In my previous article for UXmatters, “Why UX Research Repos Fail at Democratizing Insights,” I discussed how collaborative user research Is becoming the new paradigm for UX research. When you involve the entire product team and other stakeholders in user-research activities—especially in interactions with users—you can seamlessly integrate user insights into your product-development sprints. This leads to better customer focus and, in the end, better products.
The practice of continuous research—a lightweight set of user research methods that you conduct at regular intervals—complements this collaborative approach to user research very well. When collaborative and continuous research go hand in hand, you’ll be able to gather a steady stream of customer insights on the fly, at a lower cost. Therefore, this approach to user research can be especially beneficial for growing technology startups who are greatly in need of customer insights, but do not have a wealth of resources on which to draw.
One of the key components of making your collaborative, continuous research work well is having enough users to participate in your research. You need quite a few interested participants to feed you relevant insights. This is where user panels can help.
Recruitment Is a Pain
A user panel, or user-research panel, is a list of potential research participants who satisfy your criteria and whom you can recruit for specific research projects as necessary. To use user panels effectively, there are a few key things you need to keep in mind.
You must prescreen your user panel to ensure that you’re asking the right people to participate. For example, if you’re developing a new feature for a stock-trading application, it wouldn’t make sense to seek the opinions of someone who’s hiding cash under his mattress.
Your user panel must provide you with enough answers to deliver robust results for each of your research projects. Your panel’s participants should be either numerous or really involved, so you always have at least a handful of people who are willing to provide answers.
Building a user panel is one of the universal painpoints we keep hearing about in the UX research space. Regardless of company size or UX maturity, it is hard to build a well-filtered list of enthusiastic people who are willing to spend their time on making your products better. While there are companies who provide user panels by offering a buy-your-panel service similar to UserZoom, in many cases, they don’t filter for the qualities you would desire in your participants.
Automate Panel Building
Unless your use case is very generic, you must build your own user panel to get a usable database of participants. Your leads, prospects, and customers naturally have the desired needs and qualities you require for your research. Automate the recruitment process as much as possible to keep your costs down and ensure that the process is self-propelled.
Any customer interaction is a good opportunity to recruit. List all the possible interactions that should be triggers for recruitment. Each of these should have a corresponding recruitment action. The best triggers are the most important events in the customer lifecycle, including the following:
sending an email newsletter
a lead’s interacting with your Web site or application
a prospect’s going through the steps of your sales funnel
on-boarding a new client or customer
training a user
a customer’s making queries or seeking support
a customer’s visiting your knowledge base or reading your FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
an exit interview
Once you have your list of triggers, define one or more recruitment actions for each trigger, such as the following:
routing someone to a recruitment landing page
displaying interrupts such as pop-up messages on your Web site or in your application
mentioning opportunities to participate in your user panel in a chat window
inviting people to participate by sending automated email messages
mentioning user-panel participation during in-person interactions
Pair Triggers with Actions
You need to pair the most appropriate actions with each trigger. You can pair multiple actions with a trigger, then use whatever is the most appropriate action in a particular situation. Table 1 provides some examples of trigger/action pairs.
Table 1—Pairs of triggers and actions
Lead sends a pricing request
Add a panel-recruitment call-to-action to an auto-reply email message.
Mention panel recruitment during a pricing-inquiry call.
Lead abandons shopping cart or basket
Add a recruitment call-to-action to an automated email reminder about an abandoned shopping cart or basket.
Offer a discount coupon in exchange for participating in a user-research panel.
Prospect receives a sales call
Direct a lead to a recruitment landing page at the end of a sales call.
Highlight exclusive product-development, user-panel participation as a unique selling proposition (USP).
Prospect reaches or nears the end of a trial period
Mention panel-recruitment during a trial-evaluation call.
Customer or client receives an onboarding call
Mention panel-recruitment during an onboarding call.
Customer or client attends a training Webinar
Direct Webinar attendees to a panel-recruitment landing page.
Customer or client sends an email complaint
Add a panel-recruitment link to an email reply that addresses a customer complaint.
Customer or client visits or downloads a FAQ
Display an automated recruitment pop-up message when a customer is viewing certain sections of your FAQ.
