...technology allows for instant communication, but recruiting firms have been slow to use technology in ways that can truly revolutionize the researcher’s accessibility to information
Marketing research recruiting remains (and probably will always remain) a key component of gathering critical intelligence about products, services, companies, brands and issues. Important as it is, though, recruiting is an often-overlooked piece of the research process that can be greatly improved by utilizing technology to replace manual (and time-consuming) processes.
Is there a better way? Change requires boldness and new strategies to improve the process and results of qualitative recruiting. Today we have new technologies and strategies that interweave the tried-and-true traditional recruitment process with innovative digital recruitment platforms. After implementing thousands of online qualitative research projects around the globe and testing multiple recruiting processes and technologies, we’ve identified ways to achieve three critical benefits for recruiting:
- Reduce recruiting time (improve efficiency)
- Improve respondent quality
- Improve communications between researcher and recruiter
Reduce Recruiting Time (Improve Efficiency)
A short time ago, qualitative recruiters relied heavily on client-supplied lists, personal connections or the old phone book. Recruiters routinely spent several days dialing potential respondents and laboriously filling out paper screeners. Much of this work was wasted since there was no way to quickly identify well-qualified respondents for a particular study. Recruiting staff often worked for days without seeing progress. Thankfully, process and technology have dramatically changed the game.
Invest Time in Planning and Preparation
Though it is simple and requires no fancy technology, detailed planning and preparation are skimmed over far too often. The objectives of both recruiting firm and researcher should be perfectly aligned, so the recruiter should set expectations regarding recruiting management and project communication. The recruiting firm must ensure that it fully understands the scope of the recruit before the recruiting begins, to develop a strategy and to communicate that strategy with the researcher. This small time investment early in the process will eliminate gray areas and, undoubtedly, yield dividends throughout the project’s lifespan. After all, a single misunderstood quota or unclear screener question can lead to several additional hours, or even days, of backtracking and re-work.
Create Better Data
One key to better recruiting is a robust panel. A strong panel management system with plenty of relevant data points, such as demographics or purchasing behavior, allows samples to be finely targeted and yields faster and more accurate recruiting. A recruiting firm’s investment in building their panel profile means that respondents can be targeted more accurately, with recruiters spending less time screening respondents who will never qualify.
Just Say No to Paper Screeners
Paper screeners are simply not scalable, so they are not efficient. We use technology to create a two-step recruiting process that utilizes technology, but also maintains the value of a personal contact and screening process. We program two surveys for every recruiting project. One pre-screener containing key screening criteria is blasted to thousands of respondents. The other is a phone screener that recruiters use for detailed screening and confirmation.
The benefits of this method are twofold: first, the survey link can be emailed to large numbers of respondents (often thousands) and, second, the researcher gains an early read on actual incidence and trouble spots. Recruiters then have the data they need at their fingertips to conduct the phone screener. This method requires more time early in the project to program each screener, but makes up for it with significant efficiency gains throughout the recruiting process.
Improve Respondent Quality
The quality of qualitative recruiting is a hot topic. While email recruiting can bump up recruiting efficiency, some researchers have concerns about sacrificing quality using this method. Together, technology and best practices ensure that recruiters can work quickly and maintain the integrity of the recruit.
Panel Management System
A well-maintained qualitative panel management system is one technology that should provide researchers a reliable quality check with respondents. Panel technology should routinely track and weed out “cheaters,” “repeaters,” or those who don’t meet minimum articulation requirements. Unique identifiers for each respondent and disciplined data validation methods help maintain clean data, which is critical to ensuring accurate targeting and the best respondents. Data from each online and phone screener should be integrated with the panel management system to track every detail of the recruit and to continue building the breadth of respondent data available in the panel.
Re-screen and Confirm
After selecting the best prospects from survey responses, we believe it is best practice to place an actual call to respondents to re-screen them. This phone call is another quality safeguard. The recruiter asks screening questions once more to ensure consistency between online and phone responses, ensure the respondent is tech-savvy (as needed), has the appropriate devices for any technology used in the project, and understands the study’s expectations and requirements. This confirmation call is particularly important for studies that involve real-time methodologies so that the recruiter can ensure the respondent will be an articulate participant who demonstrates effective oral communication.
