This is What an Unhealthy Respondent Relationship Looks Like


The relationships we have with our respondents are headed to rock bottom. It’s a problem we’ve been facing for years, but we have the power to fix it. Without changes, however, we’re headed for a very real and very messy breakup.

So, what can be done to build a stronger relationship with respondents? Let’s take a closer look at the root of the problem, and how some of these issues can be addressed.

What’s the Issue?

To start, let’s look at one of the most telling metrics in the industry – the conversion rate of the average panel. On the low end, only 5% of respondents are qualifying, and on the high end between 10-15%. That means 90% of the time, respondents don’t qualify at all.

There are several reasons for this, first and foremost being the low incidence survey inventory in the space and the desire to improve targeting. Combined with the fact that information isn’t always being communicated in the right way and the ongoing CPI compression that has occurred over the years, respondents are feeling less valued than ever before. Frustration is natural when the barrier to qualification is higher and the incentive is lower – trends that have only worsened over time.

Design Issues Creating Bad Experiences

As incentive offers have worsened, the expectations for respondents have increased. Several issues are creating a generally bad experience during the survey process. The desire for ever more data means we’re asking too many questions, producing longer surveys that can take upwards of 25-30 minutes to complete and are not at all mobile friendly, and trying to cover too many bases at the same time.

There are real challenges here to accommodate. The value of data has only increased over time, meaning the number of constituents in an organization eager to get feedback in the next survey has increased. But there needs to be more attention paid to what goes into a survey and why it is there. Do you really need that extra question?

The Fallout of Bad User Experience and Lower Incentives

What does all this mean for respondents and the quality of data we get from surveys? In general, not good things. We’re seeing:

  • High Lapse Rates
  • Lower Average Lifetime Completion
  • High Attrition Rates
  • Conditioning of Poor Behaviors

When 90% of surveys don’t qualify because of a poor targeting match, or because data hasn’t been properly utilized to reduce this risk, we are pushing away perfectly qualified respondents and conditioning others to tell us what they think we want to hear.

At the same time, other issues have started to occur, including lower overall response rates and negative noise around the brands that sponsor these studies. While a lot of attention right now is being focused on outside threats to market research in the form of passive metering and AI, the very real issues that already exist in the space must be addressed.

Making a Change

So, what does this mean for the market research industry and for the state of quantitative research and the panels we rely on so much to acquire the data needed for research studies?

A shift needs to occur to focus more intently on the respondent experience. The industry has been talking about UX for years and momentum is picking up as changes are made to interface and presentation, all for the better. The formation of new consortiums such as the Insights Association’s Online Sampling Forum and the GRBN global initiative focused on user experience are furthering this focus.

I sat down with Rick Kelly from Fuel Cycle to talk about this very topic in a recent webinar. You can watch the webinar here as we discuss these issues and some of the required changes needed to address them.