Interviewing Hard-to-Reach Respondents During Difficult Times

Interviewing Hard-to-Reach Respondents During Difficult Times
By Arundati Dandapani

Door to door sampling was the truest, recall the veterans, who are still grappling with the challenges of an industry that has fast moved towards automation and programmatic designs. Research reveals that operational efficiency and costs have brought down the overall quality of the respondent experience, leading to a general distrust in the industry. Poor experiences have led to declining participation rates, leading to even lower response and completion rates.

Incidence rate is defined as the number or percentage of qualified people from a sample that are eligible to participate in a study. Since the onset of one of the most disruptive global health crisis in recent decades has changed the way we work, suppliers across the board report no change in IR (ease of finding qualified respondents/targetable population) or Response Rates (completion), and in some cases observing even higher response rates than before. Meeting respondents for specific market research studies however remains an ongoing challenge and difficulty for many reasons.

Are these Difficult Times?

Twelve weeks ago, there was no COVID-19 to talk about. Today, how we are doing business and market research has changed completely owing to the economic, social, and public health impacts of the current global pandemic.

“In times of COVID-19, we need to be hyper-sensitive on user experience as everyone has heightened emotions. When we poll our audience about ‘what questions do you have today’, Covid related questions are becoming major top of mind questions,” said Paul Neto of Measure Protocol. Rand Market Research confirms that nearly 80% of Canadians are concerned about the Coronavirus and are changing their behaviour due to it. “While many companies focus on Incidence Rates, the critical metric is its conversion to completion rates, as in many cases (70-90% of all surveys), participants do not complete them because of poor experiences. The industry has moved away from responsible interaction with the participant,” reminded Neto.

Jackie Lorch of Dynata wrote that, “Consumers can still provide generalizable data and think objectively about their cars, TVs, household goods and other products and services, but their answers on many topics will be different while the Coronavirus crisis lasts. This reflects the reality of your customers’ experience. It is more vital than ever to keep in touch with them and not risk being left with a data “black hole” as the world recovers.”

Business as Usual Despite the Crisis

The major reported or observed change in research operations has been in the shifting of real-person fieldwork to virtual operations, affecting offline qualitative work the most (including face-to-face interviews, and focus groups). The best way to measure change is by tracking respondents over time, for example, comparing the IR in studies in the last month with the past three months of studies in field.

Whether times are good or bad, maintaining respondent interest can be a challenge for many reasons. Factors range from the source of sample (e.g., banks that use highly targeted client lists for surveys seeing higher participation), mode of survey (online is a better medium for some demographics, and has little barriers for use in difficult times like COVID-19), quality of profilers (the rarer the qualifications or behaviours, the feasibility of that sample is lower) among others.

While there are different reasons for low respondent participation, panel participation is often dependent on how the survey question is worded, and what the qualification times and windows are. Qualification includes the criteria that respondents are required to fulfill at the recruiting stage, and qualification times and windows often determine how tracking studies will be impacted, opening unique opportunities to benchmark and observe targeted respondent behaviour over time.

The potential of mode must not be overlooked. According to Randa Bell of ASDE Survey Sampler, “IVR (interactive Voice Response) presents an interesting opportunity to reach respondents in a cheaper or faster way than traditional telephone surveys, when your interviewing capacity is lowered due to physical distancing in call centers. Also, there’s the added ability to reach cell phones via IVR or SMS text messages to the younger age groups who might be sitting at home and bored with all the news and lock-down. All surveys at these times should be introduced knowing that COVID-19 is on the minds of everyone and acknowledged in the introduction.”

Doing More to Earn Respondent Trust and Retention

Businesses need to keep conducting mitigation tests to check that their field studies are on track to optimize their incidence rates. The qualifications for studies and project timelines must reflect the new reality and new needs, whether that means keeping a close tab on the COVID-19 situation as it develops, and being adaptive in response as governments and citizens work to contain the outbreak, or introducing new measures that protect the public and companies investment in the ongoing health of their respondents.

Incidence rates are reflective of the effort it takes to convert qualified persons to participate in a study. Research fieldwork and data collection methods must be adaptive to create better experiences that improve participation rates. If that in the current environment means substituting / migrating all face-to-face qualitative work with other user-friendly virtual, mobile and safe alternatives, businesses must prepare. Targeting lists and respondents effectively involves employing the optimal mix of traditional and new technologies including AI, the internet of things and blockchain to ensure user-intuitive experiences that convert to the highest participation of qualified respondents.


About Arundati

Arundati Arundati Dandapani, CMRP (@itadnura) advises non-profits and businesses with insights and storytelling. She is the founder of Generation1.ca, an online cross-sectoral resource and outlet for Canada’s newest residents, chief editor of MRIA-ARIM, and has been honoured with industry awards like the inaugural GRIT Future List Honour along with the 2020 AAPOR Burns Bud Roper Fellow and QRCA’s 2020 Young Professionals Grant. She can be reached at arundati@generation1.ca.