How to Build Immersive Customer Panels and Communities

Emily James

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    Customer panels and communities are two very popular research spaces for market research projects. Both are great ways for insight experts to communicate with respondents, segment them and distribute a variety of research tasks for respondents to take part in. Panels tend to be used more for quantitative research projects, distributing surveys easier than they conduct focus groups, while communities are a great space to collect continuous qualitative insights, but that isn’t to say that the panels can’t be good spaces for qualitative research and communities for quantitative insights.

    With the variety of research tasks and tools at the ready for insight teams to take advantage of, how can we be sure to create more engaging research experiences? Immersion is a great tactic for obtaining and maintaining respondent engagement in market research, but how do we create immersive experiences on customer panels and in communities?

    The Importance of Engagement and Role of Immersion

    We asked Ki Arnould Aguero, a Lead UX Researcher at a Fortune 50 retailer, why is it important to create engaging customer research? What are the benefits to insight professionals? Ki responded that: “the primary reason for keeping a panel engaged is speed. We have teams all across the organization that are working in tight timelines. It’s still sort of amazing to me that they can launch a survey or post a poll question, and the next day we have several hundred responses. That lets them dig in and make their decisions and tackle the next customer question quickly.”

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    With more respondents experiencing survey and research fatigue, researchers need to create more engaging, immersive research experiences to generate high quality insights.

    Ki’s mention of quick timelines and a need for quick insights is a common demand from stakeholders faced by insight teams across all industries, and with the speed of business becoming continuously faster, we have felt the need to try to keep up with this by providing insights also at the speed of business without sacrificing on quality. With this common goal, high-quality and continuous respondent engagement has become a top priority for insight experts. 

    Immersion is a great way to help obtain and maintain this quality respondent engagement in market research. Creating experiences that immerse respondents in fun, thought-provoking research in a secure environment that promotes safety will always help nurture candid conversations between researchers and respondents, and even between respondents in forum community pages. The latter carries on the immersive experience outside of scheduled research tasks that helps generate unexpected golden insights. 

    Maximising Engagement Through Immersive Experiences

    So how do we build immersive research experiences in panels and communities that maximise respondent engagement in market research? There are universal techniques that will work on both panels and communities, but also a few techniques that work strictly for quantitative vs. qualitative research.

    In research communities, respondents can log in whenever and wherever to complete research tasks, explore the latest discussions and chat with each other. Creating the right environment to promote open discussion the moment both inside and outside of scheduled research tasks, and transparency is one way to create that safe, secure research environment where respondents believe they can share even the most sensitive of data. Transparency surrounding data storing, processing, handling, etc. as well as sharing the technological security practices in place is a great place to start, and once they are convinced they will not hesitate to dive straight into the research.

    When talking about setting up customer panels to maximise engagement, Ki noted that “Something I always worry about is overwhelming panellists to the point that they dread getting an invitation to participate in a new activity. To keep my panel healthy, I limit our team to one invitation a week, and I also created guidelines for myself and other researchers to follow. The guidelines cover things like tone, timing, activity length (no more than 10 questions in a survey!), and more. It’s all about making sure that when an invite hits our panellists’ inbox, they’re happy to spend a few minutes of time with us.”

    Research tasks can inform forum discussions, but also vice versa. When respondents know they are being listened to and what they’re saying is making a difference to the brand’s customer experience they will automatically want to share more to mould the customer experience to something they will actively want to run through time and again. 

    Maintaining Engagement

    Lastly, once there are engagement tactics in place to maximise engagement, the onus is then placed on researchers to find ways to maintain that engagement. This can also be obtained through immersive experiences, maintaining immersion in research helps to keep respondents engaged in the next research task and project.

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    Insight experts have created many tactics to increase respondent engagement, crafting immersive experiences are one of the most successful.

    Ki explores her own experiences with this goal, saying “in the last two years I’ve sent quarterly newsletters to our members. I highlight how many teams have benefited from their input, maybe share a finding or two, give them a teaser for what’s coming soon, and thank them for making our jobs easier. I even got some teammates to write out handwritten thank-you notes and take pictures of them, so they can see there are real people reviewing their feedback. We also recruit panellists for interviews sometimes, and I’ve noticed those folks are particularly faithful about contributing to activities after that – I’ve even had some open-ended comments that called me out by name! It’s all about making some human connections and building a good relationship.”

    Ki’s use of newsletters to close the feedback loop is a great way to enhance that air of transparency and create new forms of immersive experiences, as not only are the respondents involved in the research projects placed in front of them, but they also have a window into what is being done within the organisation that they are informing on the back of their data. This window will solidify the results of their efforts, make them more tangible and spark more interest and action when the next research task or project comes into being, as they will always want to see what happens next.

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