User Experience issues in online market research

Do you collect feedback or customer insights?

Did you test the online data collection experience first?

Failing to check how your online market or social research set-up works with your target audience is likely to result in participant frustration and poor data collection. For those conducting their online surveys and online focus groups, a bad research participation user experience will deflate brand opinion and negatively skews the results. You only have to look at the Australian 2016 census survey fiasco to understand how a bad experience can lead to participant frustration.

Look at some of the – not so rosy – comments received from participants completing online customer feedback and online research projects:


  • “Why are you asking me to fill out this question, it’s not relevant to me?”
  • “I can’t open this file, how am I supposed to comment on it?”
  • “You haven’t told me how to share my video?”
  • “Why am I getting this email and where did you get my name from?”
  • “Oh, you didn’t tell me I needed a webcam!”
  • “I can’t upload my file its in the wrong format, how do I convert it?”

You may not even know you have created a user experience problem, or people are becoming frustrated by missing or poorly designed instructions. Most of the time participants will just give up or drop out. These kinds of issues mean you spend most of your day troubleshooting and redesigning the project when it should be running. Last minute changes don’t end well for the participant or customer and certainly doesn’t pan out well for you.

How to minimise poor user experience and remove unknown technology bias from your online market research design.

Your goal when setting up an enabled online market research project is to eliminate potential technology bias, issues or problems caused by the interaction between the participants and the technology. To achieve this goal, you will need to anticipate the effect instructions, tasks and questions will have on the participant’s interaction with the enabling technology. Your objective is to make sure participants aren’t engrossed in learning the technology while they are supposed to be providing feedback or answering questions.

When designing your online research project you need to think about what dependencies (tools, knowledge, experience) the participants will need to acquire to efficiently complete the assigned task. For example, filling out a survey question or commenting in an online focus group sessions or discussion group.

The new generation of online customer feedback and market research platforms are getting better at guiding people through the online process and reducing the learning curve. Platforms like GroupQuality keep the process as simple as possible by building the knowledge into the software process to avoid user experience problems.

In today’s world of “big data” and instant results, it’s easy to forget about the importance of planning the interaction between the people and the feedback technology. As we watch the data build from our online market research projects, it is often easy to forget the numbers, measurements and comments are being generated from the opinions of real people. People are invited to take part in online overtime focus groups or discussion, live chat discussion groups or online survey but each has a different level of technical knowledge or online experiences.

Don’t make this simple mistake!

When asking for feedback, one of the most common problems occurs when participants are sent tasks, questions or exercises in a file format they can’t open. It’s a major issue and occurs because they simply don’t own a copy of the software that was used to create the file.

One of the first things you can do to avoid this problem includes a screening question to ensure participants can access the tools required to participate. For example, this is simply a series of survey questions which asks the person if they have access to a device connected to the internet. People can choose to participate based on how comfortable they are with the tools, what they may be asked to do and how they will do it.

Providing practical instructions

Some online customer feedback and insight projects require participants to complete one or more exercise. For example, asking participants to keep a digital image diary of their experiences with a brand, product or service, or completing creative exercises in a word document, and uploading files to an online discussion board. Before assigning a task like this, you need to take a step back and ask yourself one question: can participants complete my exercise without having a license to a particular software tool – can they fill out this task only using the insights platform or with the software which they will have access.

7 ways to improve the instruction experience

  1. It makes a lot of sense to minimise the technology options for you and your participants. You want participants to primarily focus on answering your questions, and it is also far less work for you when analysing, filtering and reporting on the insights if the data is added directly into the online insight platform.
  2. If you need to provide a document template for individuals to complete, use a simple file format which can be opened with different applications and on different kinds of devices — including PCs, Macs and mobiles and tablets.
  3. Most computing devices have the ability to open and edit RTF (rich text format documents) and this would eliminate issues participants have with not being able to open proprietary file types. You will still have to invest time pulling the data together from each file, but it avoids licensing problems.
  4. PDF documents is an accessible text format which can be used to deliver detailed homework instructions. These files maintain the look and feel of your original document, and most computers and portable devices can open and read PDF documents. A perfect format if you want participants to read the instructions and view any imagery in its original form.
  5. Another simple alternative and one which overlooked is saving your documents as images. The advantage is that the participants will be able to view the content in the format it was intended.
  6. There is also nothing wrong with supplying more than one document format. Let participants know you are providing the same material in several formats.
  7. The preferred option is to just add the instructions for the task within the online environment. Everyone who is participating can quickly access the instructions. If you need to send a document, we would recommend you include instructions on how to access and use the supplied material.

Instructions might look something like this:

“Download this document from today’s discussion and open it on your computer. The document is approximately 4Mb in size, which means that it will take a little while to download on a mobile device, so we recommend you download the document when connected to a wireless Internet connection. If you do not have a PDF reader it is a very simple to access a free copy by going to and downloading the PDF reader from there.“

Be helpful and keep it simple

When assigning tasks and questions for participants, make it very clear how long they have to complete the activity. Provide instructions about how comments and files are to be uploaded to the online environment and even consider sharing finished examples to help get your message across. Participants will also need to know someone will be available to answer questions – this can be facilitated by utilising private messaging options or email.

Don’t make assumptions about technology competence!

All participant computer skills will vary, but don’t assume later generations are more tech savvy than the ageing population. Over the last decade, we have observed how Baby Boomers patiently and willingly go that extra mile to ensure they follow instructions. We have also found some participants born to generation Y or Z are not as technology nimble or spend time troubleshooting technology problems as generation X. The key message is don’t discriminate when it comes to technology user experience, but assume there is a lowest common denominator. What you think might not happen, probably will, and will need to be planned for in your online market or social research project design.

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