Telephone survey research isn't dead, but it is undergoing some serious surgery. This reliable research tool faces challenges that have forced work-arounds, new techniques and partnerships.
Businesses, nonprofits and political candidates continue to rely on results produced by telephone surveys to introduce products, make decisions and craft marketing messages. However, the savviest users of research recognize the problems facing telephone surveys and are pushing pollsters to solve them.
The most obvious challenge is the exploding use of cell phones, which has led many people to abandon their landline telephones. This trend is especially prevalent among younger people and African-Americans. Failing to include cell phone users for a telephone survey can lead to a skewed sample that under-represents those cohorts.
One fix is to combine random digit dialing with a random sample of listed phone numbers. This increases the potential to reach people with unlisted or newly listed numbers, as well as cell phone users. Another strategy is to team telephone interviews with web-based interviews aimed specifically at hard-to-reach target audiences.
The next challenge is to get people to answer their phone. Caller ID allows people to filter their calls and call back only the people they want to talk with. As more people adopt the technique of not answering their phone unless they know who is calling, telephone surveys now require many more calls to achieve a representative sample. More calls translate into more time and more expense.