The “Sweet 16” DOs and DON’Ts to Building Better Relationships with Facilities

By Manny Schrager ( and Judy Langer (

As moderators, our partnership with the facilities we use is critical to our success.†No matter how great we are at moderating, poor recruiting or disappointing experiences at facilities can undermine a project. Most experienced moderators know a lot about the ins and outs of relationships with the field but they, as well as newcomers, can benefit from some tips on improving their relationships with facilities.

Bringing together a group of QRCA members who wear "two hats" (moderators and facility owners), a Field Committee panel at the recent QRCA conference discussed tips for better field relationships. Panel members were Manny Schrager, Nancy Ulrich, and Jim Bryson; Judy Langer, who wears just one hat (moderator) chaired.

Our "Sweet 16" tips include some that might sound obvious but, the facility owners say, are often ignored by moderators:

#1 - DO put it in writing — avoid confusion and potential misunderstandings.

  • Clearly outline job specifications and any special instructions/requirements.
  • Document any changes to specifications or direction in writing. If you talked by phone, follow up with an e-mail - and request that the facility do the same.
  • Read and review the facility's bid letter to make sure it is consistent with your expectations.
  • Send a detailed "Procedural Standards" outline of your general requirements, such as room set-up, qualitative assistant needs, refreshments, equipment needs, and shipping instructions.
  • Write the screener and instructions for recruiting in a clear way, keeping them as short as possible.

#2 - But DON'T forget to talk too — there is no substitute for personal contact, even in this high-tech era.

  • Discuss the assignment with the facility project manager, explaining what the project objectives are.
  • Paint a picture of the type of person you are looking to recruit; sometimes it is not obvious from the (many) screener questions. Facilities, with their extensive experience, can help fine-tune questions to help insure that the right respondents walk through the door.
  • Consult with your project manager and ask for recommendations to help the project come in on budget and on time.
  • Ask for and listen to their views on the practicality of finding the kinds of people you want, the schedule, incentives, homework assignments, etc.
  • Remember, "project manager" starts with "PRO." Utilize this valuable and knowledgeable resource throughout the process, especially when changes or problems arise.

#3 - DO keep the facility up-to-date on dates and times.

  • Be clear on whether dates you are holding are tentative or definite.
  • Release unneeded holds ASAP so the facility can offer these dates to someone else. †This shows respect for the facility and for your fellow moderators.

#4 - DO communicate regularly throughout the project.

  • Agree on an update schedule, one that works for you and the facility. How often, when, and how do you want to receive recruiting updates? What format do you want the facility to use?
  • Discover and resolve any recruiting issues early. If incidence is below expectations, determine where respondents are terminating and ask for constructive suggestions. Use the information to modify recruiting specifications or reassess recruiting charges.

#5 - DO make every effort when recruiting from a client list to get permission to use the client's name in the introduction unless that jeopardizes the study's integrity.

  • The client's name can greatly increase interest in participation, potentially leading to lower recruiting costs. This also enables recruiters to avoid respondents' questions on "where did you get my number?" and "who is the research for?" Show rates are often improved as well because respondents feel more comfortable knowing the topic and that their opinions as customers will be valued.
  • Do not assume that your client would be averse to being identified as the sponsor of the research. Ask and explain your reasons.
  • If your client prefers to recruit "blind" to prevent possible bias in respondents' answers, try recruiting that way for a few days and, if necessary, discuss the impact on incidence. (In our experience, identifying the client is usually not a biasing factor.)

#6 - When considering the use of algorithms, DO use them with care. (These are computer programs that analyze respondents' answers to a series of attitudinal questions to determine whether the person qualifies for the study.)

  • The primary consideration should be whether the use of algorithms supports the research objectives.† However, some clients now routinely suggest algorithms without considering research objectives or other ramifications.
  • Check the algorithm calculation first before relying on it to select respondents. Is the algorithm so "sensitive" that it rejects qualified respondents? Keep in mind that when asked 10 attitudinal questions (e.g., on a scale of 1-10), it is very unlikely that people will answer the same way two times in a row for all questions.
  • Recognize that algorithms are likely to increase the project costs.
  • Discuss the pricing structure with the facility project manager. Options include a fixed rate per person successfully recruited through the algorithm or a charge for each person who passes the initial screening plus an additional charge for each algorithm administered.

#7- DON'T choose a facility on price alone. (This one comes from our moderator-only.)

  • Make sure the facility you choose meets both your and your clients' expectations.
  • If price is an issue, let the facilities know when requesting bids. (Do this sparingly, not on every bid.)
  • Facilities are looking for long-term relationships and view their pricing to be fair and reasonable but will work with you whenever they can.

#8 - DO approve or reject respondents on "hold" quickly.

