How to avoid no shows in your tests and interviews

Marine Wolffhugel
July 28, 2020

You probably know them. They are the terror of UX Designers during their user tests. For those who have experienced them, they often trigger an intense feeling of despair with a hint of anger. No-shows. Those last-minute cancellations (if you're lucky!) or simply those participants who don't show up at the scheduled meeting, without a word, and who are obviously unreachable.

Want some consolation? No-shows are not just for the UX sector. The tourism sector is the biggest victim, with holidaymakers not showing up at restaurants, hotels, or flights they have booked, not bothering to cancel, and leaving professionals with empty seats on their hands (5 to 20% loss of revenue per year, after all!).

The "no-show" phenomenon is increasing more and more. It is linked to the over-solicitation we all experience, especially due to ultra-connection: it is becoming common to sign up for a whole bunch of events without necessarily giving them the necessary importance, as the "Interested" button on Facebook shows so well.

Homme d'affaire courant, le téléphone à la main

But back to the point. How do you avoid no-shows in your user tests and interviews?

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula (otherwise we would all know it already!). Nevertheless, in this article we'll give you a few tips on how to limit these cancellations as much as possible, which we've tried out during our various recruitments:

Plan a suitable incentive

The consideration is an essential element of your study. You must plan an amount of compensation (whether in money or in gift vouchers) that is sufficient to interest your target. The lower the amount of your consideration, the higher the risk of a no-show.

This point can be qualified by the experience of your participants: if they have already taken part in a user test in the past and found the approach interesting, they may be interested in repeating the approach for a lower amount.

But imagine yourself in the shoes of an individual who has never taken part in a study: you don't know what it involves, you have answered a questionnaire but don't really understand in detail what you are going to do. You will certainly be more motivated if the compensation corresponds to an amount for which the game is worth it.

Offrez un cadeau, même virtuel !

Don't know what kind of gift to give your target? Don't hesitate to read this article on our blog dedicated to the choice of the amount of compensation or to take inspiration from the prices charged by online recruitment tools.

For example, when you recruit in the Tandemz community, we choose the counterparty for you, don't hesitate to simulate a recruitment on our quote page to see which counterparty we think is adapted to your target 😉

Don't recruit too early

Don't recruit too earlyIf you recruit the day before for the next day, you'll probably have trouble finding someone available (who doesn't have a full agenda for the next day when they go to bed?).

But paradoxically, if you recruit too early, your participants may forget about your appointment and don't show up. Again, think of your own life: can you remember what you have planned in 3 weeks? Have you ever realised a few hours before an event that you had scheduled two meetings at the same time?

Good practice is to recruit between 3 and 10 days before your session. That way, your participants have time to get organised, while not forgetting the appointment in question. In any case, do not recruit more than two weeks in advance.

Horloge qui fait le tour du cadran super vite

Once the meeting has been agreed with your participant, don't forget to invite them to an event so that they can put it straight into their calendar. This may not sound like much, but it is a safeguard for those who are used to constantly checking their diary before making an appointment.

Involve participants before the appointment

A fairly reliable technique to avoid no-shows is to involve your participants as much as possible before the meeting. For example, you can ask them to sign a confidentiality document before the study, making it clear that without this signature you will be forced to cancel the slot.

Imagine yourself in the place of a participant: if you are not very motivated, you will certainly not take the time to print out a document, fill it in and sign it, then scan it and email it back to the organiser.

You can be sure that the no-shows will be those who do not return the document before the meeting. And you can apply this technique while having the document signed electronically. The rule remains the same - tested and approved by Tandemz!

Homer Simpsons signant un contrat

A variation is to ask them to do some work beforehand, such as answering some open-ended questions, which can then feed into your study. In this case, make it clear to the participant before they apply that this is part of your study. You may well choose to select only some of the respondents for your meetings on the basis of their responses to this assignment. Feel free to organise the selection process in a way that suits you, does not waste (too much) time and is of interest to your study but still involves enough participants.

Explain the importance of the test beforehand

Some of your participants will never have participated in a user test or interview. Most of them may be familiar with the concept of marketing research, where a food product is tested, or a focus group where issues are discussed in groups. But the UX research approach is less common.

