The other night, as my husband Jim and I arrived home from having dinner with friends, a black dog greeted our car and followed us up our long driveway and ran into our garage.
I looked at her tags and there was a chip number to call and a rabies tag (from Texas-so I thought 'gee this dog is really lost if she came here to Colorado from Texas!'), but no address or phone number of the owner.
Wanting to find the dog's owner, I called the chip number and was immediately waiting on hold, and in the interim realized that this number was going to do me no good, as I have a lot of useless tools at home (can you say juicer?) but a chip reader wasn't one of them.
I was frustrated that there was no owner information on the tag and unsure what to do next. There was a tag that said 'Google this [ridiculously long] number to find my owner'. (OK, it didn't really say 'ridiculously long').
But it was dark and cold and I could barely read the number. In the meantime, the dog, who was at first sitting quietly, managed to run off.
What does this have to do with research? Just as the dog owners didn't give me enough information to call them, many people don't leave enough information in their voicemails to encourage people to call them back.
Here are some things that you need to make clear when you leave messages:
- Why you are calling. As briefly and specifically as possible, tell the person the purpose of your call. Sometimes researchers fear that if they leave the reason for the call, the person won't call them back. But if the person isn't willing to even return your call if you say you're a researcher, how likely is it that he or she will participate in your research?
- What you need from the person. To fill out a survey? 30 minutes of their time? Be specific. If you need an hour, say that. Set expectations appropriately. Don't bait and switch-and tell them you need 15 minutes when you need 45 -you'll only annoy them and give all of us researchers a bad name.
- When you need the information. Are you scheduling calls for next Thurs and Friday (of course being flexible if they can't make that)? Does the research need to be completed by the end of the month? I find that the more specific you can be with a participant, the easier it is for him or her to respond to your request.
- What the benefit is for the person you're trying to reach, if any. Are you offering a reward? A copy of the report? An Amazon gift certificate? A Ferrari? (If it's the last one, please call me to participate-I'll clear my schedule.)
- How he or she can reach you. Lastly, you probably won't forget to leave your name and phone number, but make sure they are clearly pronounced. (I usually do this at the beginning of the message and repeat my name at the end). Say your phone number s l o w l y, and maybe even repeat it. I've gotten many messages where I can't understand the whole phone number, or have to listen to the message umpteen (yes, that's a real number) times to get the number. The last thing you want to do is frustrate your potential interviewee before you even talk to him or her.
So remember, be upfront about what you need and clearly provide your information, and you'll start off your relationship with your research participant positively.
Oh, and the dog? I later found out she belonged to a neighbor not that far away and that she made it home safely.
What about you? Anything else you leave in messages for participants? And, what's the most useless tool you have at home? Send me an email
to let me know.