Improve Communications Between Researcher and Recruiter
Today’s technology allows for instant communication, but recruiting firms have been slow to use technology in ways that can truly revolutionize the researcher’s accessibility to information. By combining traditional communication best practices with new ways of using technology, recruiters can provide researchers with a wealth of valuable recruitment information at their fingertips.
A Kick-Off Call
A kick-off call between recruiter and researcher to discuss objectives, timeline and deliverables is an absolute must. Not only will project scope and important details be solidified, but both parties can connect on a more personal level than email-only communication will allow. Verbal communication often eliminates miscommunication that can plague email. The call also allows greater insight into the researcher’s underlying motivations, anxieties, desires, etc. A savvy recruiting firm will use these verbal cues to prioritize and shape recruiting strategy. In all cases, researchers should follow up the call with an email that details key points and next steps. Starting on the right foot and making an attempt to build a solid relationship from the beginning will smooth out the entire recruiting process, making it more enjoyable for both parties.
Recruiting Management System
There are only a few recruitment management systems on the market, but investing in one enables recruiters to increase recruiting efficiency and provide project teams with ample real-time data on recruiting health. Once online and phone screening is completed, the final data can be automatically pushed to a Web-based spreadsheet, much like a standard recruiting grid in an excel spreadsheet. Although the spreadsheet will have all the pertinent information one would expect, there is very little manual data entry required. After a brief review of the new recruits, the project manager can quickly share the information with the client, eliminating crucial time from the daily update process.
Such technology provides full transparency into exactly how the recruit is progressing; This transparency, in turn, allows project managers to deliver recruitment information to clients early and often throughout the recruitment process. Instead of waiting for several days to get a feel for screener problem areas, the technology will help project teams precisely identify terminating or low-incidence areas and consult with the client on potential solutions within the first few hours of recruitment.
Share Real-Time Data
One of the most beneficial features of a recruiting management platform is its ability to facilitate communication between recruiters and project managers and, ultimately, between project managers and researchers. The system’s dashboard should contain all pertinent project data at a glance, ideally utilizing infographics to improve communication value. When a new respondent is recruited, the system should send notifications to the entire project team that contain key characteristics of that respondent and lists completion status on all quota groups for that project.
Additionally, the system should have an integrated chat function that allows project teams to share pertinent notes. This feature allows multiple recruiters to monitor progress and communicate details in real-time, dramatically reducing the chance of duplicating efforts or missing vital project changes.
Strive for Continuous Improvement
A recruiting firm committed to improvement will take the time to analyze successes and failures and make adjustments as needed. One method is the project post-mortem debrief. In this procedure, the project manager reviews with the operations team what worked well and what could have been improved. New creative solutions utilizing new processes or technology can then be shared across the organization, allowing team members to build on each other’s successes and avoid making mistakes others have made. Key takeaways can be digitally catalogued into a knowledge-base for easy reference.
What’s Next for Online Qual Recruitment?
Transparency and improved communication with clients should be a major ongoing focus of recruiting firms. The feedback we hear most often from our clients is that they need comprehensive information and consultation in every step of the process so they can make better-informed decisions, especially when the recruit is being more difficult than anticipated.
The worst possible situation for a researcher is knowing the recruit is going poorly, but not understanding why or how it can be turned around. The answer lies in being able to improve transparency throughout the recruit by allowing researchers and end-clients to access recruit data in real time.
Over the coming years, the industry should see a marked divide between recruiting firms that hold on to legacy systems and those that embrace technology to drive smarter processes. Researchers need partners, not order-takers, who will take full responsibility for the success of recruitment and not only provide researchers with comprehensive and objective feedback on recruit status, but also consult on the best ways to achieve project objectives. To meet the growing demands of clients and qualitative researchers today, successful recruiters must commit to taking a strategic and transparent approach versus the “let’s jump on the phones and cross our fingers” method of the past.