Top 7 Best Practices for Respondent Recruitment in South East Asia

May 19, 2020 | UX Guide, Respondent Recruitment, User Research

Getting the right respondents for your market research or user experience research (UXR) makes all the difference, and in South East Asian countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Hong Kong and Philippines, respondent recruitment can be quite a tricky task to accomplish. Having a good participant recruitment strategy helps you get more accurate insights. 

Here are several respondent recruitment best practices that we have accumulated close to 10 years in South East Asia. These best practices are mainly aimed for qualitative research such as respondent interviews, diary studies, usability testing, focus group etc. :

1. Avoid general population recruitment

It may be an easier alternative, but don’t fall into the trap of recruiting only the general population because they aren’t your target users. For the benefit of your research, recruit participants that are representative of your target users, these people have the true motive and mindset that is irreplaceable.

People pay attention to different things depending on their goal, and if their goal is without motive, they will pay attention to very different things compared to your real users. Representative participants will pay closer attention to the content, meanings and association when they are navigating and completing tasks.

If you don’t know who your target users are, take the time to really figure this out, what are their demographic criteria? Trying to conduct research with the wrong respondents is like testing a dating app with users who are happily married, they won’t have the right motive and mindset as single users who are looking to date.

2. Provide an incentive

Money = Time. By providing an incentive to respondents, it shows that you value the time they are taking to participate in the research and are compensating them for their valuable time, incentives are a helpful motivator in participant recruitment.

Incentive plays a huge role in motivating respondents to show up and participate in the research. Additionally, it also increases the engagement level because the respondents have a sense of commitment to the research.

The amount of incentive depends on who you need to recruit, it correlates with the level of seniority in a company’s hierarchy, the scarcity and time requirements. You could also consider adding a little extra incentive to cover travelling costs, this is especially helpful if the respondents are staying in rural areas or the location of the study takes some travelling to reach.

Which incentive is preferred by participants? Vouchers or Cash?

Cash is king and preferred since the respondents can choose how to spend the money but incentives don’t necessarily have to be in cash. It can be in the form of vouchers, shopping vouchers for groceries is a popular choice if you are recruiting mothers for your research. 

If your company or your client has a policy against cash incentives or monetary vouchers, you could consider vouchers for items that don’t specify any monetary value, like a meal voucher at a popular franchise or restaurant.

3. Use a screener

Once you have nailed down the demographic criteria of your target users, you can create a screener. This is a way of assessing and obtaining potential participants’ characteristics to analyse whether they are truly representative of your target users.

Take careful consideration in creating your screener so that it doesn’t give away what the research is for. If people can easily guess what the research is about, they may amend their responses accordingly in order to increase their chance of being recruited for the study just for the sake of receiving the incentive.

For example, if the screener includes this question:

Do you eat McDonald’s?

  • Yes
  • No

This question gives away that the research has something to do with McDonald’s.

Instead, if the question is replaced with:

Do you eat fast food? If yes, please choose which fast food restuarant you visit the most?

  • KFC
  • Pizza Hut
  • McDonald’s
  • Others: ______

This question makes it less obvious that the research is for McDonald’s.

4. Confirm the screener

Unfortunately in participant recruitment, people can be quite sneaky when there’s an incentive involved, and they provide false answers to screeners in order to be selected for the research. The screener is the first level of filtering potential respondents, and the second level is to call them to confirm.

It is a little harder to lie when you’re on a call with someone, especially if they don’t have their responses to refer to immediately. Call up the potential respondent to go through the screener with them again, yes it is a slight hassle but this will help you eliminate those who aren’t honest.

Have their screener responses handy for reference but don’t ask them to confirm their responses, instead ask them the question again for confirmation. So instead of asking: “You responded that you eat KFC most frequently, is that true?”, ask “Do you eat fast food?” and if they answer yes, ask which restaurant they go to the most.

If they hesitate to answer the first question, there’s some doubt whether they really eat fast food, and if their response doesn’t match their screener response, it might be an indication that they weren’t truthful. 

This call doesn’t only help to confirm the demographic criteria and screener, but it allows a sense of their language and conversational skills, it also helps in starting a rapport with the respondent. In addition, if it all checks out, you can schedule them in for the research session immediately!

