researcher who had hired us.

So would we ask her again?  What do you think..?

Of course if she had been rushed in to operate on a road accident victim, or was working deep undercover as a spy or deep underground in a military bunker where phones did not reach perhaps, there may have been some excuse for avoiding our reminders.  Or if it turned out she had been in an accident, or really any number of reasonable or understandable excuses – we are all human beings and recognize that things can change really fast.  But it’s the sheer discourtesy really, of ignoring our desperate reminders and chasing, and failing to tell us she wasn’t going to bother, that caused such intense frustration and disappointment – when we know the vast majority of our members, surely the majority of people in general, are decent and fair-minded and would simply never behave in that way whatever they had committed to.

I suppose people have different personal standards of behaviour and attitude toward commitment, our GP surgery has a thing on the wall telling us that 41 people no-showed for appointments in the previous month… and those people surely know that by failing to cancel they are making someone wait for urgent medical attention, it’s quite unbelievable how people think its OK to do that in my opinion.  Market research is nothing whatsoever by comparison – no one is going to die because somebody can’t be bothered to show up to an interview, or because a third of a group cancel for impressive-sounding reasons on the first sunny day of the year.  We just push on trying to do our job, doing our best to recruit reliable committed and enthusiastic participants for our clients.

If you’d like to be one of them, you can sign up with Saros and start receiving invitations – and when we find the right opportunity for you take part, we do hope you will do your bit and turn up!

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Maya Middlemiss

I run Saros Research Ltd, the UK’s leading recruitment agency for paid market research events – such as focus groups, user testing, interviews and product development.I am also a mother of two, social media fan and productivity obsessive, loving location independence and flexible working – and sharing a passion for lifestyle and consumer issues both personally and professionally.