You will always have some research participants — no matter how well vetted — who don’t make the scheduled session. Maybe they forgot, or maybe something came up.
While there’s no secret formula to make every participant you recruit show up, and show up on time, you can minimize how many no-shows you experience if you take the right steps. In this article, we’ll review a comprehensive list of 17 steps you can take to reduce no-shows, broken into three different categories:
- Six steps you can take during recruiting (like when and how to schedule).
- Six ways to keep participants engaged before the research session (including exactly how many reminder emails to send).
- Four methods to minimize the negative impact of late or no-show participants.
Reduce No-Shows with User Interviews
Before jumping into our specific tips to avoid no-shows, we wanted to take a moment to show you how User Interviews helps you avoid no-shows (without extra work on your part). Thousands of researchers use our database of 300,000+ potential participants to find the right people to talk to in their user experience research. We want every researcher to get the insights they need, so we do what we can to help you connect with reliable participants who are who they say they are.
We use a rating system to filter low quality participants, including participants who have not shown up to previous sessions with other researchers. After every research session, researchers rate their experience with the participant they talked to. The ask comes in the form of three simple emojis:
Over time, each participant in the User Interviews system naturally accumulates feedback. As this happens, the algorithm will automatically de-prioritize users who have received negative ratings. No-shows move to the bottom of the list. In addition, we verify participant identities by linking their social media accounts to their User Interviews profile. With this system in place, you’re more likely to connect with high quality participants than if you’re recruiting by yourself. And of course, part of what makes a participant a quality participant is that they show up to your study.
Now with that said, let’s dive into the specific steps you can take to reduce no-shows.
Note: Need to find high-quality users to interview? User Interviews offers a complete platform for finding and managing users in the U.S. and Canada. Find your first three participants for free. Or, streamline research with your own users in Research Hub (forever free for up to 100 participants).
Use a Tried-and-True Outreach Process
Making sure users show up starts with your recruiting process. Here are a few ways to start off on the right foot:
1. Offer a Valuable Incentive
Offering a great incentive might seem simple, but it’s worth a reminder because it can be the deciding factor for whether or not a user shows up. The point isn’t just to compensate for your target user’s time. You want them to see your offer and think, “Wow! That’s a great deal.”
For example, if you want to recruit participants who you estimate make about $25 per hour, don’t just offer $25 or $30. In fact, if you’re interviewing any sort of professional, we recommend starting at $60 per hour. That’s the equivalent hourly rate of someone who makes a salary of $120,000 per year.
Here are the three factors we typically recommend you consider:
Is the Interviewee a Consumer or a Professional?
We define professionals as anyone you match based on job title. These people are usually a bit harder to match up, and they’re usually motivated by a higher fee.
Where Is the Study Taking Place?
Typically, in-person tests demand a higher fee than remote to account for travel time and inconvenience.
How Much Time Is Needed?
This step is straightforward. Longer tests require more compensation.
Here’s a simplified, at-a-glance reference for good incentive amounts for professionals:
For more information on what incentive to offer, use our handy incentive calculator.
2. Let Participants Pick the Time
Let your users pick the time and date, as that will give you the best shot of working into a convenient spot on their schedule. If you’re doing each booking manually, this can be a bit of a pain — especially when coordinating multiple interviews. It’s better to use a calendar integration to block off times that participants can choose from.
Make sure to include a calendar invite when each booking is confirmed. If they accept the invite, the participant may get notifications on their phone in addition to your emails and other outreach, all of which help them remember to show up!
3. Don’t Schedule on Mondays or Holidays
Mondays can get hectic as people work to catch up after a weekend, so it’s usually best to avoid them if possible. Also avoid dates close to holidays — both before and after — to make sure you won’t conflict with any last-minute travel or family plans. People often don’t realize a particular day is a holiday when they book, but then cannot make the time once the day actually hits.
4. Don’t Schedule Too Far in Advance
Don’t schedule your research sessions too far in advance; participants might forget about the session in the long time between scheduling and the session actually happening, or have something else important pop into their calendar. Ideally, recruit a few days to two weeks in advance, though you can extend to three or more for special circumstances, like especially long or high incentive studies.
5. Reach Out to More People Than You Need
If you’re sourcing your own participants, you’ll need to contact at least five to 10 times as many people as you need to talk to. If you want to talk to 10, start by emailing 100. And don’t stop when you have as many confirmed as you need. Instead, vet a few extras: Having them ready to go if someone cancels means your research won’t be delayed. And if you do have a no-show, you’ll have another person approved and ready to go shortly thereafter.
At User Interviews, when you put out a request for participants, our goal is to qualify many more participants than you need. This allows you to choose the very best options based on screener responses. And you can return to that list anytime if you have a cancellation.
6. Try In-Person and Remote Tests
Most articles online will tell you that remote studies have higher attendance rates because they require less work from the participant. At User Interviews, we often see the opposite. In-person meetings have a greater impact on a participant’s life and schedule, so they’re slightly harder to forget.
That said, the difference is minimal. It’s more important to choose remote vs. in-person research based on what you and your audience need. If you’re doing remote research due to COVID, for example, that’s a more important consideration than trying to reduce your no-show rate by a few percentage points. Plus, it’s easier to replace a participant if they don’t show when you’re conducting everything remotely.
Remote research is easier for participants to agree to do, but it’s also easier for participants to forget. Using the right sequence of communication is key to reducing no-show rates, especially when you’re conducting remote research.
