Using client customer lists as a basis for recruitment

5 October 2018
Richie Kennedy

Author: Richie Kennedy

Translating people’s motivations and desires into design solutions that delight both clients and users.

Note: I will be referring to the companies hiring Spotless to conduct service design research as ‘clients’ and to these companies’ customers as ‘participants’ or ‘customers’.

We have recently been doing work with more expert, or at least niche, systems at Spotless. Research with more general systems is often easy to recruit for. Throw a net and you’ll likely catch a social media or online banking user. But if your system is only relevant to, say Architects, Doctors, or City Planners you need to get a bit more creative and dare I say, reliant, when considering how you will recruit your participants. This also applies to professions where people are unlikely to take an hour out of their day for a few hundred pounds to do an interview (such as day traders).

This was the case on some recent projects we have done in the construction sector. Because of the clients we were working with, we were very interested in doing a discovery piece involving certain people in construction; Architects, Contractors, Contractual Clients, and Installers. Mention this to any recruitment agency and they will run a mile, or will only work on a best endeavours basis.

We decided to rely upon the relationship that our clients had with their customers to make this happen. We came through the project successfully but have come across a few things we would have done differently along the way and also can flag some issues this raises with the participants you get and the process itself.

The people in the company you are working with who hold the relationship with their customers are likely to be very busy people and to also be up against quite difficult KPIs of their own. Since they will be the ones introducing the study to the participants, it is important for them to be well briefed themselves, although it is hard to get time with these employees. Planning out a well-structured email with succinct bullet points of the main points of the research is a good way to bring them up to speed without trying to add an extra hurdle of finding time to meet sales reps (or whoever holds the customer relationships).

The first thing to communicate to them is that this recruitment will take up some of their time and it is not just forwarding an email to their customers. We have done this recruitment two ways in the past; the first is ask for a list of customers that have said they would be open to participating in research and can be contacted to discuss it further. The second is for the customers to be informed of the study in more detail (when it will happen, who will be there, why it is happening etc.) before being contacted by the researchers to schedule in an exact date and time. The second approach has worked better for us — especially in companies who have employees who have created a strong relationship with their customers. The main reason for this is that the customers will tell the people recruiting them immediately if they will or will not do this — so they have immediate feedback on whether they need to keep recruiting or not.

I’ll lay out the main details that need to be communicated to customers at this early stage to get acceptance here. This isn’t a definitive list as every project, customer type, and methodology differs but this should act as a decent checklist to get things moving.

Objectives of the research

Communicating the objectives of the study puts the participants at ease about the kinds of questions being asked and the reason they’re being asked. Participants can be very nervous about doing these interviews when they hear researchers would like to audio/video record the session. What is of interest should be clearly communicated up front and it should be explicitly stated that there is no interest in customer specific data being recorded. How data will be stored/shared and when it will be destroyed is also of importance.

What they’ll be talking about (people may be nervous that they won’t have much to say)

Often I have found that participants can be reluctant to participate as they don’t know what they can say or what they could add. Talking points or broad topics encourages participants to be involved. For a practical example, if you were doing a research piece on the design of say a car show room and you said to the participant “We will be asking about the process of car sales” they may be worried they are not the exact right person for you to speak to as they have an exact role within a larger functioning ecosystem. Whereas, if you were to say “We are interested in your experience and will be asking you questions such as ‘what would you like to change, if you could change anything about the way cars are sold?’, ‘What are the tools you use currently to help you with your job and is there anything frustrating about these?’, ‘what is most of your time spent doing each day?’” They will feel more confident and valued that you are interested in what they themselves are doing.

Dates of the research

This should be communicated clearly to participants. One common response we heard when going through this process was “I would be very happy to do the interview next year”. The contact from the client representative should communicate the window of research dates and they should expect further contact to nail down an exact time (something that can be worked out after getting a feel for where the researchers will be travelling).

Who will be contacting you

Participants should know who to expect a call from to arrange a time and date for the interview. They should also know the name of the company who are calling. Cold calls are much more likely to be rejected.

Once participants agree to participate in the research in principle, they should be contacted by the research agency to finalise a time and place. You should ask if they have more than one day available and if so, organise other participants in the same location first.

Consequences of cancelling

It also needs to be communicated that research appointments are important to keep. We know this because these projects often follow quite strict programmes of research, analysis, workshopping etc. but participants will not be aware of this. Communicating that researchers are booking travel and accommodation in advance can make the importance of keeping the appointment more clear.

Something else to be aware of is that the participants you get are more likely to have strong relationships with the company, rather than weak ones. Asking the client (whoever is creating the list of participants) for people with different relationship lengths can be a start to gaining participants with different relationship strengths. Those with shorter relationships are more likely to not be as strong as those with longer relationships. Also be very clear at the start of each interview to encourage the participants to be open and honest. ‘We are not from [client company]’, ‘no one will get any rewards if they’re good, or in any trouble if they’re not’.

Participants need to be informed where the research will be — and if it is at their place of work, who will be arriving. Clustering participants into groups based on location allows you to visit these locations more quickly and lose less time travelling. These clusters should be spread geographically so as not to bias any location in the research. Understand where the client’s customer base is to determine where your clusters should be.

Lastly, but certainly not least, is something I know some of you will have been thinking “why hasn’t he talked about this yet?” — GDPR. Sharing lists of clients with agencies is not an easy thing to do if the client is not set up for it. Privacy policies need to be checked and the research agency will most likely need to be set up under some kind of supplier — partner agreement. This process can take weeks or even months if legal departments need to set this up. So if this is not communicated from day 1 to understand what will need to be done, this can easily cause project delays from the get go.

If you’ve made it this far without giving up, well done! Given all of these steps are taken into account, you should be ready to recruit using a client list. But this article mainly acts as a reminder that this process is not as easy as external panel recruitment and making the client aware of the work this involves in the project setup or kick off meeting can allow for more realistic resourcing and timelines to be created.

Good luck!

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