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Going Remote to Improve the In-Person Experience

Lead Research Advisor Jessica Shuma sees brands taking their remote research skills to improve and innovate their in-person and physical experiences.

Words by Ben Wiedmaier, Visuals by Jarred Kolar

Jessica Shuma spent many years working in the fast-paced world of agency research, supporting a diverse client base on tight timelines. Creativity and innovation had to be balanced with pragmatism: questions like, "Will these data create activation-worthy insights?" and, "How can we answer the 'why' and the 'what' with our methods?"

She and her team bring this creativity to support dscout clients today, leveraging its remote qualitative platform to not only unpack those empathy-generating "Why? questions, but lately to explore the hows and whats of the hybrid, omnichannel experience space. As customers feel increasingly safer returning to stores, brands are keen to unpack how their expectations have and will continue to change.

We chatted with Jessica to get a download on how today's company can think about their research in hybrid ways, just as their customers are with products and services.

She also shares a template for leveraging dscout for in-store or in-person experience feedback.

dscout: Was there a major or marker moment that signaled your launch into industry research?

Jessica: I discovered the world of research during undergrad when I had the chance to execute my own qualitative research project. Since then, I’ve worn many different hats in the market research industry.

I started my career in project management with a focus on recruiting participants and managing a panel. After that, I spent some time in quantitative sample management, and most recently I was an Insights Analyst.

In that Insights Analyst role, I got to wear my researcher hat to see quantitative and qualitative projects from start to finish, all the way from designing the research to presenting findings to clients.

Overall, I love supporting researchers in their quest to understand human behavior. I get to be a part of that every day at dscout where my many past experiences are combined into the Lead Research Advisor role.

What’s a critical ingredient to successful research project management?

Plan for the inevitable! Research timelines are often tight, but budgeting extra time can save everyone some stress and most importantly, improve the quality of your research. I think this is especially important for qualitative research where you want to ensure enough time for really digging into the results and immersing yourself in the themes.

For example, use open ends strategically. Ask yourself how you might tag or analyze a question. Yes, asking can capture data, but if you don't know how those data will help meet your goals, then it might be a better (and time-saving) decision to leave it out. This is especially important with mobile and remote platforms like dscout, where folks are often inputting answers from keyboards on their phone/tablet!

Open-ended data like video is only powerful if it can be synthesized into actionable insights. That can take time (and thought!) so plan for it and buffer extra time just in case.

What is dscout's superpower?

dscout’s superpower is the transparency it provides during the recruiting process. The ability to hand select your research participants was one of the innovative features that initially drew me here. As someone who has managed qualitative recruitment in the past and spent time as a researcher, I often sensed and experienced a lack of control during recruiting.

With dscout Recruit, you can leverage a variety of powerful question types in screeners, such as open-ended and video questions. You’ll have the chance to personally review those applications and select the scouts who are the best fit for your research. As the researcher, you can be the one to make sure all of your quotas are met and that your scouts are knowledgeable on the topic. It’s a very empowering experience!

I really can't stress how impactful this can be, especially when striving to tell compelling stories. You learn something about your participants before they're in your study, which can go a long way in establishing rapport and trust during the fieldwork.

I've had clients mention this when they use our interview tool, Live: they were able to make better use of their time because they had some background information on who these people really were. In all, this level of connection promotes empathy generation in the data and eventual insights.

What trends in projects or research goals are you and your team noticing?

Lately, my team has supported a steady flow of Diary Missions with what I’ll label as an “in-person activity” across a variety of industries and topics. Just to name a few, we have recently helped researchers get in the moment with scouts while they are grocery shopping, traveling, ordering fast food, shopping at retail stores, DIYing home projects, and attending events.

This is especially relevant in a mid/post-COVID world. Gone are the days of spending hours in a focus group facility, or at least it seems. Not to mention coordinating tricky in-home or shop-along ethnographies.

With Diary you can let scouts work at their own pace and bring you along on their mobile phone. And if you feel like you need some 1:1 face time with the scouts, you can always follow up with them in a Live session. Even as some of my customers slowly return to true in-person research, all of them continue to leverage dscout in some capacity because it’s become such an important part of their research tool kit.

When planning for this type of “in-person” research on dscout, I always recommend screening for scouts who are interested in that type of opportunity, and then being thorough in your mission instructions. Scouts are at their best when they know what to expect, and that allows you to tap into the unmoderated benefit of Diary missions.

Jessica's Template for Capturing an In-Person Journey

Here is a template you can use to get started if you’re thinking about following your audience on their journey through an in-person activity. This simple but effective 3-part outline is framed from a shopping perspective, however, you could apply a variety of scenarios such as going on a vacation or ordering fast food.

Part 1: Shopping needs and plans

Objective: Get to know scouts who are weekly grocery shoppers and how they would naturally grocery shop. Leverage close-ended questions to gather behavioral data, and open-ended or video questions to tell the full story.

Example questions:

1. Which of these best describes your approach to selecting a grocery store to shop at? [single-select]

- I know exactly which store I’m going to shop at, before I shop.

- I have a few stores in mind, and I’ll narrow to one store once I’m ready to shop.

- I don’t have any stores in mind before I’m ready to shop.

2. Which of these best describes your approach to selecting which brands to purchase while grocery shopping? [single-select]

- I know exactly which brands I’m going to buy before I shop.

- I have a few brands in mind, and I’ll narrow them down once I’m shopping.

- I don’t have any brands in mind before I shop.

3. In a 60-second video, talk us through your game plan for grocery shopping and how you prepare, if at all! [video]

Part 2: Shop-along

Objective: This is where you get to see scouts in action! Have them begin the part as they arrive at the grocery store and use checkpoints to guide them through the full shopping experience. Leverage the photo question to create an inventory of interesting images such as a product that stands or the items in a scout’s cart.

Example questions:

1. You should now be at the grocery store! Please shop like you naturally would and continue to the next question right before you checkout. [checkpoint]
2. You should now be done shopping and ready to check out. Upload a photo of your cart so we can see what you’re buying today. It doesn’t need to be perfect—we want to see the real deal! [photo]
3. Provide a short, fun caption of your photo to describe what’s in your cart today. [open-ended / 140 character limit]

Part 3: Shopping reflection

Objective: This post-shopping part is a great way to tie up any loose ends with any burning questions you might have, or even to take scouts through a more creative activity.

For example:

- Explore areas of opportunity by using a hits, misses, and wishes format

- Identify pain points by using a “magic wand” prompt

- Evaluate a new concept by presenting it to scouts via stimuli

1. On a scale of 1-5, 5 being “the best possible experience,” and 1 being “the worst possible experience,” how would you describe your experience at the store? [scale]
2. In a 60-second selfie-style video, summarize for us what went well (and what went not-so-well) during your overall shopping experience, including any planning/research/preparation that took place. [video]
3. If you could wave a magic wand and change something about your overall shopping experience, what would you change? [open-ended / no limit]

Ben is the product evangelist at dscout, where he spreads the “good news” of contextual research, helps customers understand how to get the most from dscout, and impersonates everyone in the office. He has a doctorate in communication studies from Arizona State University, studying “nonverbal courtship signals”, a.k.a. flirting. No, he doesn’t have dating advice for you.

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