By M. K. Prisco, Ph.D., Martec Data Processing Manager and Statistician
It's hard to imagine our lives without the computers, cellphones, and other devices that make finding and sharing information so quick and easy. No need to go to the library anymore—just type (or speak!) your question into a search engine, and there is your answer. The internet has become ubiquitous in our everyday lives, so it is only natural for market researchers and their clients to gravitate to online surveys. Post a link on social media or send out an email blast, and like magic, hundreds of completed surveys can materialize. Why would anyone even consider telephone research anymore? Actually, there are a number of reasons for making use of this tried and true research methodology.
1. Target: According to the most recent figures released by the United States Census Bureau, nearly all households in the US have access to a telephone, while only 74% have internet access. Although the latter figure is growing, several demographic groups (including seniors, some minority groups, rural populations, and people with lower incomes and/or less education) are less likely to have internet access at home. If your target population involves one or more of these groups, chances are that telephone research will be a more effective way to reach potential respondents than online research.
2. Confidentiality: Suppose you have questions about topics that potential respondents may consider very personal, such as medical issues or finances. While the perceived anonymity of an online survey may make it the preferred method for collecting sensitive information, telephone research should still be considered. A trained telephone interviewer can often persuade a hesitant individual to participate, and can reassure respondents about such concerns as a survey’s legitimacy and confidentiality.
3. Hard-to-Reach Respondents: What if your research is aimed at collecting information from individuals holding specific titles or positions within corporations, such as high-level “C-Suite” executives? A skilled interviewer can start at the company switchboard and work through to the desired respondent, even when a list of contacts is not available.
4. Qualitative Insights: If you are looking for in-depth answers to open-ended questions, you should consider phone-based research. Telephone interviewers are trained to “probe and clarify” the responses to such questions. If an answer provided by a respondent does not make sense, is off-topic, or is too terse to be useful, the interviewer can ask additional probing questions to obtain a more complete or pertinent response.
5. Confusing Questions: Sometimes, despite best efforts to write an easy-to-understand survey, respondents might have trouble understanding a particular question or topic. With an interviewer on the line, the respondent can seek clarification immediately, rather than making a guess or skipping the question entirely.
6. Respondent Engagement: A good telephone interviewer is able to detect lack of interest or flippancy on the part of a respondent, and can distinguish between honest, thoughtful responses and frivolous ones. This adds an extra layer of quality control to a research project.
7. Improved Completion Rates: An experienced interviewer often can cajole a reluctant respondent into completing a survey. From a respondent’s perspective, there is something to be said for hearing a human voice on the line. It is much more difficult to refuse a spoken request than a written one.
Whether a project is B2B or B2C, we believe that telephone research is a viable, productive methodology. What do you think?
 As of the year 2013, only 2.3% of US households were without telephones.
 According to www.statista.com, as of May 2015, 84% of the adult US population accessed the internet.