5. Accommodate for Asian timing

Asians are quite well known for ‘Asian timing’, which is a tendency to arrive late and this happens all over South East Asia. Unfortunately, late-comers and no-shows aren’t something you can control, but there is a preventive measure you can take.

Add in sufficient buffer time before the research session starts, so if the session is to start at 3pm, ask your respondent to be there at 2:30pm. 30 minutes may seem like a lot of time, but it can be very helpful in accommodating for Asian timing. Likelihood, your respondent will arrive ‘late’ to be just in time for the session.

Otherwise, if they aren’t late, the extra time will allow the respondents to register at the security desk, take a toilet break before the session begins, have a glass of water and calm themselves down to be in a better mindset for the research. Respondents who show up late tend to be in a rushed mindset, with their minds and body still being in a frenzy, it won’t be conducive to the research session.

6. Recruit Extra

No-shows aren’t something you can control, and sometimes real emergencies do happen at the wrong time, it’s unavoidable. Instead of scrambling to find a replacement, make sure you recruit extra respondents as backups. 

If you need 5 participants recruitment, do plan for an extra respondent as a back-up, the extra person gives you a comfortable buffer for any no-shows. The best-case scenario: all your respondents show up! The extra respondent will provide further validation and reliability to your findings. Worst case scenario? You’ll have a no-show or two but you have the back-up respondent at the ready!

Do take note to recruit extra respondents accordingly, so if your research required 10 respondents, consider recruiting 2 extra respondents. If you require 15 respondents, an extra 3 respondents should be sufficient as back-ups.

You may be asking: “What if we don’t have enough incentive or time for the extra respondents?” You can pre-empt your back-up respondents by asking them if they are willing to be back-ups and to reserve their time just in case they are needed. Consider providing them with a small incentive for their time and willing to be a back-up if they aren’t needed in the end. If there is a no-show, you have someone as a reserve that is willing to participate.

7. Language

In South-East Asia, there is a large variety of languages being spoken that poses a bit of a challenge when it comes to participant recruitment. In Malaysia for example, the population mostly speak English, Malay, Chinese, and Tamil. Even with the Chinese language, some prefer to speak in Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka or Hokkien.

Language plays a huge part in expressing our thoughts and opinions, if the respondent is speaking a language they aren’t fluent in, they will have difficulty finding the right words to express themselves which will affect the research findings. This is especially important for qualitative research methods such as interviews and usability testing where respondents need to use language to express their thoughts and opinions.

Side note: check out this article for great tips on interviews.

The best practice would be to select 1 language, recruit accordingly and conduct the research in that chosen language. Take note to find out if your respondents are fluent or conversational in the chosen language, a good way to gauge their conversational skills is during the call with them in confirming the screener.

This is especially helpful if you have international stakeholders/observers that don’t speak the local languages, with English being the international language, it is a good idea to stick to using only English for the research session and only recruit those who are at least conversational.

If you need to recruit a variety of ethnicities and it’s impractical for all of them to speak the same language, consider using a researcher who is multi-lingual. Bear in mind that more work will be required to translate all the necessary materials and documents. Alternatively, hire a simultaneous interpreter to assist in translating for the participant. But do budget extra for your research as translation will also take up time.


In closing, these best practices will help you in the respondent recruitment process, making the most of your research: 

  • Recruit respondents that are representative of your target users 
  • Provide an incentive to motivate respondents 
  • Use a screener to filter potential respondents 
  • Call up potential respondents to verify their eligibility and conversational skills 
  • Allocate sufficient buffer time before the session, this helps with late-comers 
  • Recruit extra participants as backups in case of no-shows 
  • Take note of which language to conduct the research in and recruit accordingly


If you need any respondent recruitment services, Netizen Experience offers an end-to-end service for the whole recruitment process for customer research and user experience research (UXR). Send them an email at for further enquiry.

Respondent Recruitment For Representative User Insights

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User Testing Services in Asia

Key Highlights
  • Identify and recruit respondents who precisely match the desired demographic, psychographic, or behavioral criteria
  • Usage of various channels, such as online platforms, social media, and community networks, to reach a wide range of potential respondents
  • Streamlined screening and qualification process that efficiently filters out ineligible respondents
  • Tailored respondent recruitment solutions to meet specific research objectives
  • Quick turnaround times, enabling businesses to gather the required number of participants within their project timelines
  • Commitment to quality by assuring clients of a rigorous quality assurance process with dedicated and experience project managers

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