Telephone research

The great advantages of telephone research are its speed and relative economy compared to personal interviewing, particularly when only a limited amount of information is required. It has the added advantage for industrial research that individuals difficult to reach by personal interview, e.g. the more senior executives, may respond to telephone surveys, which are less demanding of their time.

An important factor in the growth of telephone research is the wide acceptance of the telephone as a means of communication and the development of sophisticated technical support systems for researchers. With mobile technology the telephone is associated with the person who owns it rather than the building in which they live. This, and the ever improving ability to access the Internet and to transmit pictures, means that mobile telephony could be the next big area for technical change in the research industry, although general consumer penetration of these sophisticated devices remains limited.

A problem, however, is the number of unlisted numbers, which may create difficulty in selecting a representative sample. It is often hard to construct a sample of the wealthier members of society for this reason. Even today, telephone owners tend to be better off than the population as a whole. However, for products and services aimed at this group, telephone research among consumers is possible and growing.

For most marketing purposes widespread telephone ownership makes the method adequate in terms of its representativeness across all social classes. The swiftness of the method is often illustrated during election campaigns, where issues raised on the previous day are reflected in the morning newspapers' opinion polls.

From its small beginnings in 1979, telephone research among consumers has grown rapidly. Ownership of telephones has continued to increase, giving greater representativeness of samples. In the 2002 MRS Research Buyer's Guide, 184 of over 800 organizations listed had the capacity to carry out computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) and significantly more were able to gather data by telephone. CATI systems offer the chance to combine the cost and flexibility advantages of telephone contact with increased control, and hence improved data quality, of the computerized interview. The systems operate by showing the questionnaire on a visual display unit from which the interviewer reads the questions. Answers are keyed directly into the computer by the interviewer, and the next question is displayed on the screen. Since the computer can handle complex questionnaire routeing systems (e.g. if answer to Q. 15 is 'Yes' then go to Q. 16, if 'No' go to Q. 27) by only displaying the correct next question, the possibility for interviewer error is reduced.

Telephone interview costs in 2003 ranged between £40 and £70 per interview, depending on whether the sector was consumer or business-to-business.

Many research companies maintain a panel of telephone interviewees who can be accessed at short notice on behalf of their clients. The panel is maintained to reflect the structure of UK society as a whole, so representative samples can be selected. Research International (Tel: 020 7656 5000, Fax: 020 7201 0700, E-mail: [email protected]), one of the major UK-based research agencies, maintains a panel of 12,000 potential telephone respondents.

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