Respect The Respondent

impatient-doctor-checking-his-watchI recently had two telephone in-depth interview projects going on at the same time.  Both were with physicians, but different specialty areas and different topics of discussion.  Both also included screen sharing information with the respondent, which can be a challenge for less technically inclined physicians.  My work days (and evenings) were busy and a bit disjointed.  Physician interviews were scattered throughout the day and evening, and I was still managing a variety of other projects.  When I heard my computer ding (and my phone buzz) to remind me I had a physician interview coming up in 15 minutes, I would get ready.

Something strange happened in a recent interview that changed the way I think about the respondent when designing research…

In the first week, I dialed in for a call, and when the physician joined me on the line, the first thing he said to me was “thank you for being on time.”  I paused for a moment and thought, “the respondent is thanking ME for being on time?” We had an insightful and productive interview, but I thought about this physician off and on for the rest of the day.  What prior experience led him to thank me for doing the very minimum – showing up on time?  As both projects progressed, I had respondents tell me that our discussion was interesting, that it made them think more deeply about the topic at hand. Another physician told me that I was “the nicest thing to happen in his day.”

Sometimes, particularly in the healthcare market research realm, we get a little jaded and presumptuous.  We might think, “for what we’re paying in incentives, they should be lining up to talk to us.” Or we think to ourselves, “we said it was a 30 minute interview, we can push it to 40 minutes if we have to.”  Let’s stop this line of thinking.  We should change our behavior. We must respect the respondent.  Here are three considerations:

  1. Understand that respondents deserve a positive research experience, along with their incentive payment.  We don’t get the right to bore them, or badger them, or pepper them with repetitive questions for our honorarium, however hefty that payment seems.
  2. Recognize that respondents lead hectic lives just like we do.  The physicians I spoke with were juggling office visits, paperwork, family time, and emergency calls from patients. (Sounds a lot like my life, although the emergency calls I get are rarely life threatening.)  The research experience should start and end on time.
  3. Remember that every time we interact with respondents, we create an impression of our field that lasts.  If we want respondents to be available, to be thoughtful and insightful the next time they are asked to participate in a marketing research study, we should leave them feeling good about their experiences.

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