Help! I'm having trouble finding anyone (or the right people) to participate in my studies!

One of the most challenging and time-consuming parts of UX research is not necessarily the research itself, but the process of recruiting qualified and eager users to participate - all before the end of the next sprint. In Part 1 of our series, we discussed the first challenge to successful research participant recruitment: obtaining the right number of survey responses to facilitate the research. In this post, Part 2 of our series, we'll dive deeper into the challenges of incentives and how to overcome them.

Problem 2: You can't afford to or your company won't incentivize participants.

If you are encountering difficulties obtaining participation, chances are the research study's level of effort doesn't match the incentive level being offered. Expecting participants to volunteer one hour of their time on their webcam for free or for only a few bucks likely won't warrant a high response rate because it's simply not worth most peoples' time.

Solution: Budget for adequate incentives and get the right stakeholders on board, early.

You can't expect people to spend their time and energy on a research study without some motivation or incentive in return, yet many companies expect (or hope) that users are willing to provide feedback for free. Would you be willing to give up 30-60 minutes out of your busy day to get on the phone, share screens, and provide feedback on your insurance company's claims portal for no reason other than being helpful? Probably not.

Most people feel like they don't have the time and need a little motivation to give you the feedback you are requesting. It's typically acceptable to pay someone around $1.00 per minute for their time. If a survey will take a participant 20 minutes to complete, you may need to compensate with a $20 gift card or cash. Nielsen Norman Group claims that the average incentive paid to participants (non-customers) was $64.00 per hour of test time in 2003. When determining incentives, you may also consider that getting on the phone or screen sharing requires more time and energy, so it may be appropriate to pay participants between $50-$100 for a 60-minute usability test.

On the other hand, maybe the product owner doesn't want to allocate funds to this or it's not in the budget to incentivize. This can make it difficult to get the right participants on board to spend the time necessary to provide feedback on the product.

Some businesses fear that introducing the product early to customers could lead to a false sense of hope if anything changes before launch, which makes them hesitant to do any testing until the product is live. This introduces a likely flawed customer experience with UX issues that could have been identified previously, but were relatively unknown until placed in front of the customers.

In addition, companies are sometimes afraid to say anything that might get them sued, and when employees reach out to customers to chat about the latest and greatest product that still has to go through proper legal review, their legal liability increases. All you need to do is have a conversation with your legal team before any research is conducted. This is easily one of the most skipped steps of preparing for research recruitment. Do not skip it. It will come back to bite you in the end and even worse, you could have an NPI/PI issue on your hands if there is a misstep during research.

Researchers need to make sure that they aren't breaching any client disclosure or confidentiality issues before reaching out to possible participants. Your legal team may also have some suggestions on the best channels from which to access your participants and may know what has or has not worked for others in the past. It is always good to have legal on your side from the beginning, to build a repeatable process and to gain trust so the process can be expedited the next time research needs to be done.

The bottom line: pay your participants for their time and feedback. If you can't, adjust your approach and timelines accordingly.

This is Part 2 of 3 in the series "Defining Research Recruiting Challenges and Ways to Overcome Them."

Part 1: Not Getting the Responses You Hoped For

Part 3: Better Tools and Better Panels for Your Research