OPINION17 June 2016

In praise of telephone research

Finance Opinion Trends UK

Online surveys have become a default option for quantitative research. But Dale Henry of McCallum Layton believes that telephone research shouldn't be overlooked. 

“Telephone research has had its day!”

For years I’ve heard people say this, or variations of it, and as digital continues to shape how people shop, interact and communicate, agencies have rushed to enhance the research tools they offer to suit.

As a result, several leading agencies have turned their back on telephone interviewing. But in our eyes, telephone research is a staple format of market research that can hold its own against allegedly quicker, cheaper and more robust digital methodologies.

Online developments have enhanced what we can offer clients but the drawbacks are often overlooked. To start with, relatively few organisations possess good coverage of customers’ email addresses. Yes they may hold a significant number to make an online survey feasible, but the first question that should always be asked is ‘will this sample frame be representative of the required population?’ Certain consumer groups – the grey pound for example – tend to be significantly under-represented in terms of internet/digital engagement.

Another issue is security. The problem of online spamming is now so prevalent that consumers are constantly advised to ignore unsolicited emails, especially where financial institutions are concerned. Understandably therefore, we have found considerable reluctance to take part in financial research online – and the low participation rate again calls into question the validity of the resulting sample. So when you’re conducting financial research, a CATI (computer assisted telephone interviewing) approach may well be more appropriate as potential respondents can be individually reassured and authenticated by the interviewer.

The subject matter of the research should also be a consideration. When tackling tricky or sensitive subjects, again a CATI approach can be the most appropriate method. The personal nature of a call provides greater opportunity to develop a rapport with respondents, creating a better level of engagement and making people feel more inclined to open up and give full and honest answers. This is particularly important when targeting certain groups of people, such as high net worth, sub prime and elderly consumers.

And let’s not forget the professional respondent. We’ve come across them in focus groups and their prevalence in online surveys is becoming more and more apparent. It’s easy enough for people to set up multiple email accounts and user names in a bid to milk the incentives of an online survey. Plus how much attention are people paying while sitting at home clicking buttons during Corrie? This isn’t really an issue with CATI surveys, the time and cost for setting up multiple telephone numbers is a big enough deterrent for most and well-trained interviewers can ensure respondents are actually engaged in the survey.

Another influence that may well make CATI surveys more appropriate is the need to gauge sentiment. The richness of the data that CATI surveys provide is often unappreciated. Interviewers that probe effectively are a fantastic resource for gleaning insight and they provide further clarity on confusing or contradictory issues. Having the ability to listen in and monitor interviewers ensures technique and sample quality is maintained. Call recordings further help us gauge the tone of voice being used when making an open-ended comment, something that is much more difficult to interpret from an online post.

Online research of course has plenty of advantages – it can be engaging, cost-effective, fast and in line with modern consumer behaviour. Like many other agencies, we have seen the volume of online work we conduct dramatically increase. However, we’re keen to ensure that the best techniques remain at our disposal, ensuring we can satisfy the needs of different research briefs – and in many cases those needs warrant a CATI approach.

The volume of CATI surveys we run continues to grow – perhaps because other agencies are closing their CATI doors – or perhaps because clients are seeing the value in the approach again after years of pandering to online.

For those still predicting that online will replace telephone interviewing, we’d like to say look again at the evidence – far from had its day, telephone research is very much alive.

Dale Henry is client services manager at McCallum Layton


4 years ago  |  1 like

Very good post, CATI is too much overlooked. Many projects still require a full CATI approach, or a mixed-mode/multi-mode approach. Eric van Velzen CEO, Nebu www.nebu.com

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4 years ago  |  1 like

Terrific discussion of the respondent targeting capabilities of CATI and why VOICE still matters. Only other thing to add is that IVR too is overlooked. IVR has the targeting benefits of CATI without the labor costs. Brand owners should re-think IVR as part of their feedback strategies.

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4 years ago

Well put Dale, I couldn't agree more, thank you for the positive outlook on CATI.

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4 years ago

This is particularly true for B2B research where calling into a business helps ensure that you are reaching the correct individual as opposed to a panel where you really have no idea as to how the respondents identity was validated

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