Telephone Surveys1

Telephone Surveys


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Among the traditional methods of research, telephone surveys have been a popular tool for decades. With the widespread availability of telephones across the population (landlines and cell phones), administering a survey by telephone has been increasingly common. It offers an efficient and cost-effective way to gather data from a wide population on a wider range of topics. 

In this article, we will explore the advantages and disadvantages of telephone surveys and will also go over the different sources of error in this method of data collection. 

What are Telephone Surveys?

Telephone Surveys2

Telephone surveys are a method of data collection wherein interviewers contact respondents via telephone to conduct an interview by asking the respondents a list of predetermined questions. 

CATI surveys are a popular method of data collection as they are considered to be reliable and valid and allow for data to be gathered more quickly than via face-to-face surveys. 

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Advantages of Telephone Surveys

Phone surveys are designed to systematically gather data from a sample population using a standardized questionnaire. Researchers use it when they need to gather public opinion on a topic and maintain control over the data quality. 

While it is one of the most ideal data collection tools, you should consider the following benefits before deciding whether or not telephone surveys are what you need. 

The following are a few advantages of using the telephone survey mode:

Highly Accessible: 

One of the advantages of administering a survey by telephone is that telephones are highly accessible. In today’s age, everyone either owns a landline or a mobile. 

While telephone surveys may not be as popular as they used to be with the emergence of online surveys, many people still consider the telephone to be more practical. Not all your respondents are well-versed in technology or have internet coverage; for them telephone survey is a more viable option to take a survey. 

Quality Control: 

Telephone surveying allows for quality control over the entire data collection process, including sampling, respondent selection, survey administration, and data entry.

CATI surveys are consistent from one respondent to another. The interviewers use a standardized questionnaire to promote accuracy in response. Moreover, CATI software enables you to monitor live interviews and record the calls so you can monitor them later to identify any mistakes committed by any interviewer. 

For example, say a survey organization conducted telephone interviews, and the interviewer went off-script and tried to ask personal questions to the respondent. The organization can monitor the ongoing call and intervene to salvage the situation. 


Another major advantage of telephone surveys is that they are extremely cost-effective when compared to face-to-face interviews. 

Telephone survey software is a one-stop shop to create surveys and gather and analyze data. Additionally, agile software enables you to scale the software based on your research needs. 

Using CATI software, you require less time to administer a survey by telephone, which makes it an attractive choice for organizations with limited budgets. 

Fast Data Collection: 

The speed with which data can be gathered and processed using telephone surveys is much faster than when compared to face-to-face interviews. 

The emergence of the CATI system helps faster data collection, processing, and management. It makes the processing, organizing, and storing of survey data much easier for the interviewers. It automates tasks such as dialing a number, saving data, and filling in additional details, which saves the interviewer’s time and speeds up data collection. 

Disadvantages of Telephone Surveys

While telephone surveys can offer many advantages, there are certain limitations you should consider when determining the best method of data collection. 

The following are a few disadvantages of using the telephone survey mode:

Limitations on Length and Complexity of Interview: 

Even when executed well and correctly, telephone surveys generally place a limitation on the complexity and length of an interview, as the average respondent will find it tiresome to be kept on the telephone for longer than 20 minutes.

Coverage Errors: 

Telephone surveys tend to have a significant risk of coverage error, which would result in a defective frame and biased estimates when using survey data. This bias occurs when you gather survey data from individuals with access to telephones. As a result, the survey data will not represent the entire population. This can lead to inaccurate results. 

Potential Geographical Ineligibility: 

Due to number portability, researchers can no longer be certain of where a respondent is when contacted by telephone. Without explicit geographic screening, there could be serious errors of commission which would result in geographically ineligible respondents being interviewed. 

Lower Response Rate:

Other than non-response and coverage bias, technological advancement has led to lower response rates in telephone surveys. The use of caller ID and call-blocking technologies makes it difficult for interviewers to reach potential respondents. 

3 Types of Total Survey Error (TSE) in Telephone Surveys

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In survey sampling, total survey error refers to all forms of survey error. There are three main types of survey errors, including nonresponse error, noncoverage bias, and measurement bias.

01. Nonresponse

Nonresponse error occurs in telephone surveys when people who were a part of the sample frame but weren’t interviewed differ significantly as a group in a non-negligible way from those who were a part of the sample frame and were interviewed. Nonresponse in telephone surveys generally occurs due to: 

  • Failure to contact sampled respondents.
  • Certain sampled participants refused to participate in the interview.
  • There’s a language barrier making it difficult to interview certain respondents.

02. Noncoverage

Noncoverage bias is a result of the magnitude of the difference between the sampling frame and the larger population it is supposed to represent. The extent to which the population covered by the sample differs from the population not covered by the sample will be the extent of coverage bias present in the survey. Noncoverage in telephone surveys can occur due to: 

  • Certain households have no telephone numbers and only cell phone numbers instead.
  • Certain households have multiple lines.

