Prevent and manage no-shows in user research

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Imagine you are about to run a usability test and you have carefully recruited your participants.
You also added a couple of backups, just in case some of them are not showing up.

In spite of that, however, it could not be enough: you may have more no shows than replacements.

In Spain this is especially true when you are recruiting from an existing customers database and not from a professional panel.

Participants that come from a panel already signed up for taking part in user research activities. They are highly motivated and they are very likely to appear on the day of the study.

On the other hand, those participants who have been contacted from an existing customers list tend to accept without much conviction and many of them might not show up on the day of the study.

Some brands perform better than others,  since trust and loyalty play a key role when recruiting people. However, as a rule of thumb, you should always take into account that when you recruit participants from your client’s database you will likely get many no-shows (at least in Spain).

How to ensure you will be able to fill the participants quota?

First of all, transparency. You should warn your client about the risk of having too many no-shows. That would make it easier to deal with the situation and also to take measures. Second, prevention. If we are suspecting that many scheduled participants are not going to show up, there are some techniques that can help minimize the risk.
  • Pay higher incentives. Candidates are not accepting to take part to a study just because they want to help you. They do it because they get something in exchange for their effort and time, usually money or gift cards. Obviously, the more you are paying them, the harder it will be for them to renounce to their reward.
  • Recruit more spare users than usual. Consider making an extra effort and add some more empty slots at the end of the day (or 1 or 2 all-day standby)
  • Make it very clear to them that it is important that they show up. When contacting to potential participants, stress the importance of their participation and the negative consequences for the study if they don’t appear. Send an email as a reminder a couple of days before the session. It helps to reinforce their commitment and allows you to know in advance if someone cannot attend.
Although you did all your best to avoid having less participants than expected, this may still happen. Replacing the participant in the same testing day would be ideal, but it is often difficult to find someone willing to participate in a study with a few hours notice. If you are recruiting from a customers database, you should probably dismiss this option. However, with a panel you can have more chances of success. Generally, the best solution is to extend the fieldwork and schedule your new participants for the next day.

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