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Don’t lose your respondents on the way to the interview

December 3, 2013

2009-05-08A while back I took part in a research project for an American drug company, which involved me going for an interview about making trade offs between types of treatment and side effects.

The day before the interview, the organisation conducting the research sent me the following email:

Subject: Big Bad Pharmaceuticals Interview Confirmation: Treating the common cold with cake

You are scheduled to take part in a one-on-one interview at 6:00 PM on Tuesday, June 11th at the Ritz Hotel, 150 Piccadilly, London.

Thank you again for your interest in this study and we greatly appreciate your participation.

As I’m used to being on the other end of these things I carefully checked the email for any special instructions before I set off for the interview, but there didn’t seem to be any so I just headed along to the hotel.

I turned up at the Ritz (OK, not really), and I went up to reception and said “Hello, I’m here for the interviews about treating the common cold with cake”.  The receptionist didn’t know what that was.  She asked who my meeting was with and I said it was Big Bad Pharmaceuticals but she had not heard of them.  She asked who I was meeting and I said that I didn’t know.  She asked whether I had booked a room.  I said that it wasn’t that sort of meeting.  The receptionist was stumped.  So I stepped aside and attempted to find the confirmation email on my phone, which took a while.  When I eventually showed the receptionist the email, she said that she thought I probably had to go to the fifth floor.  So I headed up the lift to the fifth floor, which turned out to be a conference centre with a few events on that day.  I guessed and took a right turn down a corridor and round a corner, and saw a lot of conference delegates taking tea and a desk with some clipboards on it in the corner.  It turned out that the desk was where I needed to check in for my interview.

Now this was complicated and I might have given up at several points – at reception, finding the lift, and upon reaching the fifth floor.  It is confusing and intimidating not knowing where to go in a big unfamiliar building, when you are looking for someone that you have never met before and when you have no real incentive to find them.  And it would have been worse if I was already feeling vulnerable for some reason.  If I’d ditched and gone home that wouldn’t have been great for Big Bad Pharmaceuticals as they would have made a set number of appointments and would be required to conduct a set number of interviews that day.  Me getting lost along the way would have been an inconvenience for both me and Big Bad Pharmaceuticals.

This should be a non-issue, but unfortunately it happens all the time.

When conducting focus groups or depth interviews it is vital that researchers make it as easy as possible for respondents to find them.  That is just courtesy, and it would be foolish for a researcher to lose signed-up respondents between them setting off for the interview and them reaching the venue.  Really there is just no excuse for failing to get this right.

So here’s my top tips for researchers around helping respondents to find the venue:

  • Pick a venue that is easy to find – a central location that you know has clear signage and is physically accessible.  Not one that is down a back alley or is hidden behind something else.
  • Check the venue out beforehand, and work out what you will need to do to address the points below.  Get notices and instructions printed up in advance.  Bring paper, pens and blu-tack or masking tape.
  • Put as much helpful detail as you can in an email to your respondent.  Tell them where and when to come, and any relevant instructions for finding you.  Give your project a name that is straightforward, descriptive of your project, and easy to remember (i.e. “Focus groups about penguin maintenance”).  But assume that your respondents will forget all of this immediately.
  • Think about the venue entrance and how entering the building might be experienced by respondents.  If there are multiple entrances, identify these and consider each one individually.
  • If the respondent will need to buzz in, put a sign next to the buzzer (e.g. “For focus group buzz here” or “Press 4 for interviews about otters.”)
  • Notify reception that people will be looking for you, and give them a printed note to refer to so that they can identify and help your respondents.  (e.g. “From 9am to 5pm today we will be conducting interviews in Room 7.  People may arrive at reception and ask for interviews, or sessions about emu farming.  They might ask for Ruth or ABC Research.  Please send these people to Room 7.  Thanks for your help with this!”
  • If the respondent will need to make their way to a particular location or higher floor, put a sign up (e.g. “For focus group head to third floor reception” or “Giraffe interviews 13th Floor”).  Think about prominent places to put this sign, such as on the front door, by reception, by the lift, in the lift.  Consider putting up multiple signs.
  • Think about places along the respondent’s journey to finding you that might be confusing.  Put signs up along the way (e.g. “Focus groups this way <arrow>”).
  • If you have the resources, place one of your colleagues at any of these points along the way to meet and greet respondents.  They could wear a badge with their name or company logo, or carry a clipboard as that is a signifier of research.
  • Make yourself obvious at the final location.  Consider more signs (e.g. “Focus groups in here”) or set up a registration desk with clear signs and logos (e.g. “Registration for focus groups” or “ABC Research interviews”).  Again you could wear a badge with your name or company logo, or carry a clipboard.

I feel like I’m teaching my granny to suck eggs when I say all of this, but Big Bad Pharmaceuticals are not alone and I have seen a lot of organisations get this wrong.  Addressing these issues is something that is so easy to do and should be part of the standard routine for any focus group or interview situation.  Doing so will make a big difference to the comfort of respondents and the number of people who will turn up.

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