03. Measurement

Measurement bias occurs when the data collected by interviewers during telephone surveys inaccurately measures the attitudes, behaviors, and demographics of interest. These inaccuracies can take the form of bias and variance and are generally errors associated with:

  • The questionnaire.
  • The interviewer.
  • The respondent.

Explore all the survey question types
possible on Voxco

Explore all the survey question types possible on Voxco

Factors Influencing Response Rates in Telephone Surveys

In telephone surveys, the response rate refers to the number of interviews completed out of all the telephone numbers dialled. This metric can be a revealing indicator of the quality of telephone surveys. 

Response rates are generally influenced by;

  • The survey topic
  • The reputation of the organization conducting or sponsoring the survey
  • The length of the questionnaire
  • The calibre of the interviewers
  • The length of the field period
  • The rules for callback
  • The use of contingent and noncontingent incentives

When should you use telephone surveys?

We have mentioned two use cases when telephone surveys are a useful research tool. 

1. Target audience is available and willing to participate:

One of the primary advantages of telephone surveys is that it is widely accessible, which allows you to reach a diverse and large audience. However, it is true under the assumption that your target audience has access to the telephone and is willing to answer your survey questions. 

When administering a survey by telephone, it’s important to consider the time and the availability of the target audience. Most people are not home during working hours. Those who are at home are either retired, unemployed, homemaker, or people on vacation/sick leave. Therefore, it is equally important that your respondents are willing to participate in the survey. 

If your target market is not reachable by telephone, or if they are unwilling to participate, telephone surveys may not be the best option. 

2. Your telephone survey questionnaire is very short:

Telephone surveys are the best data collection tools when you need to gather basic data such as customer satisfaction or brand loyalty. Whichever survey method you decide on, it’s important to remember that you are asking participants to take time out of their day. 

If your questionnaire is lengthy, the respondents will get impatient and not pay attention to your questions. So, telephone surveys are better when you gather data faster. It’s important to keep the questionnaire brief and to the point. 

How to Conduct Telephone Surveys?

Designing and conducting effective phone surveys in today’s landscape requires careful planning. Here are some tips for administering a survey by telephone. 

1. Determine the purpose of the survey:

A telephone survey requires time and resources. That’s why it is important to develop a clear research objective and determine the type of data you want to collect. 

Gather around the different departments and understand the type of information they want to obtain from the survey. This will help you structure your questionnaire and determine the sample size. 

2. Create a list of contact:

When conducting customer research, it’s best to create a list of customers you want to reach out to. Most companies urge their customers to share their phone numbers for a product or service. 

You can either use the contacts of your existing customers or purchase a list from a telephone company. If you want to conduct market research, you can combine the two lists to expand your target market. 

3. Design a questionnaire:

Now that you have determined the research objective and the target audience build a questionnaire for the research goal. Start by writing all the questions you want to ask and narrow them down to the most important ones. 

Leverage skip and branching functionality throughout the script to ensure that you gather data from the right person on the right question. It is important that you test your survey before you begin your campaign. This will help you to identify any discrepancies and make necessary adjustments before you start your survey. 

4. Use random sampling:

An effective way to ensure that the survey data reflects the population is by dialing the numbers in random order. Using the method of random sampling will ensure that the result is reliable. 

You can achieve this by using a list of contacts that have been randomly generated. 

By following these practices, you can ensure that the telephone surveys are effective and generate insightful data. 


Telephone surveys offer several advantages, such as the ability to reach an audience quickly and efficiently. In this blog, we have shared the advantages, disadvantages, and best practices of administering a survey by telephone. Phone surveys are a common data collection tool for many organizations, however, to determine whether it suits your research purpose or not, we suggest you read our blog. 

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See Voxco survey software in action with a Free demo.

FAQs on Telephone Surveys

Telephone surveys are a method of data collection wherein interviewers contact respondents via telephone to conduct an interview by asking the respondent a list of different questions from a questionnaire.

Some advantages of telephone surveys are that they are a fast and cost-effective method of data collection and can allow for high-quality control. 

 Some disadvantages of telephone surveys are that it sets limitations on how lengthy and complex the interview can be. There is also the risk of coverage errors and respondents being geographically ineligible to participate in the survey. 

Leverage CATI software to conduct automated telephone surveys. The software automated the dialing process and also administers the questionnaire. The interviewers can follow the script on their monitor to ask respondents a set of questions and record answers into the CATI system.

Here are three ways to ensure the validity and reliability of the data you gather using phone surveys: 

  1. Use random sampling to ensure the sample represents the population. 
  2. Pilot-test your survey to identify and eliminate any issues. 
  3. Train interviewers to ask questions neutrally. 

Here is a list of ethical considerations one should follow while conducting telephone surveys: 

  1. Obtain consent from respondents to save personal data. 
  2. Protect the confidentiality of the respondents. 
  3. Avoid leading questions. 
  4. Provide respondents with information about the purpose of the survey and how you will use their feedback

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