In the area of qualitative research, advancements in online video technology have dramatically changed the landscape of possibilities for data collection. These advancements allow for multiple efficiencies and conveniences, but aren’t without their own unique challenges. One particularly difficult obstacle is capturing the undivided attention of your viewing audience.

Not too long ago, moderators had little choice but to board a flight, along with the entire client team, to view in-person interviews across the nation or globe. Early adopters of video conferencing products experienced technology hang-ups that may, at times, have distracted from the research goals or even derailed interviews entirely.

Today, there are several reliable options on the market that will allow a researcher to conduct online video interviewing without experiencing the barriers of the past. Not only does this lower costs and expedite “travel” between cities, but it also allows for more intimacy with the respondents, who can participate in research from the comfort of their own homes, which often yields deeper and more meaningful insights.

Moderators have been excited about this methodology for years in the hopes of a future with less travel. And the proliferation of video conferencing in our personal lives has made most respondents receptive to online interviews. However, what we are experiencing now is an adoption curve on the client side. Clients are accustomed to leaving all the responsibilities and distractions of their personal lives while traveling to attend traditional research, and sometime have trouble fully immersing themselves in online research sessions they’re viewing from the office or at home.

While we’re accustomed to traditional focus group facilities’ logistics, we are still learning how to manage the project when all of the research is conducted virtually. As good researchers, we get the job done: The respondents have the proper equipment, we test their video connections, we get them online at the scheduled time, and we plan how to show the stimulus. The stage is set, but the seats in the audience – those people viewing from the “back room” – are often vacant.

This coordination was inherent in the old process. Research dates and locations were set, flights were booked, and seats were filled with a captive audience from the day the interviews started until the very last session wrapped.

Now, we are faced with a new challenge: How to increase client engagement during the interview sessions to ensure that stakeholders understand the complete range of feedback we’re collecting.

At the American Cancer Society, we do a large proportion of our qualitative research online. This presents some new and unique challenges to keeping the business owners engaged. The days bonding behind the glass and over dinner in an exciting new city are over. As a team, we have had to get creative. Along the way, we have learned tips and tricks.

1. Communicate that participation from the client-side is a necessary vehicle for understanding.

What is worse than a client that didn’t attend the research at all?

A client that only attends one or two interviews, no debriefs, and gets a limited or distorted view of the feedback as a result.

You’ll want to ensure that your client team is aware of the importance of viewing most, if not all interviews.

  • The best way to get full team participation is to get the person in the lead stakeholder position to commit to all research sessions; not just your marketing research partner within the organization, but also their internal partner on the topic at-hand.
  • An invite to a 10-hour day is more overwhelming when you’re in your home city.
    • Get people to commit to the research by getting the interview sessions on calendars as early as possible, before calendars book up with other meeting requests and personal obligations.
    • It also helps to send interview time slots as individual meeting invitations. Add the label of the respondent target to the “subject” line so that people can accept the sessions of most relevance to their area of interest.
    • Attach all relevant study documents to each invitation to ensure the viewers have all log-in credentials, the discussion guide, and respondent profiles at their fingertips, as well as a phone number where they can reach technical support during the sessions if they have any trouble getting online.

2. Keep the conversations going both in front of and behind the “glass.

One of the things that great research partners all have in common is that they keep the client team engaged throughout the sessions with a well-balanced blend of value-add insights as they go and entertaining party tricks.

  • Ensure there is a productive private client chat during the session. This not only maintains accountability for remote attendance, but it also keeps viewers engaged.
    • Start the conversation by sending out the respondent profile during the introductions.
    • Keep the conversation active by pointing out when you hear trends and when the respondents are expressing a viewpoint on key objectives.
    • Call out “quotable” quotes.
  • Some of the most discerning comments are made in the moments between interviews, so don’t lose those opportunities. Include time for quick 15-minute telephone debriefs between sessions and a 30-minute comprehensive wrap-up debrief.
  • If it’s appropriate for the culture of your organization, try gamifying the viewing sessions after you’ve hit your stride on capturing the insights. Games related to the research at-hand keep viewers engaged in the live conversation, lighten the mood, and help build relationships between the research partner and client teams. Just be certain that the game you choose doesn’t disrupt the data collection in any way.

3. Be a great host.

It’s human nature to multi-task and there are a lot of distractions at home. Provide options to lure clients out of their homes and into group viewing sessions to ensure that you have their attention.

  • Host the remote viewing sessions in a fun location (e.g., a place that hosts sporting events, or a coffee shop with a private viewing or party room you can reserve).
    • You’ll want to take extra precautions about the security of the Wi-Fi connection and ability to prevent other patrons from seeing or hearing your interviews.
    • If this isn’t feasible, try to find another common location for clients to view the research together – corporate conference rooms work well for this purpose. If the sponsoring company doesn’t allow after-hours use of the conference center, check with local hotels.
  • Plan to have a basket of treats available on-location to get everyone through the long days.
  • And never forget how powerful a free meal can be for drawing attendees. Be sure to clearly message this out to viewers and schedule time for this break.

4. The details matter, no matter where the interviews are taking place.

Interest will wane quickly if the video doesn’t perform optimally.

  • Technology needs to be tested prior to each interview.
  • A technology support person should be online during all live sessions.
  • Be sure your stimulus is formatted to the smallest size possible without degrading its quality for the purpose of the sessions. A large HD video file, for example, may leave you with buffering issues.
  • Don’t forget to test the technology using your stimulus – nothing shuts down an interview faster than the respondent not being able to see the concept they are there to evaluate.
  • Ensure the video interviewing product you are using is not only secured, but also has a dedicated “back room” area where clients can freely comment on the research without interfering with the interview.

Overall, the most important thing to remember is not to forget your roots. Most typical logistics and terms of engagement still apply, and the more organized you are, the better chance you’ll have at hosting research people will want to attend.

Increasing Client Engagement in Online Interviews

Tips and Tricks

  1. Communicate that participation from the client-side is a necessary vehicle for understanding. Enlist the help of a client-side partner and their key stakeholder to get on the team’s calendar.
  2. Keep the conversations going both in front of and behind the “glass. This increases insight, engagement, and accountability.
  3. Be a great host. Make your clients want to attend the live sessions.
  4. The details matter, no matter where the interviews are taking place. Test and re-test to ensure both client and respondent experiences are flawless.