While traditionally face to face interviews were the most common way to carry out survey research, their use has fallen with the growing popularity of alternatives such as online surveys, and other technology driven research methods that took hold following the emergence of the internet and the ongoing evolution in technology. More recently the face to face survey method has suffered further decline, having been put on hold due to health and safety concerns around Covid-19.
But despite this, there will and always will be situations in the post pandemic world where face to face surveys, and the ability to elicit on the spot feedback in public places and focused groups will be needed.
Here we look at the advantages of face to face interviews when conducting surveys. But we’ve also outlined the disadvantages too, so you can be better informed about when you would be better off deploying online survey tools instead.
The face to face interview
Whatever it is that you’re looking to find out, asking for feedback and the methods you use to gather this information are crucial, as different approaches work better for different scenarios.
For example, if you were developing a new product and wanted to maximise its success on launch, usability tests could help you garner the views of consumers about its ease of use and overcome any potential obstacles at the pre-launch stage. Alternatively, if you had a significant online presence, you could gather information needed to make ongoing improvements to your website by having a feedback box where visitors could leave their comments.
While both approaches are great, they would struggle to pick up more contextual information. To gather this kind of information, you would be much better off running a video call or face to face interview, which leads us nicely onto discussing some of the pros of this latter method, as we explore both the advantages and disadvantages of face to face interviews.
Advantages of face to face surveys
- Capture verbal and non-verbal cues: a big advantage of the face to face interview is the ability to capture additional emotional and behavioural clues, such as discomfort or enthusiasm with your questions that you wouldn’t be able to pick up with any other interview methods. Such additional information could make all the difference when it came to choosing two very close candidates in a job interview scenario.
- Flexibility to probe deeper: the verbal and non-verbal visual cues that face to face interview questions can provide can also help interviewers to probe deeper when there is an indication that a respondent is likely to have more valuable information to disclose on a particular issue.
- Helps keep respondents focused: given that the interviewer has control over the interview, they can help ensure the interviewee remains focused and on track to complete their survey. In contrast, other methods that allow respondents to complete the survey in their own time could be competing with many other distractions that an individual may be involved with such as texting, answering emails, internet surfing and much more.
As with any data collection method, when it comes to surveys there are also some disadvantages of face to face communication…
Disadvantages of face to face surveys
- High cost: when you consider that you need staff to conduct this method of surveying, and that personnel are one of the highest costs a business can incur, it’s not surprising to see that cost is a major disadvantage for face-to-face interviews. And if you’re also conducting your face to face survey with a paper-based system, the additional data entry work this would require can add further costs.
- Face to face questionnaires are more time consuming: From the time taken to recruit interviewers and obtain interviewees to gathering, analysing and reporting on your findings. The whole process will take a lot more time than compared to more efficient methods such as the online survey.
- Your data quality is often reliant on the expertise of your interviewer: A limitation of interviews is that the quality of data you receive often depends on the ability of your interviewer. While some people have a natural ability to conduct an interview and gather data well, others don’t. Similarly, some interviewers may also have their own biases that could impact the way they input responses.
When you would be better off moving online
In contrast to the high cost, time-consuming and sometimes biased limitations experienced with the face to face surveys approach, the advantages of online surveys are far ranging.
Online survey tools are cost-efficient, fast, reliable and much more secure making them an ideal solution for businesses of all types and sizes, particularly those that operate in highly regulated industries. They are also much more flexible too, and ironically, it’s this flexibility that means that they can be used to support face-to-face interviews too.
One of the best examples of this is if you’re required to conduct a survey out in the street or in a more rural location, where access to the internet maybe intermittent or completely unavailable. In such a scenario many online survey tools are able to provide an offline surveys capability. We offer such a service ourselves, enabling our customers to load an offline survey to a smartphone or tablet, capture relevant data in the field and then download these responses automatically as soon as a connection is re-established.