It is important to explain to your participants the purpose of your test - the fact that you are evaluating a product and not their actions - and how the meeting will be conducted. Give them the practical information (Do they need to prepare anything? Do they need to bring any equipment? Will they have to sign a confidentiality document?) and/or what you will expect from them (Will they be testing things on a computer or phone? Will they have to speak out loud? Talk about their experiences or feelings?)

Echange téléphonique avec Bugs Bunny

This will allow you to :

  • on the one hand to reassure them: even if they don't ask the questions themselves, giving them the information and context will help them prepare mentally;
  • make them aware that their participation is essential, that you are counting on them, especially as they will be alone with you and not in a group;
  • and finally, to identify potential no-shows: if you talk to them a little, even if it's only for a few minutes on the phone, you will immediately realise whether the person seems reliable and involved. For those who are interested, you will have no doubt that they will be present. For those who seem more distant, it is your possible risk of no-shows. At least they are identified!

Send reminders

The day before your meeting, send a reminder to your participant, by email or SMS, or by calling them. Ask them for an acknowledgement of receipt or a short reply to your request, to make sure they have seen and read your reminder.

By using calendar management tools, reminder emails are automatic (like on Calendly for example, but this is also the case on Tandemz 😉 ).

Take advantage of this to insert all the important information about the appointment: link or address, contact in case of problem...

Oublie pas hein oublie pas hein oublie pas

Use the overbooking technique

Particularly used by airlines, this method can be adapted for your user tests: for each session, plan for 10 or 20% more participants than those scheduled. You have several possibilities:

  • Bonus" participants: these participants are participants like the others, they are not warned. In case of cancellation, you have a replacement already planned. If, by chance (and a lot of luck!) all your participants have shown up, you will meet them as well and have one or two extra tests for your study. Isn't life great?
  • Substitute participants: you schedule them for specific slots at the end of the study and they are notified. In case of cancellation, you have your slot reserved with him/her. If all your previous slots have gone as planned, you do not test with this participant but pay him/her a certain percentage of the initial consideration (for example 50%).
  • Floating" participants: they are available all day, at any time, and are warned that you can contact them in case of cancellation (especially suitable for remote testing). They need to be reactive. As soon as you have a cancellation, you contact them. If they are not contacted, it is good practice to give them a certain amount of money (again, a percentage of the initial consideration, e.g. 50%).

Les équipes de foot ont leurs joueurs remplaçants. En test utilisateur, c'est pareil !

As you can see, providing substitutes has a cost. But isn't the stress caused by a no-show, added to the time lost and the time taken to find a replacement in a hurry, worth the comfort of having a back-up solution?

Make it easy to cancel or postpone

This point may seem antithetical to limiting cancellations, but in reality it is not: if cancellation is easy for the participant, they will be more likely to make the effort to let you know if they are not available. This is a technique developed by The Fork in their no-show plan.

This can be done through simple things like a link to click in a reminder email or a short reply to an SMS.

Also offer the participant the possibility to easily reschedule their appointment, without having to email back and forth with you. Calendar tools make it very easy. Also on Tandemz, your participants can cancel or reschedule their appointment independently in the slots you are available.

Voulez-vous qu'on reporte le rendez-vous ?

Be flexible with participants

Your participants are people like you and me: they work, have schedules to respect, activities... Suggest times that are convenient for them. Adapt to their schedules, especially if your participants are in a different time zone.

This may require a real effort on your part: working outside your usual hours, such as at lunchtime or even at weekends. It all depends on your target audience. But by being flexible you ensure :

  • on the one hand, to mix your sample of testers sufficiently (if you only offer daytime slots, you will hardly have employees as participants - is this representative of your target?
  • on the other hand, to have participants who are more responsive and more available (not stressed between two meetings), and who are less likely to cancel at the last minute because their boss has called them in just now.

Do not hesitate to agree with your team to divide these hours outside of the working day and/or to adapt your working hours to include them in your day.

Calendrier de vos horaires de travail

Take into account cultural habits and current situations

Consider these factors before recruiting your participants, and plan for replacements accordingly.

Vous avez dit "Grève" ?


Of course, these techniques will not guarantee you a 0% no-show rate (if you do, let us know!). However, you will limit the cases and be as prepared as possible if a participant does not show up. And if you have developed other techniques, please share them with us!

Good luck with your next test sessions!

Bonne chance pour vos prochains tests !

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