Telephone Research - Still A Thing

The research landscape has evolved dramatically over the last twenty years. Digital methodologies are now the de facto standard, especially when it comes to quantitative studies. However, don't fool yourself into thinking that online is the only way to go these days - it's not. Telephone surveys are still alive and kicking.


Let's Get Hyperlocal


Despite the limitations of the methodology (see below), telephone surveying is still a "thing" for this reason: hyper-local online research is nearly impossible using traditional online panels. What do I mean by hyperlocal?


  • Areas within particular geography - think of a limited number of zip codes within a specific metro.
  • Rural areas and towns - while we can easily get statewide rural representation using an online panel, we can't get targetted rural representation unless we use a telephone methodology.

I've been working with online methodologies since 1999 (!). While I've seen them grow into a wonderfully viable, effective, and budget-friendly methodology, I haven't seen them move the needle as much as I would like in terms of ubiquitous local access. 


While online panels have blossomed in urban and suburban locations, rural panel development lags behind its more populated counterparts. While we have no problem with rural representation statewide, specific geographies are a challenge, but fortunately not for telephone research.


Telephone Limitations


Telephone research has some striking limitations for a professional whose roots are firmly planted in digital quant methods. 

  • They're intrusive: no one likes getting a call from a stranger out of the blue. Although everyone who takes a survey agrees to do so, it's usually a reluctant effort. The survey administrator has to sell the research!
  • They're inflexible compared to online: Respondents complete online surveys at a time that's convenient to them. Telephone participants have little to no control of when they'll take a survey.
  • The question-types are limited: Online surveys have spoiled us. We can ask a variety of questions in many formats. We can drag and drop, re-order items, watch videos, and engage in various other interactive question styles. This is not possible with telephone research - at least in a natural and "unclunky" way.
  • The number of questions is limited: Most of our online surveys take around 12 minutes to complete - that's the sweet spot. It's also the sweet spot for a telephone survey. However, the number of questions you can ask in an online study versus a telephone study differs dramatically. Survey length is one of my main bugaboos - you can't leverage as much insight from a telephone study. You might be able to ask 60 or 70 questions in a 12-minute online study, but maybe only 40 via telephone. 
  • They are expensive: I get why telephone studies are more expensive - an interviewer might have to dial around for an hour before they get a single complete. In terms of hard cost, telephone studies cost us 8 to 10 times as much as an online study. And, when you combine this fact with the other reasons above, telephone research is a bitter pill to swallow.


I don't want my opinions to disparage the craft - we work with several excellent research call centers, and those researchers are true experts in their art. They work incredibly hard for a living, and they know what works and what doesn't in terms of targetting and questioning. 


Despite my blatant favoritism towards digital quantitative methodologies, telephone surveys are still vital in gathering insights. Unless panel providers pick up the pace, telephone research is going to be around for a while.

Posted by EvolveKev

Kevin is all about research. Qualitative, quantitative, UX, you name it. When he's not researching, he's to be found laying down beats in his studio and hanging out with his dogs (and girlfriend). Woof.

Topics: Research Tips, Research