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Tidy Up Your Research Logistics with a Participant Panel

Increase your productivity and experience the life-changing magic of a participant panel tool.

Lots of us in the human insights world, from product and UX research to design and operations, are thinking about “business value” (the  “ROI” or “impact” of our work). The reason? If we show that we—as individuals, teams, and departments—have unique value for the company (the business), then we’re better positioned to withstand the waves of cuts, reductions, and reorgs under way.

Productivity is one of the keys to business value. Productivity is not just semantics—it’s one of the core variables measured, tracked, and reported by the U.S. Government. It moves markets

Let me be clear: I am not advocating fora “Just be more productive!” argument. Burnout is a real threat to your health and—as documented in numerous studies—any business. What I am advancing is a way to both be more productive with your research practice and share those wins with your organization in a way that raises eyebrows (in a good way). Sustainable productivity that says, “I understand and care about our business’s productivity and goals.” 

I think a powerful way to accomplish this is through a piece of life-changing software, participant panel tools. I know, I know—here’s another SaaS marketer toting a magical solution for all your work life woes. But hear me out. These platforms are purpose-built to centralize, streamline, and improve research logistics. Using one will free you up to be more productive and balanced in your research practices. From there, it becomes easier to achieve and showcase your value.

But before we dig into how, let’s go over what “logistics” means in this context.

What are research logistics?

“Logistics” is one of those business terms that gets thrown around a lot (UPS made it core to their brand) but is rarely defined by two people in the same way (if it’s defined at all). 

Logistics typically refers to the operational and structural elements of a business: customer service, supply chains, integrations. In other words, the discrete steps taken in order for some business function to happen.

This is an especially good area to tidy up because  without logistics, many businesses cannot function. Customer feedback needs documenting, prioritizing, and actioning; goods need producing, packaging, and shipping; product improvements need ideating, designing, and building.

User experience research also has a bevy of logistical requirements. So many in fact that an entire discipline has been developed to identify, manage, and improve them: Research Operations (aka, “Research Ops” aka “ReOps.” Note the growth of “Ops” in other areas, too: DevOps, DesignOps, ProductOps.).

Logistics for research can mean a lot of things, including (but not limited to):

  • Locating participants for recruitment
  • Creating and distributing consent forms
  • Designing and managing screener surveys (or opt-in forms)
  • Identifying and maintaining customer lists
  • Scheduling sessions (for stakeholders and participants)
  • Organizing participant communications
  • Budgeting and paying project incentives
  • Tracking and gating past participation

These individual tasks all take time. Some of them can take a lot of time, which is something many user researchers, product managers, and designers say they are short on. Meanwhile, the “business” (stakeholders, leadership, the wider marketplace) is hungry for more and faster data. The metric of “time to insight” is a crystallization of this trend: stakeholder teams are going to make decisions—about products, designs, and opportunity spaces—whether they have your research findings or not. 

AI can help with some of these logistics, but very often these research tasks are spread across multiple systems, teams, and tools (our State of User Research found teams use an average of 13 tools in research toolkits!). Centralization can save time, reduce effort, and promote better research as a result. 

The life-changing solution? A best-in-class participant or customer panel tool, which can help to manage, organize, and centralize your research logistics. (Psst—our 2023 Tools Map is the best resource for discovering these [and other] tools.)

Try the #1 rated participant panel tool for free today.

Securing budget and buy-in for these tools requires demonstrating that improvements in your research logistics will have a direct, measurable relationship with the business’ goals and outcomes. If logistics matter to the business and are a large part of a researcher’s precious time, then tidying them up can help your team work smarter, be more productive, and drive relevant impact. 

Let’s drill into three kinds of research logistics. For each one, we’ll cover: 1) why the business should care about it, 2) ways to measure the impact of tidying it up, and 3) how a participant panel tool can help.

Logistic #1: Recruitment 

User research does not, cannot happen users. Finding the right participants—vetted, aligned with project needs, and available in a timely manner—is difficult. Respondents in our State of User Research survey mentioned some (or all) of the following as pain points in research recruiting:

From the State of User Research 2023

Why businesses should care about recruiting logistics

The business opportunity here is massive for two reasons. First, companies that do not connect with their customers are less likely to spot opportunities or solve obstacles compared with those that do. And second, when finding customers to learn from gets easier, the habit of reaching out and talking with the user grows. This is precisely the business habit many founders and executives do not explicitly state when they claim (see: Jeff Bezos or Steve Jobs) theirs is a “customer-obsessed” company, but is one way these missions are translatable into everyday practices.

Measuring research recruitment impact

How might you assess the impact of tidying up research recruitment? Here are a few ideas:

  1. The number of customers recruited for “research” (broadly defined) increases
  2. The time taken to find the required number and type of participants decreases
  3. The level of satisfaction with research sessions increases; the reported quality of data (useful, relevant, timely, actionable) increases
  4. The number of new teams or stakeholders launching research increases
  5. The number of under-served or under-represented groups in sessions increases; the amount of new customer types or personas increases

How participant panel tools tidy up research recruitment logistics

Participant panel tools support user research recruitment in many ways. Let’s break them into two parts: 1) the participant side and 2) the operations side. Both are core to recruitment logistics.

Instead of relying on external partners like agencies (who can be both time consuming and expensive), participant panel tools like User Interviews offer on-demand access to customers and new audiences alike. . If you have your own customer or member lists and need management of those, some (but not all) of these tools offer management of your own lists and recruitment directly from their tool. That leads us to the second part: operations.