Follow Up Right Away and Regularly
After a prospect signs up, you have a second opportunity to touch base and confirm they’re going to show up. Here are six ways to make the most of your follow-ups.
7. Follow Up Immediately
After the participant signs up for a user research session, send them a confirmation email right away. When you send it, include these four key pieces of information that will help your participants remember the interview and get to the right place at the right time.
Time and Date
Clearly state the date, day of the week, and time of the appointment. Make sure the time is stated in your participant’s time zone if you’re conducting the test remotely.
This could be a note that the interview will happen via video call or at a physical location. Include a map or directions if the test is in person.
How to Access the Testing Area
Make sure your participant can access the meeting area once they know where to go. This could mean including a link to a video call with log-in instructions for a remote test, or directions about which building to go to and how to get through security for an in-person test.
Include a reference to your initial posting or request to keep the reason for the test clear in the participant’s mind. You don’t want to include too much information (to avoid biasing the user), but a simple reminder could help cement the interview in your prospect’s mind.
It helps to be enthusiastic, thank the interviewee, and re-emphasize the impact of the interview. When you do so, you impress on the participant the importance of their presence, and you position the interview in their minds as a pleasant opportunity, rather than another chore.
8. Reach Out Multiple Times
One reminder might not be enough to make sure your participant shows up. Follow up multiple times, including:
The Day of the Sign-Up
This will be your first opportunity to give them all the details so they can plan effectively.
A Week in Advance
If you scheduled more than a week in advance, follow up seven days before the interview.
The Day Before
Follow up the day before the interview with all relevant details to make sure your participant can plan accurately.
The Day of the Test
Your final follow-up should be a few hours before the interview. Again, include all details, especially directions and access information, to make sure your user can reach you without trouble. You could provide a phone number or way to contact the researcher in case your participant gets lost and needs real-time assistance.
By the way, you can streamline participant outreach in User Interviews through bulk messaging and email templating tools, whether you’re contacting your own users via Research Hub or sourcing new participants on the Recruit platform.
9. Use Multiple Forms of Contact
Most UX researchers start by reaching out via email, but adding text outreach gives you a better opportunity to match all of your users’ communication preferences. The User Interviews messaging tool makes it easy to text your participants one on one or in bulk! Include your email and phone number in your follow-up emails to let your participants know they can reach you using whatever method they like best.
10. Try to Elicit Responses
One way to make sure your participants remember you is to keep them engaged. One of the easiest ways to do that is to ask participants to confirm they’ve received your message.
Simply include a quick line in your reminder template saying, “Please respond to this email to confirm that you received it. I look forward to hearing from you and talking in person next week!” Then, when the participant responds, you know they’re more likely to show up.
11. Make It Clear the Meeting Is One-on-One (If Applicable)
One way to emphasize the importance of your participant’s presence is to make sure it’s clear the interview is one-on-one (unless you’re running a focus group). Include this information in your initial outreach, any confirmation emails, and the calendar invitation you send.
You can be straightforward and say, “I’m looking forward to our one-on-one conversation,” or be a bit more subtle by saying something like “You’ll be meeting with Jane Doe for a usability test.” Knowing the entire session hinges on their showing up will make them more compelled to be there.
12. Check Your Messages and Be Responsive
Last — but certainly not least — make sure to check your messages and respond to participants. We’ve seen many no-shows happen because a participant reached out with a question and never received a response. If you want your participants to show up for an interview, make sure you show up for their questions beforehand. If you cannot be available in real time because you’re conducting sessions all day, make sure someone who can monitor those messages is able to do so on your behalf.
Plan for Late and No-Show Participants
Despite your best efforts, you may have a few people who don’t show up, or are at least a bit late. If you’re prepared, you can still salvage the test. Here are five ways to do that.
13. Prepare an Abbreviated Script
If someone shows up late to user research, you don’t have to cancel your plans. Instead, come prepared with a shortened script you can use if time is running short. At the very least, jot down a few notes beforehand, outlining which questions are most important so you can adjust on the fly.
14. Reach Out
If a participant is running more than a few minutes late, feel free to reach out by any means you can. Try email and text first, then call around three minutes later if you don’t hear from them.
15. Take the Blame
Whenever you reach out to a late participant, give them the benefit of the doubt, and take some of the blame yourself. Say something like, “Hey, I just wanted to make sure I provided the right information and that the directions were clear. Let me know if I can clarify!” Be friendly.
16. Plan for Backups
If you have a high-profile stakeholder coming to observe a research interview as a guest, you might want to protect against no-shows by double-booking test slots. Then, if one of your interviewees goes missing, you have a backup ready to go. Keep in mind, this means you could pay two people: the initially scheduled participant and the back-up (for reserving their time). You could also have on-call backups who agree to only be paid if they are needed.
If you’re using User Interviews, and you have more qualified participants than you confirmed, you can also invite one of these participants to a new session in the same day, depending on their availability.
More important than any specific practice is making sure you’re organized and methodical with your outreach. It doesn’t matter how great your follow-up message is if you forget to send it.
Fortunately, staying organized and on top of outreach is easy with User Interviews. Use Recruit to find new users and arrange research studies. You only pay for sessions that happen, and we’ll match you with your first three users for free when you use this link. Or, use Research Hub to import and manage existing users (free for your first 100 participants). With both products, you’ll have the tools you need to follow up flawlessly.