Send an automated email message asking whether the FAQ has answered all the customer’s questions. If not, prompt the customer to join the user panel.
Customer or client cancels subscription during a customer-service chat
Ask the customer about the reasons for canceling, and direct the customer to your feedback-panel signup page.
Design the Actions
As you can see, the way you define recruitment actions depends on several factors, including the nature of your business, the type of product on offer, your communications channels with customers, and your sales and marketing approaches.
If you have a unique product and your market consists of an involved crowd of specialists, it might be enough to just let them know about your open user panel. They’ll come willingly, happy to share their insights with like-minded people. (Ableton’s community of musicians and producers comes to mind.) However, if you’re conducting research on commoditized, generic markets, you’ll need to provide some extra incentives such as product discounts, coupons, exclusive opportunities, or cash. But such incentives can introduce bias into the recruiting process, so an incentive is not a silver-bullet solution for your recruiting needs.
Focus on good copywriting for your recruitment messaging. Hire professional copywriters or salespeople to write the copy. Test different variations of your messages. Panel recruiting is another type of sales process. Your potential participants need to understand the benefits of participating and be sufficiently impressed by your message to join your panel.
Examples of Triggers and Actions
All companies running UX research must at least have a recruitment landing page on which they offer an open invitation to potential research participants. Condens has put together a great list of examples of such pages, from companies that range from giants such as IBM to agile startups such as Sketch. This is your bread-and-butter invitation—a static page to which you can always point prospects and customers during your conversations with them. Make sure you write great sales copy for this page!
Interrupts such as pop-up messages are great for recruiting because you can tailor their message to precise conditions. If someone looks at your knowledge base for more than five minutes, ask her to join your customer-research panel. If you discover superusers who are spending hundreds of hours using a single feature, they must have something to say about it. Tools such as Popupsmart, HubSpot, Hotjar Surveys, or OptinMonster help you set up interrupts without coding. You could also code your own, as my company Airtime did for our Collaborative UX Research Playbook.
The benefits of automated email messages are twofold. Email lists are the best-converting sales channels. (Don’t forget, this is a sales process!) Plus, you can set up auto-emails to go out whenever certain conditions are met—just as you can for interrupts. Email-automation software such as Mailchimp and customer-relationship management (CRM) systems such as Salesforce can handle the whole process for you.
Don’t forget to train the members of your customer support, customer success, and sales teams to promote your user panel. Personal interactions through chat, email messages, phone conversations, or in-person meetings can be the most powerful channels—if you use them properly.
In this column, I’ve covered the basic steps you need to take in automating your recruitment processes for user panels, including the logic of pairing interaction triggers with the right actions, as well as setting up applications to make this as automatic as possible.
You might think this approach is relevant only for established companies because they can use their client base for recruitment, but I beg to differ. Any startup can enlist leads and prospects to participate in user panels during its go-to-market phase and, thus, involve them in product development. If you do this right, panel recruitment can become a great benefit instead of a chore. Why not kill two birds with one stone?
Of course, you do need sufficient traffic to fill the recruitment pipeline you’ve just built. You must also have a plan for the next steps to take once people sign up. I’ll discuss dealing with these two distinct issues in upcoming columns. Driving traffic to your Web site relates more closely to sales. Planning user panels requires a mix of customer-relationship management and screening surveys. In a nutshell, though, by using a combination of your sales pipeline and your existing clients and by creating strong messaging, you should enable you to recruit enough participants for your user panel.
At Airtime, a software company that develops collaborative user-research tools and helps organizations implement collaborative-research practices, Peter heads up operations. Peter and his two founding partners launched their user-research platform because they felt that many products—whether digital or physical, business to consumer (B2C) or business to business (B2B)—are less than optimal and could be improved through the simple exercise of listening to customers. Peter has a diverse background—from investment banking to institutional sales to working for asset managers, asset owners, and broker-dealers in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. For seven years, Peter worked for the leading international provider of equity indices and investment analytics. Following his stint in the financial industry, Peter switched to freelance startup consulting and investment-analytics publishing. Peter has a Masters in Capital Markets from the Corvinus University of Budapest. Read More