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Market researchers: Here’s why you should become an expert on the participant experience.

By Laura Ojeda Melchor|6 min read|Updated Mar 7, 2024

A clipboard with a market research survey and an incentive.

Companies tend to hyperfocus on customer experience (CX). We take excruciating care of every single stage of a sales funnel. From that first glimmer of awareness to the post-purchase stage, our customers’ needs keep us awake at night. 

We’re not here to say you should stop any of that. 

But focusing exclusively on CX means missing out on another important piece of the market research puzzle: participant experience. 

What do we mean by that? 

When you do market research, the end goal is to make the customer happy. 

But the people who participate in market research — from surveys to focus groups to user interviews — are the heart of CX.

If their experience as participants is subpar, you won’t get the high-quality feedback you need to build a great customer experience.

If you're not sure how to give your participants an excellent experience, we've got you covered. 

The 4 different stages of the participant experience 

The first step to becoming an expert in the participant experience is getting to know each stage of the process. While these stages can look a little different for each company, market researchers generally follow four core steps: 

  • Recruitment: Find potential participants and communicate the study's whys, hows, and whats.  

  • Participation: Give your recruited participants a seamless focus group, survey, or interview experience.

  • Feedback: Collect feedback from participants and open the floor for questions and comments. 

  • Appreciation: Dole out the promised incentives to reward participants for their time and effort. 

The delicate recruitment stage must be both persuasive and clear—participants should know what they’ll be doing and what they’ll get in return. If the details are fuzzy, they might wonder if joining your research will truly be worth their time and effort.

In the participation stage, your recruits will expect a smooth experience. All your links should lead to the right place. Your technology and software should be intuitive, even for first-time users. If you’re running an in-person focus group, your participants should have a full address and directions. 

The feedback stage should make your participants feel listened to and valued. It should also be quick and easy for them to provide feedback. They’ve already given a good chunk of their time to the actual survey, after all. 

And now the most important stage of all — for your participants, anyway: the appreciation stage

People who participate in surveys do not want to wait weeks for a gift card to arrive in the mail. That’s a clunky and outdated way to send compensation. 

Five days is the max they should need to wait. Instant rewards are even better. Better still if respondents have choices when it comes to what type of reward they get. Some will love an Amazon gift card. Others will prefer monetary options, like PayPal, ACH, etc. 

Key ingredients to a successful participant experience

You’ve taken notes on each stage of the participant experience. You’re ready to brainstorm the details with your team. But maybe you’re feeling a little stressed out. How can you make every stage flawless (or super close to it)? What dos and don’ts do you need to know? 

Here’s the good news. All you need to do is:

  • Communicate clearly and reliably

  • QA the participant experience yourself

  • Prioritize UX and accessibility

  • Send incentives

Let’s do a deep dive into each key ingredient.  

1: Communicate clearly and reliably

Anytime you’re working with survey, focus group, and interview participants, good communication is vital. When you communicate clearly, you build trust with your participants. And this trust builds an excellent foundation for high-quality feedback.

First, make sure you choose the right people for your research. Target groups that are relevant to your study. You can use targeted ads on social media to attract participants or reach out to specific organizations or communities. 

When you create recruitment ads, clearly communicate: 

  • The purpose of the study

  • What participation involves

  • What incentives you're offering

Be as transparent as you can. Put yourself in the potential participant's shoes and preemptively answer all the questions you might have if you were them.

Make sure you ask each applicant all the screening questions, even if it quickly becomes clear they don’t qualify. At the end of the screening, let them down gently and respectfully. Say you’ll let them know if your qualification criteria change later on and they end up qualifying. 

This happens more often than you might think, and you’ll want to be able to invite those participants back quickly if needed. 

Communicate during every stage of the participant experience

Communication is important throughout the participant experience—not just the recruitment stage. 

If you’re running an online survey, you’ll probably have to follow up with many of your respondents in the days after sending a survey link. Some will do the survey right away. Others will put it off. 

You’ll want to nudge gently, reminding your participants of the reward that awaits once they submit their responses.

Make it easy for participants to reach out with questions during the participation stage, too. Give them accurate contact information should they need to reach out. If they send an email, respond within 24 hours.

During the feedback stage, make sure respondents know that you value their candid feedback and won’t judge their honesty. Again, be on hand to answer any questions. 

As for the appreciation stage, make it clear when and how your participants will receive their reward. Provide a customer service contact in case of a mixup or glitch. Respond promptly to any questions. 

This type of open, reliable communication makes it easy for respondents to give you top-notch feedback. 

2: QA the participant experience yourself

This crucial step is worth every minute you spend on it. 

You’re sending your online survey to dozens or hundreds of people. You don’t want to end up in a situation where the link you sent to the survey doesn’t work or the questions are unclear. Your participants will (at best) feel annoyed, and many may drop off entirely. 

That’s why you should check your link before you send it. Make sure it leads to the right place. Make sure the permissions are set so that each respondent can access the survey. 

Go through each question as if you have little to no context of the larger research goals, and see if they make sense to someone coming in with fresh eyes.