  • With difficult recruits, work with the facilities on establishing "hold" criteria by indicating what areas allow for some flexibility. If possible, establish the criteria at the beginning of the project; alternatively, check with your client if recruiting is moving slowly to see if some criteria can be relaxed.
  • Review recruiting sheets and let the facility know if any of the respondents are not acceptable (and why) or should be considered tentative holds. Respondents who are not confirmed quickly may make other plans and be lost.

#9 - DON'T wait until the last minute with special requests, such as shopping, equipment, and food.

  • Facilities need to assign staffers to take care of tasks, which can be time consuming. Some requests that appear simple may not be - for example, certain brands or magazines may not be available in all study markets. Give yourself enough time to arrange for substitutions or shipment from another market or the client.
  • Arrangements for equipment needs and special food requirements may need time to be coordinated. ††
  • Keep in mind that what may be readily available in a major market may take additional time to coordinate in secondary or tertiary markets.
  • Request that your client anticipate these requests as much as possible.

#10 - DO ask about the physical set-up of the facility if it could affect your study.

  • Do you need handicap access? While we have come to expect this, it is not necessarily available in every market/facility.
  • Are there any restrictions or limitations on deliveries or service elevator availability?
  • Are the room sizes appropriate for the number of respondents to be seated or the number of clients expected? If not, is there an overflow room available? Is remote viewing an option?
  • Does the facility have the shelves or tables you need for showing materials? Extra easels?
  • Can the facility accommodate a living room setting, or any other non-conference style room layout?
  • Do you prefer a smaller conference room table? Some facilities have smaller interviewing rooms or modular tables.
  • Is the facility itself or the area/roads around it under construction?
  • Are there any issues of noise at the facility (e.g., loud air conditioners) or in the area?

#11 - DO supply a self-administered rescreener whenever appropriate and possible.

  • A written rescreener is better than asking the QA to ask questions verbally. Be sure to use the same wording as the original screener so that changes in answers are real changes.
  • Having respondents see the questions in black and white and sign off on their answers helps insure that the people you take into the room are the people you want.
  • Let the QA know what procedure should be followed should there be discrepancies between the screener and rescreener. Some answers may be different (because of difficulties in recall or minor changes in scale questions, not because of anything suspicious), yet the respondent still qualifies; others may disqualify the respondent.
  • Determine whether you want the QA to probe on any discrepancies - such as, "Who in your family works for a _____?, What do they do there?, How long ago was it?" - or if you prefer to do the probing yourself.

#12 - DO prepare the qualitative assistant.

  • Ask the project manager to have the QA review your refreshment and room set-up requests and your rescreener in advance. Remember that moderators often have different preferences so it's important to communicate what you want.
  • Talk with the QA before the groups to see if there are any questions.
  • Let the Project Manager know if you need an extra QA in between groups. There may be an extra charge but it's often worth it for speedy respondent check-in/check-out, room clean-up, etc.

#13 - DO work closely with the qualitative assistant.

  • Ask for the QA's help in engaging respondents in conversation upon arrival, reporting any potential problems to you. This includes respondents who appear to be disruptive, under the influence, sick, incoherent, or who you/the facility suspect may be a cheater/repeater.
  • Make the QA aware of your policy regarding late arrivals and over-recruits before the start of your groups. Be specific - how long is it alright for newly arrived respondents to join the group, should they be rescreened verbally (which is faster), should the QA knock on the door or just show the respondent in, etc.
  • You may want to keep late arrivals and over-recruits while the group starts in case you decide to replace a seated respondent.
  • If recruiting is done by someone other than the facility, supply the QA with respondents' names and phone numbers in case there is a need to contact them directly.

#14 - DO build a positive relationship with your facilities of choice.

  • Reward good work on prior projects. It's a smart strategy to stick with facilities you trust - and they'll go out of their way for you, too. As with any business, facilities will usually try to accommodate their "regulars."
  • Facilities learn your likes and dislikes, making your arrival a "homecoming."
  • Give facilities feedback on every project. While everyone loves positive comments, constructive criticism makes the facility better and helps cement the relationship. Or, if things really went wrong, the facility needs to know in order to improve in the future.

#15 - DO make payment arrangements in advance with the facility.

  • Expect that all facilities will, at a minimum, require all incentives prior to the start of a project.
  • If you are new to a facility, you may also be expected to pay 50% of the facility and recruiting charges in advance of the project.
  • Facilities usually expect payment within 30 days of final billing. If you need to make alternative arrangements, it is better to discuss this in advance. (Think about how much we love our own clients who pay on time or who pay early!)

#16 - Most importantly, remember the Golden Rule: Respect and treat facility personnel as you would like to be treated by your clients.

  • A little kindness and understanding goes a long way. (Isn't that always true?)
  • Viewing facilities as professionals and your true partners is what they deserve - and it improves the chances your project will be successful.