Research recruitment is more than “just” the participants. There is another layer that helps pair a participant with a researcher. This involves screener surveys (for qualifying participants), opt-in forms (for recruiting current customers), and consent forms (for data privacy and governance). Some participant panel tools offer templates, storage, and deployment of these operational elements.

Zendesk’s two-person team supports over 200 PMs, UXRs, and designers to launch rigorous research. Learn how.

Logistic #2: Project coordination

The second type of  is focused on making sure both the the project can be executed, whether that’s finding an available time slot for an interview or the kicking off of a multi-day diary study.

Without on-time project coordination, you end with no-shows, completion rates drop, and the experience for both participant and researcher suffers. This is to say nothing of the lost insight potential when projects sputter: a researcher might have to make recommendations based on fewer data points, decreasing their confidence.

Why businesses should care about project coordination 

This gets to the wider business impact: when projects are filled with friction, it reinforces the idea that research is a time-consuming “nice to have” and can thwart important research opportunities. Moreover, when coordination is low, the customer experience suffers and these folks are less likely to participate in the future. The cycle here is vicious: bad coordination leads to worse sessions, which leads to even worse outcomes, reducing the buy-in from the business.

Measuring project coordination impact

Most project coordination logistics involve three elements: 1) session scheduling, 2) participant communications, and 3) integrations. Here are questions to start measuring them:

  1. The number of tools to manage research projects decreases; the total budget on all research-related tools decreases
  2. The average session no-show rate decreases; the session completion rate increases
  3. The typical amount of messages sent to participants per project decreases
  4. Stakeholder choice—represented in the variety of research tools used—increases
  5. Positive feedback—qualitative or quantitative—from participants increases

How participant panel tools tidy up project coordination

In a word: centralization. Panel tools—at least, the ones worth buying—have baked into their workflows the elements necessary to not just find research participants, but also to connect with them in an easy, repeatable way.

This means:

  • Scheduling sessions becomes intuitive and comprehensive, allowing for calendar integration, availability settings, and even role-specific permissions (if you want to have a stakeholder observe or take notes, for example).
  • Messaging participants becomes as easy as clicking on a name within a project view, composing a note, and pressing send. Automatic reminders help reduce no-shows. A single view means everyone on the project can see who has been sent what and when.
  • Integrations let you keep your tech stack smaller and allow for flexibility when choosing your research method(s). Whether it's interviews, prototype testing, or multi-day surveys, the best panel tools focus on getting your participants to the session—not dictating the type of research you can do.
nCino’s added customer feedback earlier to their design process, launching better products with more confidence. See how.

Logistic #3: Incentives

Paying participants an incentive for their time is a cornerstone of ethical and effective user research. Whether that incentive is cash, gift cards for an experience, product discounts, or even an in-kind donation, incentives close the loop of the researcher <> participant cycle.

Why businesses should care about incentives logistics

Because incentives are nearly always monetary, businesses naturally care about them. 

Remember, productivity is about making the most of existing resources—in this case, dollars budgeted for incentives. If you can show that the per-dollar impact of incentives is greater with a panel tool than without one, that’s a business case. In effect, the business is seeing more return on their same incentives investment; more insights, less waste, and more transparency, for example.

Measuring incentive impact

Incentive impact might be fuzzier than other types of research logistics, but there are ways to unearth productivity improvements. For example:

  1. Are your finance partners more confident with paying incentives using a third-party?
  2. How much time are you saving by utilizing a purpose-build incentives tool compared to self-managing and distributing the incentives?
  3. Have there been any times when incentives dollars are unaccounted for? Has that amount been reduced (or eliminated) with a panel tool?
  4. Does using a trusted partner reduce your company’s legal or financial liability in some way? 
  5. Can you incentivize more or new customers by using a third party processor?

How participant panel tools tidy up incentives

Some companies, because of their specific industry, country of origin, or other regulations, cannot directly compensate non-employees. Best-in-class panel tools have strong security guidelines in order to safely process payments. By serving as the processor or trusted go-between for payments, these tools offer an important protection for companies.

In short, panel tools help put your information security, finance, and legal teams at ease. For you as the researcher, a panel tool removes the need for repeated requests for budget, jumping through hoops like procuring hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars in gift cards…to say nothing of managing the disbursement and tracking of those funds.

Again, what you’re getting with a panel tool is centralization. Funding sources, balances, what has been spent and on which projects—all is available at a glance.

Finally, there is more flexibility in the kind of incentive offered with panel tools. If you need an alternative to direct cash payments, the best tools offer flexibility around this. They also take care of currency conversions and tax logging where necessary—freeing you up to focus more on paying the right amount for the study and not how you’ll process it.

Metromile reduced operations bottlenecks and increased efficiency, keeping them ahead of the competition. Read more.

Take it further

As your research logistics get tidier and your productivity increases, you can start investigating other business metrics that have likely been impacted by your work:

  1. Have customer support tickets or bug requests decreased?
  2. Have existing accounts expanded; are new ones being onboarded?
  3. Have new features (or products) been launched more quickly?
  4. Have active users increased; are product session lengths longer?

All of these are core to any business and can be traced—with the right stakeholder relationships and processes—to customer conversations and research. Human insights folks must gain confidence in their knowledge of how the business operates and the ways it defines “value.” User research is key to that value—the task at hand is drawing a clear, bright line between them.

Ben Wiedmaier
Senior Content Marketing Manager
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