Don’t Kill Off The Phone Survey

A report on CNBC sheds some interesting light on the poll results which were issued over the course of the recent US election. Whilst Nate Silver from the New York Times, extrapolating from a range of poll results, correctly predicted the outcome in all 50 states, Survey Monkey also came close, only missing out on Florida and Ohio.

The Survey Monkey election poll was conducted as an addendum to other surveys carried out across the USA. In the past, commentators have dismissed online polling as being unrepresentative but this latest result has caused some to reconsider. Could PC owners equate to voters and therefore provide accurate indications of voting trends?

As always with surveys, the answer probably lies in the questions being asked and the breadth of participants chosen to take part in the survey. Whilst it is true that the Survey Monkey poll rejoiced in a 30% response rate, compared to the more usual 9% seen by telephone pollsters, it is also true that those responding to online surveys tend to be a self-selecting group. Online surveys also work best when the questions are short and simple; surveys which require an element of discussion or expansion are better conducted face to face or via the phone.

So, whilst online surveys may be taking their place alongside more traditional formats, the phone survey won’t be killed off any time soon. In fact, for those intent in finding answers, the advent of internet telephony, or VoIP, has not only resulted in the reduction of call costs it has enabled calls to be made from anywhere in the world. This means that phone surveys can easily and affordably be run by outsourced companies or virtual assistants with calls being made from any country to any location.

Another advantage of telephone surveys run via internet telephony is the ease with which calls can be recorded and stored. Used in conjunction with services such as call forwarding, group divert or virtual switchboards, call recording and storage (MARR) can be an effective tool in understanding and logging the results of not just surveys but of all interactions with customers. Other call statistics such as the location of the caller, time of day and call length can also provide a valuable insight into how organisations should staff their help services as well as identify any pressure points which may require intervention by a virtual assistance service.

Businesses which really want to build an understanding of their customers’ likes, dislikes and requirements also shouldn’t neglect the importance of using every telephone call as an opportunity to interact positively with their customers. Giving call centre staff the freedom to chat and glean extra information may seem like ‘dead time’, but it can prove invaluable to building understanding. In other words, you don’t have to complete a formal process in order to better understand your customers.

Similarly, taking steps to encourage customers and potential customers to call can prove invaluable in the long run. Consider whether a freephone number may be appropriate, or alternatively given the increasing popularity of inclusive minutes contracts, businesses may wish to ensure that they choose a telephone number which will fall within a standard contract. Both of these options can encourage customers to call and because they will not see a call charge on their telephone bill, they are likely to be more amenable to chatting and answering open-ended questions rather than sticking to the immediate reason for their call.

Thanks to the US electoral system, at the time of writing some two weeks after the Presidential election results were declared, the final count is still not in. We know that Obama was re-elected to a second term of office, we just don’t know the final tally on his share of the popular vote. In contests such as this, whatever survey method is used, the result could still be a surprise. For other forms of survey, the phone poll still has its place.

Written by Lawrence Gow