Telephone Surveys

In recent years we’ve seen a surge in the popularity of online survey tools, which have overtaken and replaced many of the more traditional survey types. However, despite this there are still some circumstances where the use of more traditional methods such as the telephone survey can prove beneficial, especially when it’s used with assistive technologies such as CATI (Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing) and online survey tools.

The telephone survey

Whatever audience you’re trying to reach out to, your success will depend on your choice of survey distribution and survey method.

For example, if you were a solely ecommerce operation, then a web-based method where an online survey was executed via a web pop up or embedded link at strategic points around your website would be the only real viable way of getting feedback from your website visitors.

The same can be said for using the telephone as your survey medium, in applications and settings where it could be viewed as an obvious extension to what you’re doing.

For example, if you were part of a sales or customer support team, and you were on a call with a customer that was really engaged with what you were saying and you felt it was going really well, you could invite them to stay and do a very short customer service survey at the end of your call. This could be assisted with the support of an online survey, where staff could input the replies of respondents directly into the survey software, so it could be immediately analysed and reported on.

Similarly, if you were involved in surveying an area, such as a patient satisfaction survey that brought you in contact with an older population demographic that didn’t have access to the internet, you might choose to administer your survey via the telephone instead.

Advantages of telephone surveys

1) High Accessibility

While internet access among households continues to grow, there’s still a greater number of people that have access to a phone, making telephone surveys particularly attractive for those whose surveys need to reach out to a wide representation of society, such as with an opinion poll survey. And when used with assistive technologies such as CATI, telephone surveys can be conducted with a relatively quick turnaround time.

2) Good response rate

Compared with other methods the telephone survey scores very highly on response rates – typically anywhere between 10% and 25%. As well as being on hand to explain any questions that a respondent may be struggling with, or probe for more detail when needed, the telephone medium also allows an interviewer to keep respondents focused and engaged enough to complete their survey.

3) Personal touch

In general, in contrast to other survey approaches, the telephone survey offers the opportunity to add a more personal touch. And depending on the skills of the interviewer, this can then lead to valuable brand-building benefits.

While we’ve offered some examples and situations where telephone surveys can be beneficial, they are not without their many disadvantages, where you would be much better using a more efficient and cost-effective approach such as the online survey instead.

Here are a few points to think about…

Disadvantages of telephone surveys

1) It can be rather expensive

Although telephone surveys are relatively easy to conduct, the downside is that they can be rather expensive compared with other survey methods, particularly the online survey. While they are likely to be more affordable than face to face interviews, they still require trained interviewers, as well as a system for making calls, both of which cost money.

2) Intrusive for customers

With many calls done at random, often interrupting people’s dinner or evenings, some telephone surveys can be intrusive, which can lead to people refusing to participate.

3) There’s a limit on how much you can cover off

Ironically although having an interviewer gives you greater flexibility for directing your survey, you’re still limited in terms of the time available to you to ask questions, as a survey that is any longer than five to ten minutes risks people getting impatient and possibly hanging up on you. This makes it even more important to get the survey format right for this type of survey.

4) The interviewer could unwittingly influence respondents

Telephone surveys can be subject to interviewer bias, as the way in which the interview asks their questions or responds to participants’ answers can influence how that respondent answers subsequent questions, potentially harming your survey’s validity.

How to carry out telephone surveys

From email, mobile and QR codes, to a web pop, embedded web link or SMS, with so much flexibility over survey creation and distribution, online surveys are still well out in front when it comes to the survey popularity stakes.

However, if you still think the telephone survey is the most appropriate method for the setting in which you plan to use it, then there are a few best practice tips you need to think about first, if you’re going to maximise its success.

Create a project plan – before you do anything else you need a clear plan for your survey including a budget, timelines and responsibilities.

Choose your survey design team – next you need to decide who should be involved in your survey design and consult them fully on their role and responsibilities.

Define the survey content – you need to be clear about what you’re trying to find out and how you will use the data.

Identify respondents – next you need to think about your sample size and ensure its large enough to be representative for the needs of your survey.

Create your questionnaire: Telephone surveys should be short with simple to understand questions. You should cover the most important information first. Develop a standard ‘script’ for callers, explaining who they are and the purpose of the survey. You also need to establish some caller guidelines to cover off any anticipated questions or issues they may encounter.

Prepare materials and facilities for making the calls: besides the script they will be working to, your preparation materials could include online forms and call logs. You could also consider providing advance notice to participants or scheduling interview times with them ahead of your call.

Pilot your survey: from helping to ensure your wording is clear and providing a dummy run for your interviewers, to checking that the timing of your survey works well and that it yields the right kind of data. Piloting your survey can be an ideal time to see what you can improve on and make any necessary refinements before you conduct your survey for real.

Conduct the full survey: rigorously capture results using call logs, databases and any supporting online survey software you may be using.

Analyse and report on your findings: the final stage is to analyse, report on and communicate your findings to your stakeholders.

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