An easy way to QA this is to send yourself an email with the survey link and click it from there. This helps you make sure the link works. 

Next, send the survey link to a smaller group of participants — maybe 10-20 total. Ask them if they have any difficulty accessing the survey. If they do, troubleshoot, try again, and thank them for their feedback. If they don’t, send the link to everyone else. 

Here’s how to QA your market research efforts from start to finish.

QAing the participant experience: a quick guide

You’ve built out all the elements of your market research, from the recruitment to the appreciation stage. You’re ready to advertise your study, screen potential participants, and start getting that valuable feedback. 

There’s just one more step before you do that: quality assurance testing. 

To QA the participation experience, focus on specific aspects at each stage:


  • Make sure your recruitment messaging is clear and accurate. Outline the purpose, expectations, and incentives. Avoid using jargon. 

  • Think of your potential customers when you look for survey respondents. For your cat toy survey, for instance, you'd look specifically for humans who are owned by at least one cat. 

  • Test different recruitment methods, like social media, paid ads, or forums. Track responses to see which one gets you the most hits. 


  • Check the survey for ease of navigation. The navigation buttons should be easy to see at first glance. Instructions for each question should be simple and clear.

  • Questions should be neutral and avoid leading participants to a specific answer. They should also be concise, clear, and simple. 

  • One study found that shorter questionnaires had a 64% response rate. Longer questionnaires were slightly lower at 58%. This study was done within the context of patient satisfaction surveys, but it applies elsewhere. It shows that in general, the more approachable your survey is, the better.  

  • The survey should work on all browsers: Chrome, Safari, and Firefox, for instance. It should also work on any device, including smartphones, tablets, and laptops. 


  • Build a system to gather feedback about the participant experience. Send out a short feedback form that asks about ease of navigation and the overall survey or interview experience. (Yes, you have to seek out feedback on the survey or focus group you’re using to collect feedback with. It’s all very meta.)


  • Confirm that your incentive system is working as it should.

  • Test the delivery process of any incentives to a small group of participants or people on your team.

With a solid QA procedure under your belt, you’ll feel confident and prepared on survey day.

3: Prioritize UX and accessibility

As a company, you’ve had to make sure accessibility and the user experience (UX) are front and center. Your site follows the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

If you’re running an online survey, interview, or focus group, you’ll want to make sure you don’t leave all this work in the dust. 

People with disabilities are your potential future customers, too. If your survey is inaccessible, you’ll miss out on valued voices. 

So, here's what you can do to make accessibility and UX a priority: 

  • Make sure your text is readable: Use readable font and color contrast techniques to create a survey or interview that's easy on the eyes. 

  • Keyboard navigation: Ensure that respondents can navigate the survey using a keyboard alone, for users who cannot use a mouse.

  • Screen reader compatibility: Make sure your survey is compatible with screen readers.  Clearly label all form fields and make sure error messages are specific and helpful.

  • Alt text for images: Provide alternative text for images so screen readers can describe them.

  • Simple layout: Use a clean, straightforward layout with a clear hierarchy of information. Make sure that navigation is consistent throughout the survey—don't move the Next button around, for example.

  • Time consideration: Avoid time-limited responses, as they’re a disadvantage to some users and can affect the quality of the feedback. 

Make sure you take UX and accessibility into account during the quality assurance phase, too.

4: Send incentives your participants will appreciate

Ah, incentives. Your favorite part of the market research experience might be all the fresh feedback and data you’re reeling in. But for your participants, it’s all about the reward. 

Let’s begin with the incentives your participants don’t want

  • Company swag, like cheap plastic cups and keychains

  • Free access to your product—ie, a free subscription

  • Incentives where only the first X number of people who complete a survey receive a reward and everyone else…works for free

  • Complicated rewards—think gift cards to stores not available in their area, money they have to convert to their local currency, or rewards that present a conflict of interest

The moral of the story here is that your incentives should match the favor you’re asking your respondents to do. They should arrive quickly and go straight to the right email. 

If you want to know how much you should spend per participant for a survey, try our research incentive calculator. You’ll get an estimate based on the type of study you’re running, the type of incentive you’re offering, and whether the study subject is sensitive. 

Key takeaways

When you treat your research participants well, they'll give you the golden feedback you're looking for. It’s that straightforward. Here are the key points to remember from our guide: 

  • Participant experience matters: Just like customer experience is key, the way folks who take part in market research feel is super important. Their experience directly affects the quality of insights you get. 

  • The four stages: There are four main steps in the participant experience: recruitment, participation, feedback, and appreciation. Market researchers should pay close attention to each one.

Key ingredients for a great experience:

  • Clear communication: Always be upfront and clear in all your communications.

  • Quality check everything: Test each part of the process yourself to avoid hiccups.

  • Focus on user-friendly design and accessibility: Make sure everyone can participate easily, no matter their background or abilities.

  • Smart incentives: Give rewards that participants actually want and deliver them fast.

At Tremendous, we're all about making sure your research participants feel valued for their time. We ensure a smooth and hassle-free experience for both you and the participants. Sign up today or join us for a demo.

Published March 7, 2024

Updated March 7, 2024

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