Tips for Engaging Clients During Online Qualitative Research

by Garnette Weber, Co-Founder itracks

The advantage of both face-to-face and online qualitative research is that it allows for customer immersion, resulting in greater empathy with client stakeholders and allowing them to anticipate needs enhancing communication with consumers.  The need for client engagement and communication should increase with online projects due to the group potentially being geographically dispersed.

Virtual backrooms available in online qualitative research offer the ability for client observers to interact with the moderator in real time, with safe guards in place that make it so these same observers cannot interact directly with participants. Client engagement can be increased significantly, allowing clients to be involved with everything from assistance in clarifying terms, giving real time feedback on customer questions and logistics, as well as identifying comments and themes where they would like further probing. Client observers can give feedback based on what the participants have said in order to make changes in the following groups and/or activities.

Projects can then be built with customer immersion in mind. New methodologies deployed using the technology allow the client to experience the research and be in a better position to potentially act on the results. In a text-based online focus group completed with a UK-based energy company, nearly 1,000 employees observed customer focus groups, which facilitated empathy and increased motivation to implement research findings. As the research was conducted via an online chat platform, the client was able to offer key employees the ability to gain insights directly from their customers. Employees from sales, marketing, production and operations were all able to have immediate access to feedback directly from their customers.  During an interview with a client, she cited that client engagement can facilitate the voice of the customer being heard and implementation of the research recommendations (Customer Immersion, Understanding Your Client's Experience - ). Some projects have a moderator in the backroom as well as the main room to support the client experience.

Every project and researcher has different opportunities to enhance client experiences.  Here are some tips for creating an engaging virtual backroom for synchronous online focus groups and in depth interviews:

  1. Communicate the backroom communication and discussion as a key component of the project in the research plan. Identify the client observers in advance and ensure they have been provided access to the platform and the session calendar invites, ensuring they reserve time within their schedules.  The identified observers can be briefed on the project in advance if needed, to ensure they understand the project and objectives.
  2. Engage with clients prior to the session. Just as you would welcome clients in a face–to-face environment, it is critical to welcome them to the online platform. This forms as an ice breaker and ensures everyone is comfortable communicating in the online environment and focused on the task at hand.
  3. Identify a point person. Extensive communications in the backroom can be distracting if you don't have a moderator in the backroom. A point person can interpret the comments and relay key points to the moderator during the live group.
  4. Take advantage of the features available within the platform. Online qualitative platforms offer a varying degree of tools to help support communications within the backroom.  For example, some offer video communications between client observers and the ability to adjust the volume of the client observer conversations (the participant would not hear the comments).  A moderator can place the audio of client observer discussions at a low volume during the interview to allow them to keep a pulse on the backroom.  For moderators that prefer to have the client audio turned off, some platforms offer a system to allow for text comments to be pushed to the moderator or notifications of text comments in the backroom.
  5. Debrief following the session. This is a key component of the client experience.  This is a critical time to discuss observations, key findings, and learnings to potentially adjust the sessions that follow.  Some platforms allow for the client observers and moderators to engage in a video or audio conversation following the sessions.  

Every researcher and project has unique aspects to consider. The goal of most projects is to deliver value to clients.  There may be opportunities to deliver an enhanced client experience in your next online qualitative project offering greater value probability of implementation of research findings.