What about the “PX”? Going the extra mile helps you finish first.

We’re all familiar with the Customer Experience (CX) and the User Experience (UX). What about the Participant Experience (PX)?

“Hello! I want to introduce myself to you! There’s a real human at the other end of our conversation this week—and that’s me! Thanks so much for doing this project with me. Let’s get started…”

These are precious words, superhero-like, actually, able to leap tall buildings and stretch through the internet like a warm embrace. Skilled moderators know the power of these personal connections; in fact, we thrive on them.

So, why should YOU care? Because these extra efforts–often, subtle touches behind the scenes–make the difference between good learning and great insights. Any moderator should be able to establish basic rapport. This is about going deeper, developing an authentic, personal, and trusted relationship with every participant. Practicing empathy is critical to extracting meaningful insights.

I recently learned that a recruiter had sent my research participants a confirmation email for their interview date and time, with a suggestion that they “dress in business casual”—these were fishing enthusiasts with whom I was conducting on-boat interviews!  A perfect example of how standardized approaches to “respondents” can come across as insincere and even flippant. In worst cases, missteps at the front end of a project can derail interviews before they’ve even started.

Don’t underestimate the positive impact of small or subtle touches that improve the participant experience. How do we accomplish this? What types of efforts contribute to those richer, more human connections and trust?

  1. CALL FIRST. Personally call every participant before launching a digital discussion like a mobile diary or QualBoard. Contact project participants mid-project with humor related to the project (a meme, a cartoon, an anecdote) to reinforce the shared experience and to humanize yourself as the moderator.
  2. HUMOR. Contact project participants mid-project with humor related to the project (a meme, a cartoon, an anecdote) to reinforce the shared experience and to humanize yourself as the moderator.
  3. PERSONAL NOTE. Send a hand-written note with product stimulus for in-home/on-site use projects to remind participants of your appreciation for them.
  4. REAL ME. Share a photo of yourself before arriving for in-home ethnographies and include your contact information in online projects to reassure participants that you’ve got their backs.
  5. COME AS YOU ARE. Remind participants not to clean their homes or offices, and that whatever they’re wearing is perfectly fine.
  6. SURPRISE! Serve an unexpected item of food or beverage to participants in the waiting area before focus groups, like birthday cake; a $15 cake and well-fed participants brings smiles and makes for a livelier group!
  7. LATE NIGHTS. Schedule sensitive and emotional topic discussions when and where the participant is likely to have alone or quiet time to be more introspective. While it may not be as convenient for client teams, those early mornings over coffee, the late evenings after the kids are in bed, connecting after work or the gym while they’re in their cars might be the best time to “really” talk.
  8. COMFORT. Begin in-home discussions in participants’ favorite or “hangout” room in their home (regardless of the eventual focal area) to aid comfort.
  9. TECH CHECKS. Integrate “tech checks” days (or at least hours) before digital interviewing begins to set a positive and stress-free start to the discussion. Nothing tanks an interview faster than making other participants wait while one struggles with a dropping connection.
  10. PARTICIPANTS, NOT RESPONDENTS. Softening language to the way we really talk (in screeners, surveys, and discussion prompts) further reinforces the human side of the research we conduct and, in our experience, elicits a better outcome.

Review your research projects from head to toe, with an eye toward improving the human-to-human connection. These small efforts to improve the participant experience (PX) will jump-start enthusiasm and trust, setting the stage for more revealing insights.