Paying Panelists why is it such a headache

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Like so many other industries, market research has been completely transformed by the internet. Online questionnaires and feedback forms have revolutionised how businesses poll public opinion, survey their existing clients, or find out about new customer segments.

Market research (MR) firms have had to adapt with the times. In a global economy, MR firms are increasingly being asked to provide insight on emerging markets from businesses with international aspirations – both large and small. While the internet has enabled the MR industry to quickly and cost-effectively survey panellists around the world, it has brought with it a number of operational challenges.

One of the most prominent challenges is how these firms pay their panellists. Ixaris was at the Marketing Week Live event in London last week. Several of the MR firms in attendance mentioned how they were trying to centralise their payments operations for reasons of both cost and ease-of-use.

A MR firm with an international panel base has to tackle the costs and inefficiencies of the international payments process, different national payments regulations, and the difficulty of reconciling multiple payments internally.

Traditional payments methods are usually too expensive, too slow or too difficult to be viable options for MR firms that have to pay panellists from abroad. While MR firms can now get surveys back in real-time, panellists usually have to wait before they get paid. Mainstream banking services lack the flexibility to support MR firms with low value, high frequency payments. As a result, many firms choose to pay their panellists with cheques or gift cards e.g. in the form of Amazon vouchers. This is not a desirable form of payment for panellists who naturally prefer the flexibility of cash, leading to a high risk of customer attrition.

This is one area where prepaid cards can really help. Through prepaid card schemes, MR firms can choose to pay the panellists in the format they want. If panellists prefer cash, they can be issued with a physical prepaid card which can be used at an ATM. The card can be loaded up with funds as soon as the panellist has completed a survey – no waiting around for gift cards or cheques. Those panellists who prefer to shop online can be issued instantly with virtual prepaid cards, which can then be used on any site which accepts Mastercard or Visa.

By rewarding panellists straight away in the currency of their preference, panellists are much more likely to stay with their MR firm. Customer retention is a big issue for the industry – with some firms quoting an average panellist lifespan of under 18 months, those that can hold on to their existing customers are far more likely to succeed.

For MR firms, the benefits of adopting a virtual prepaid card scheme are manifold. First and foremost, they can send payments to panellists in the currency of their choice yet save on foreign exchange fees and bank charges. International payments to prepaid cards do not fall foul of legislation in any of the 150 countries in which Visa or Mastercard are accepted. MR firms can also deck out the prepaid cards in their own branding, strengthening relationships with panellists – something that is not possible with voucher or reward schemes.

In a highly competitive landscape, market research firms must nurture the relationships with their existing customer base to prevent churn. Implementing a fast and effective way to pay them is one of the best ways to do this.