ZOOMing in

My wife accuses me of ‘moderating’ her when I think we’re just having a chat. It’s not because I’ve asked her to fill in a food diary, do a selfie video, or map a series of choices that I’ve written on index cards for what we might do this weekend…honestly, it’s not. (I only did that one time and it was very insightful.)

I bridle, but I think she has a point. For twenty years now, my job has been to put people at ease and then…get something from them. At the risk of sounding Machiavellian, this is my approach to both client relationships and market research participants (or consumers, or humans, or whatever you’re supposed to call them nowadays). 

That’s the job, right? To engage people in conversation and learn some stuff about them. Sure, you’re also going to turn it into insight…and a debrief…or a new brief…but it all starts the same way. With rapport.

This week, I’m interviewing women via Zoom Video Conferencing (my new favourite toy). We’re talking about weight loss and it gets pretty personal. They’re at home and they’ve not had to dress up or tidy up for the camera. I’m at home and I haven’t dressed up either (but I am doing them the courtesy of getting dressed). Our pets walk past the camera and their children can be heard arguing off-stage. It’s like life is only slightly interrupted.

And it’s great. Because it’s rapport. And because I’m good at my job, I’m really good at rapport. It doesn’t matter that there are also six clients on the call (with muted camera and microphones) and that they’re messaging me questions from the sidelines. The questions are useful and their presence is unintrusive. We’re on a level. There’s no fuss or faffing – just space to have a conversation. 

We wrote another proposal recently that recommends virtual interviews only – and I know the client is sceptical. If we don’t win it, I’ll be sad but I’ll understand. But I honestly, honestly believe that if we’re good at our jobs we can develop rapport with anyone – quickly, easily, on all our own terms. 

I’m under no illusions that virtual depths are anything new. But having been a staunch ‘face-to-face’ is best kinda researcher, I’m now changing my tune. Life is hectic, we all want market research to be easy, and none of us enjoy schlepping home from the other side of town late at night and hungry. But we do it because we believe in it.

Maybe we’re just not trusting ourselves to enjoy a different way of chatting; being mutually comfy, staring straight into someone’s eyes and talking? Rapport is what qual researchers should be really good at. So, let’s use it and make everyone’s life just a little bit easier. 

As for my wife, she’s truly excited to be going with me on an accompanied shopping trip where I shall scrutinise her choices and then buy her a coffee for a summary chat afterwards. 

Born to moderate? Moi?