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Why customer panels are better than access panels

Why customer panels are better than access panels

I am writing this article because I believe it is very important that you know who you are listening to so you know for sure you can trust them and they are who they say they are. With respondents from an access panel it is difficult to find out who they really are, which is why I attached such weight to customer panels.


Before going into the benefits of a customer panel let's first define what a customer panel is. A customer panel is often also described as a dedicated panel or private panel. However, these are access panels disguised as customer panels, they come in different shapes and forms:

  • The most basic form of an Access Panel
    In their most basic form, Access Panels come with a background variable showing that a specific person could be a customer of your company. This person is not recruited through your company and you will never be certain if that person is actually your customer. An Access Panel is accessed by many different research companies, brands and organisations, so any relationship developed is solely between the access panel company and the respondents, not between a brand and its customers.

  • When your Access Panel provider recruits for you
    An access panel provider can recruit specifically for you and provides other background variables that are important to you. So far so good, just make sure their recruitment is solid and they are not asking blunt questions like "Are you customer of brand X?". The only issue with this kind of panel is that most of the time it is not very customisable and these respondents will also be utilised in studies for other companies.

  • The real deal: A Customer panel
    A genuine customer panel is built only for your company: with your look & feel, with your tone of voice, a recruitment process that aligns with your other communication and panellists recruited from your own customers. You and your colleagues are the only ones talking to your panellists and all the data that is collected is yours. The panellists know what they signed up for and will be happy to co-operate because they have previously engaged with your organisation and brand.


In this article I will compare the most recent type of customer panel (the real deal) with access panels. By showing you the pros and cons I think I will show you why your company should really be implementing a customer panel.

How motivated are your members?

If a person joins your customer panel they do this because they want to help your company and they want to be involved with your company. People who are in an access panel did not join to help your company. They probably want to earn some money in their spare time and at best like to fill in questionnaires. This raises a few questions:

  • Are they really prepared to help or will they do whatever it takes to earn some money?
  • If they join the questionnaire to earn money, how can you make sure their answers are true and that they are who they say they are?
  • If they are motivated by money, why would they spend more time than absolutely necessary on completing the survey?

Our experience with customer panels is that you do not need to pay a panellist anything. They like to help your company and like to be involved. This can be seen in the length of open answers, these are 85% longer than those from access panellists.

High quality engagement from your members

People who are in a customer panel take time to participate and are prepared to answer your questions. You can see this in the average time it takes them to complete a survey compared to access panellist. You do not see any straight liners (every question in a matrix gets the same answer) from your own customers and open answers are more elaborate.

What are the differences in costs?

If you regularly want to talk to your customers a customer panel is always the better option. It takes some time and effort to setup and you pay an annual fee for using panel management software, but the variable cost (cost per complete) is close to zero, since incentivizing customer panels is generally not necessary. With access panels you pay per complete, so one advantage is that you have no fixed costs. So if you are only looking at the cost of your surveys, then you have to conduct surveys regularly to get a cost advantage from customer panels.

Which research panel has more flexibility?

Once the panellist has joined your panel you can ask your panellist what you want, when you want. However, what happens when you need speed for agile working? Ask your panellist if they are prepared to react within 4 hours and within your customer panel I am sure you will find a group of panellists who are willing. You need mystery shoppers or community members for a pop up community? It is easy to recruit them from you panel. You have highly motivated panellists so there are always people who want to help.

A research panel that allows you to engage

By having a private panel your company shows that you are interested in the opinions and ideas of your consumers. People like to be engaged, so this is not only a way of getting insights but also a marketing tool.

Never forget that a customer panel is not a national representative sample. People who joined your panel like your brand or want to contribute to your company. They are not representative of the whole population. So if you want to know what the whole population thinks then a customer panel is not suitable for that study.


To be a successful company you have to listen to your customers and know what is important to them. One of the best ways to do this is by starting a customer panel. At Crowdtech we have spent the last decade helping organisations improve customer satisfaction through customer panels. I have seen a lot of success stories in every industry sector and am happy to share them with you.

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