There are many people who work together to ensure the smooth running of a market research project. Pivotal among them is the Research Manager, who, among other things, may: take the initial client project brief; write the proposal to best meet the client’s objectives; liaise with the client for the duration of the project; brief and manage the other research team members taking part in the project; analyse the data; report back findings to the client; and present recommendations.
Many of these tasks revolve around the client commissioning the project and, while clearly a vital element to any Research Manager’s role, it should not be forgotten that it is equally important for them to manage the internal ‘cogs’ – interviewers, statisticians, data analysts, etc. Only by doing this are they able to ensure the project is carried out on time, on budget and to the highest quality.
Of course, one of the key aspects of this internal liaison is ensuring that the interviewing team is thoroughly briefed and fully understands the research project. After all, if something goes fundamentally wrong at the interviewing stage, everything that follows – the work of the statisticians, data analysts, research executives, etc. – effectively becomes redundant. What, therefore, are the steps that should be taken to ensure interviewers are properly briefed and able to carry out their jobs successfully? This article aims to outline these key steps.
What is a briefing?
A briefing is a set of concise instructions or a short, factual oral summary of a project. Used in a research sense, its aim is to:
- provide information in brief/summary form
- brief one or a number of people
- provide enough information to enable action
- go through the questionnaire, question by question, to allow for any queries by the interviewing team to be answered
In short, it is a session used to introduce a research project to the interviewing team.
Where does a briefing fit into the research process?
Once a research project has been commissioned, a Research Manager will typically speak to the Planning & Operations Team as soon as possible in order to outline the project requirements, i.e.:
- Type of interviews
- Number of interviews required
- Interviewer requirements/experience/languages
- Contact list provision
While the Operations Team is selecting and scheduling in the correct number of and most suitable interviewers, the research questionnaire will be being finalised.
Stages 3 & 4
At this point, the initial briefing should take place. Following this, a pilot of the study will generally be run in order to trial the questionnaire.
An initial catch-up session with the interviewers will enable the Research Manager to identify and subsequently iron out any problems with the survey that may have been uncovered.
Stages 6 & 7
Typically, the interviewers will then continue with the [revised] study until around half the interviews have been completed. A further review at this stage is highly recommended so as to double-check no further issues have arisen and to make sure that everything seems to be progressing as expected.
Following this pause (and any remedial action if necessary), interviewing will continue until all quotas have been met.
A typical briefing
The objectives of a briefing are that:
- The interviewers are informed
- The interviewers have a context that can ultimately improve the interview
- The interviewers are motivated to meet the quota/get the required information
- Any remaining problems in the questionnaire have been identified
In addition to the briefer (usually a Research Manager/Director) and the interviewers, a briefing session would generally involve members of the wider team e.g. Phone Unit Manager. Topics covered will likely include:
- Background to the project and the client
- Purpose of the research and chosen research methodology
- Any supplementary and supporting client materials
- Introduction to the questionnaire and raising awareness of key areas where the interviewer should attempt to delve deeper
- Explanation of terminology and abbreviations
- Details of contact lists, quotas and sample expectations
- Outlining of schedule and deadlines
- Reminder of project sensitivity and client confidentiality
- Opportunity for interviewing team to ask questions
As with many interviews themselves, it is normal for a briefing session to be recorded for monitoring and training purposes.
Talking through the questionnaire
Critical to the briefing session is talking through the questionnaire. The purpose of this is to:
- Scrutinise the questions
- Explain how routing and screeners work
- Discuss new jargon/difficult areas
- Explain which areas require more depth or might be difficult to get depth on
It is often beneficial to send the questionnaire to the interviewing team in advance of the briefing. By giving the interviewers time to read it through beforehand, the briefing itself should be more straightforward and high level, and ultimately more motivational.
Engaging the interviewers
It is in everyone’s interests to engage the interviewers with the project. This is much more likely to happen if they can be active and involved at the briefing stage. Some ways to make a briefing more interactive for the interviewers include:
- Asking interviewers to put a question mark on the questionnaire where they have a query, then holding an open discussion at the end
- Asking interviewers to discuss their understanding of tricky parts of the questionnaire
- Asking interviewers to discuss what’s particularly interesting about the study and draw comparisons with previous projects.
It has also been suggested that interviewers perhaps don’t like to be the first/only person to ask questions during the briefing. It is often a good idea for the Research Manager to leave the room for a few minutes to allow the interviewers to talk amongst themselves, and then return to see if any other questions have arisen.
What makes a good briefer?
Of course, even by paying close attention to all of the above points, the briefing can be let down by the failings of the briefer. A good briefer should try to be:
- Empathetic (to new interviewers, a difficult sample, etc.)
Key to all aspects of the research project is communication. A Research Manager should always take the time to introduce themselves and make sure the interviewers know how to contact them if they have any problems or questions as the project unfolds. This is second only to being a motivational and inspirational briefer, spurring interviewers on to conduct professional interviews and achieve high quality interview results.