RSMB’s Panel Liaison Team: Delivering Independent QC for BARB
Lora Lake
April 7, 2021

The Panel Liaison Team play a pivotal role in the BARB system. The calls that we make to panel homes, verify and confirm that viewing data and panel member behaviour is correct. We also ensure that panel members are classified correctly. We operate separately from the meter contractor and this means that BARB users can be reassured that continuous independent validation is taking place and that the panel member data at the heart of the system is being registered, collected and reported correctly. The BARB system requires a consistently high standard, and it’s the team’s job to identify any exceptions to this. We work on a continuous basis so BARB's stakeholders can be reassured the system is working as it should.

The Panel Liaison Team, comprises six members of staff- 1 full time and 5 part-time, who work various shifts through the week between 9am and 9pm, and on Saturday mornings, in order to fulfil our commitments to BARB and to maximise contact with the panel members. I manage the team and have been at RSMB for 20 years; I have worked on three of the BARB contracts RSMB have won and undertaken within that time. The team as a whole have over 80 years combined experience in Panel Liaison!  We are a very close-knit team and have an admirable working relationship, which helps to provide a really positive and comfortable working environment for us all.

The panel home checks made by panel liaison

No two calls to panel homes are the same and you are covering a potentially different scenario each time you carry out your pre-call analysis and make the call. The key elements of the Panel Liaison role include:

  • Running In. This is the stage when panel homes have been recording their viewing for the first time. At this stage we analyse the viewing recorded by the home and then call them to check everything has been captured correctly. It’s the Panel Liaison Officer’s decision as to whether a home can enter production or not.  
  • Quality Control. QC calls identify behaviour that is genuine, behaviour that needs re-educating, or alternatively can identify a potential technical issue, which we will report to the meter contractor to be rectified as soon as possible.  Depending on the volume and type of queries per contact it could be a combination of all three!  A panel member may mention other relevant or useful information worth noting during a call- such as a family holiday they have coming up, or someone is moving out/moving in soon, and this will be entered into the database for future reference. Panel Liaison have a particular responsibility to flag and withhold any homes which enter QC where non-compliance is suspected for example “uncovered set viewing” when the TV is on but the panellist(s) haven’t been recording their presence in the room. So for example we will discuss with the household whether this is genuine or not (yes some people do leave the TV on for their pets!); if the cause is the panel member not complying with what is required then we’ll try and work with them to get into the correct habits. These homes will remain withheld from the reporting panel until levels of uncovered set viewing are satisfactory. Sometimes that doesn’t happen and, if all avenues of re-education have been explored and not enough improvement has been seen then the Panel Liaison Officer may recommend the home to be dropped from the panel. Quality Control makes up the majority of our work.
  • Coincidental Study (Coin). These are annual checks for each home on the panel where we call and find out if the TV set is on and who is in the room at the moment of the phone call. That is then compared with the data being collected by the meter.
Pre-call preparation is crucial

At the beginning of each week, the QC list is produced, which comprises of 400 panel homes with panel member viewing behaviour to be checked and verified based on data provided from the metering equipment over the past 1-3 weeks.  Once contact is established, answers are recorded in our in-house database (known as the Household Master File or HMF) and any issues/problems found are sent over to the meter contractor for them to investigate.  

A crucial part of QC, and in fact any call Panel Liaison make, is the pre-call analysis- this is as important as the call and the findings themselves. Pre-call analysis builds up a picture of the household in question, its call history, previous behaviour worth noting, any relevant information to the call that’s about to be made, and if there’s anything additional it may be worth querying with the panel member when speaking to the home. Panel Liaison have access to panel members’ viewing data via our in-house database and this is assessed prior to each call, so all of these elements together form the pre-call analysis process which is such a vital part of the role, especially when it comes to Running In and QC in particular.  

"It's rewarding  to know that our work delivers ongoing, independent validation of panel home behaviour"

Another important part of the role whilst speaking to panel members is to ensure panel classifications (such as working status, age, details of any regular guests) attributed by the meter contractor are correct.  These can be checked during any call to the home, but are particularly important at the early stages when a home has recently joined the panel and come over to panel liaison for Running In.  It is vitally important that these classifications are accurate for correct representation of demographics across the panel so, for example, a 16 year old is recorded as such and correctly included in 16-24 ratings.

On average in a typical week, Panel Liaison will contact around 475 households from the reporting panel across all types of calls made, and it’s been possible on a few occasions over the last 12 months to achieve contact with over 600 households per week.   With a reporting panel target of 5,100 TV homes, this is a significant proportion of the panel to be speaking to and we pride ourselves on our excellent contact rates.

Building good relationships is important

The relationship between ourselves and the panel members is an important one and calls from the team are generally very well received.  Panel members are happy to take our calls and feel comfortable talking to us to provide answers to our queries, and the team have established a good rapport with the majority of those we speak to.  Having a call from us provides them with an opportunity for any questions to be answered and it’s good for them to realise (in case they don’t), that their viewing data and co-operation is extremely important. Calls vary in length and I think for some panel members it’s nice to have someone calling them even if it’s to check on their recent viewing data! We have several panel members that recognise our voices, remember our names, and wish us Merry Christmas and Happy Easter- which is lovely!  Most calls are just a few minutes long, dependent on how many queries are present.  We try and ensure that call backs may be requested at a more convenient time for the panel member if they are working or busy doing something else. It’s important to us that they take their time answering the queries as accurately as they can.

Covid has presented challenges to the research industry in that there have been periods when fieldwork has not been possible due to lockdown restrictions and this has extended to metering engineer visits for BARB. Our role has been even more important during this period as it has been crucial to maintain as high a BARB reporting panel as possible. We have found that our calls have still been extremely well received and in some cases provided welcome contact in a difficult time. The contact rate has remained excellent across all types of calls and, although it’s been easier to reach people, some of the calls have lasted somewhat longer than they usually would.  Again, I think for some panel members it's nice to hear a friendly voice and have a chat, and being part of the panel helps to give them a sense of importance and responsibility.

The skills needed to do the job well

A successful Panel Liaison Officer needs to possess excellent interpersonal skills as they are speaking to many panel members every shift plus liaising with each other and myself daily.  They also need to be extremely organised, flexible and show great attention to detail when looking at data and recording information given during a call.  The team are provided with scripts and taught how best to phrase the questions regarding each of the different types of queries, and how to record the given answers using the outcome code scenarios we provide, of which there are many.

I hope this has given you a good insight into the role of the Panel Liaison team within RSMB. It’s rewarding to know that our work delivers ongoing, independent validation of panel home behaviour and that as a result we help ensure that the data reported by BARB to their subscribers is as accurate as possibly can be.