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Recruiting for user research is by far the hardest part of the UX job.

Lately however I've been having a particular nightmare with this.

-Many participants sign up then I just never hear from them in response to my follow up mail to setup the logistics.

-Some sign up, are communicative at first, and then go quiet and don't show up.

-Some don't read what the research session is about. They expect a simple phone call and either can't or are unwilling to share their screen for one reason or another.

The obvious answers are simple ones of higher incentives and better communications to outline what will be involved. But is there anything else that can be done to cut down on these false alarms?

Even on the communication side, how can a balance be reached between saying too much and overwhelming potential users with how complicated it all seems with making them fully informed?

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There's no way to ensure a 100% show rate, but several factors do affect participant no shows:

  1. In person versus remote: Are you asking participants to travel to a particular location for research? No shows are much higher when travel is required because it introduces more opportunity for lateness, and is less convenient for the participant (but more convenient for you). If possible, run research sessions remotely.
  2. Amount of time requested: I've found much more willingness to talk for 30 minutes than to talk for 60 or 90 minutes. Our users are busy people with their own lives, so it's best to book only as much time as you absolutely need to get your research questions answered.
  3. Amount of money offered: You brought this up already. Money is not everything, but it definitely helps. No shows can be reduced by paying more. Definite, high payment ($300 for 60 minutes) is a better guarantee than lower payments ($30 for 60 minutes) or offering payment via a lottery.
  4. Identity of research sponsor: Participants who are opinionated about a research sponsor are more likely to show up if they know who that sponsor is. For example, recruiting someone to talk about "their experience using social media" is different than recruiting someone to talk about "their experience using Instagram." Some people will even volunteer to participate for free if they are especially passionate about a product.
  5. Screener tips: Many participants do not read things before showing up to research. It sounds like there's important factors that qualify your participants, such as willingness to screenshare. Screening participants for these aspects during recruitment can help. At the time of confirmation, mention these dealbreakers again: "By agreeing to participate, you agree to share your screen at times during the session when asked by the researcher."
  6. Rigidity of time requested: I use Calendly for participants to sign up to sessions, which also allows them to cancel and rebook if needed. Are you asking 6 participants to show up on one particular day? Is it possible to be more flexible? Many no-shows that I have had were more than willing to reschedule and had valid excuses for missing the first time (work, personal emergency, simply forgot). Because they felt bad, they showed up to the reschedule even more prepared and enthusiastic.
  7. Pre-work required: Outside of setting expectations about things like screensharing, I would not overwhelm a participant with information before a session - it's not surgery! I would incorporate any setup required into the session time and help them in any way needed. This could include having phone chargers on site for a mobile study, or understanding they might need to download Zoom with you on the phone before a remote session.
  8. Assuming some degree of no-shows: Finally, I tend to assume a certain rate of no shows for every round of research I do. I will schedule 9 sessions in order to complete 6, and any extra are a bonus. This depends on your time and budget of course, but 1-2 extra sessions is considered good practice by several leading UX research agencies in the Bay Area.

Good luck!

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Maybe you could attack this with a UX mindset.

Ask the no shows why they weren't willing to follow through and work on the issues they raise.

Depending on sample side is hard to say it could be selection bias, or something associated with your processes.

Think of all the reasons they might not want to continue and address them.

If all else fails, could you go to them?

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Have you considered the flexibility in terms of time and location? Making time and heading to the location might take quite a bit of effort on their part. you could consider flexible timing based on their convenience. also consider your testing venue.

Another out of the box incentive is to include their name in the credits of your product. similar to how they include team team members name at the end of a movie or the about section of a game.

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  • I do sign ups with calendly, giving them a wide range of times and its ran over the internet. Thought more flexiability could help in the past which did get me more initial signups with people being able to do it at 8pm but they're not showing up. Commented Mar 12, 2020 at 9:54

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