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By Mary McIlrath, Senior Vice President

Last week we posted our Top 5 Do's and Don'ts for Online Qualitative Moderation, which sparked discussion of best practices in this fast-growing collection of methods.

This week our friends at iModerate posted their blog "The 5 Absolute, No Excuse, Must-do's for Online Qualitative Researchers."

Our post focused on how to best interact with respondents, to draw out their best responses in a non-face-to-face context. iModerate's took an operational perspective, answering the question of how to organize and execute high-quality online qualitative within a research company.

An important third part of this discussion is how to optimize the client experience. No matter how excellently the project is executed or moderated, a poor client experience can ruin the chances for repeat studies.

Across a gamut of client experience levels, we've found these Top 5 Keys to Happy Clients in online qualitative:


  • Make the entire team comfortable with the project's technology platform. It's unusual to encounter an entire team who knows how to navigate a given platform. We've found it helpful to schedule a live walk-through several hours after the launch of a new project. A few respondents will have populated fields, so there is "real" data to demonstrate, but there's not so much as to feel overwhelming. No need to demonstrate all the bells and whistles--just a basic 1-2-3:

  1. Here's where to go first.

  2. Here's how to move around.

  3. Here's how to communicate with the moderator.

  • Set clear deadlines for questions and stimulus. In focus groups, it's normal for a client to arrive in the backroom half an hour before groups with a few changes to the guide and stimulus the moderator is seeing for the first time. Online qualitative does allow some flexibility on the fly, but also requires programming ahead of time. The more elaborate the technology (e.g., concept mark-up tools), the more lead time is needed for programming. Make sure clients know ahead of time what is needed from them for the project to run smoothly.

  • Facilitate engagement. Asynchronous studies in particular are a double-edged sword. Clients can read posts at any time, which often means other "fires" take priority, and some won't make time to read posts at all. Clients can be left feeling detached from what was said, and overwhelmed at going back and trying to catch up over several days. This reduces their sense of ownership, buy-in, and satisfaction with the project. Compare this to focus groups, where everyone commits to being out of the office and listening together.At C+R, we create a client engagement plan for every project, with a variety of tools. Two favorites are "study halls" in which clients meet together in a conference room, with or without a moderator present, to read together in a shared experience. Another is the "buddy system" in which after the first day, we identify two or three "star respondents" for each client to follow. This is much less overwhelming than following 30 respondents. For some clients, we lead debriefs in which they are responsible for reporting back on their "buddies." In these ways, we aid accountability, which increases engagement, buy-in, and satisfaction.

  • Create "backroom" intimacy. Rapport between moderators and clients can go a long way towards client satisfaction in traditional qualitative. Just as moderators have to build empathy with respondents, it is important to internalize the clients' goals. This enables you to translate their on-paper research objectives into insightful analysis.If we can't meet the client in person, we like to have a frank discussion on the kickoff call, and as needed during the project, to help make sure we're all on the same page. This is especially important for a new client--if they feel "heard" and understood, their comfort with what may be a strange new process will rise. Their comfort raises their confidence in the project and their ultimate happiness with the results.

  • Drop clues. As a study unfolds, a focus group moderator can come in the backroom and check in with clients to make sure everyone is aligned on findings. Online, we provide weekly or more frequent "teaser" emails to the team with high-level developing insights, and a couple of supporting quotes. This serves a dual purpose of encouraging discussion from clients who may see things differently and of reminding clients to visit the platform and see what people have been saying.



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At C+R, our history of client happiness has translated into loyalty, and we enjoy continuing to please.