Telephone surveys

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If the study is one requiring a broad geographic sample, national or regional, the telephone survey may be ideal. Telephone surveys can also be used as an efficient follow-up method in connection with another basic method of data collection. Telephone surveys involve a team of interviewers working from a central location, with workstations provided along with outgoing telephone lines for each.

Today, almost all telephone interviewing is computer controlled. The interviewer works with a computer. In a consumer survey, when the interviewer gets an answer to a call, they check to make sure that it is a household and then ask to speak to the desired respondent. Then the interviewer uses the computer. Each question is shown on the monitor in sequence and the interviewer reads the question exactly as it appears on screen. Since most questions designed for telephone surveys are short-answer questions, where the respondent's replies are limited to a choice of possibilities, these are also shown on the screen. All the responses go immediately into the computer for later analysis.

Telephone interviews have many advantages. There is a compulsion to answer the telephone, regardless of what a person happens to be doing at the time: the ringing sound compels action. Some 95% of households have telephones and the business telephone coverage is practically 100%. In the telephone method, efficient call-backs are the rule; they are made at times when the desired respondent is more likely to be at home. A very high response rate is not unusual in the case of telephone interviewing. As no travel time is needed for the interviewer to make contact with the respondent, it is wasteful neither of interview time nor costly travel expenses. As a result, the amount of time needed for the study and interviewing costs are reduced.



• compulsion to answer the telephone

• efficient call-backs

• high response rate

• question modification possible


• list of telephone numbers outdated

• demanding nature of the telephone ring may announce an unwanted sales pitch

• limit to the length of the typical telephone interview

• no way to provide visual aids

With a computerised interviewing program, it is generally possible to modify the questions during the survey process. Sometimes, the order in which a list of possible answers is given to respondents can affect their response. The first item on the list usually gets more responses than it should and the last position on the list may also bias replies (order bias). The first and last positions are the most likely to be affected. Computerised interviewing can be programmed to provide for equal average position, eliminating any such bias.


The aim of the research was to gather information that would ultimately help to define an effective marketing strategy for the sponsoring firm's market offering supplied as either a product or service, or as some combination of both. The research studied both the actions and reactions to the market offering as well as the degree of sophistication, in sales and marketing, of the companies interviewed.

The first stage of the research process was conducted using personal interviews, primarily because of their high degree of flexibility. The method used is termed as a guided or focused interview that, while allowing the respondent to talk freely around each topic, successfully covers the topics of crucial context in a more or less systematic way. The number of respondents was small and only partially representative of the population of interest. However, it was especially effective with busy business executives and was ideal for this research as the respondents were chosen as experienced and authoritative executives from the field of sales and marketing in industrial and business-to-business marketing. Thirty names and addresses were located. Of the companies chosen, some were named by the sponsoring firm as ones that they wanted to interview. Others were located in Key British Enterprises - British Business Rankings (Dun & Bradstreet International).

The Telepost combination technique was the method used for the second stage of the research. This method is very effective in obtaining a high-quality response in complex markets. A sample frame was developed that was supportive of the personal interviews and that widened the sample base. The information gathered from the personal interviews allowed the sponsoring firm to produce revised documentation on the market offering. This second document was used and sent out as the material for the Telepost survey. A questionnaire, to be administered by telephone, was prepared to cover what had been established in the personal interviews, as the key dimensions. Letters were then sent to named respondents within the sample frame, informing them that they would be contacted by telephone and providing details of the nature of the interview and requesting that they read the revised documentation before the interview.

The telephone interviews therefore provided a quantification, extension and verification of the findings of the personal interviews.

Source: Cooper1

Despite all its strong points, telephone interviewing does have limitations. Unless special steps are taken, the list of telephone numbers used in a survey will be outdated on the day of publication, with omissions of new listings and inclusion of outdated ones. Although the demanding nature of the telephone ring is an advantage it can all too often signal an unwanted sales pitch and the owner may not answer the call. There is also a limit to the length of the typical telephone interview and usually it cannot run for more than about 15 minutes. Moreover, there is no way to provide visual aids, such as advertisements or other display materials.

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