Choosing a Marketing Research Firm: 10 Critical Questions

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If your organization is considering a marketing research project, it is critical to select the most effective methodology for meeting your particular goals. Four data collection methods are commonly available for conducting marketing research—telephone surveys, web and mail surveys or interactive voice response systems.

Computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) is by far the most popular methodology for collecting data used in marketing research today. This is because telephone surveys have a high response rate and are particularly helpful when a company needs to screen potential respondents to get to the most appropriate person to answer their questions.

With CATI research, a survey is developed, tested, and then programmed into an interactive computer-based script. CATI begins with a computer randomly dialing phone numbers from the established sample. After a respondent is reached, a live interviewer conducts the interview by reading verbatim from the programmed survey script. If the correct person is not available, the interviewer may schedule a callback for a specific time in the future. The data set will contain not only answers to each question, but also a complete log of what happened with each sample record.

CATI is the best data collection method when:

  • Surveys are transaction-based, and thus time-sensitive. Typically, if asking questions regarding a specific experience or representative involved in a specific experience, the telephone survey should be completed within four weeks of the transaction/experience.
  • There is a need to screen for the appropriate participants. For example, finding the person who had direct contact with a Service Department. Here the interviewer will ask for the person listed in the sample file. Once that individual is on the phone, the interviewer asks if he/she had direct contact with the Service Department. If so, the interview continues. If not, the interviewer asks to speak with the person who did.
  • The sample does not contain the respondent’s name. For instance, if there is a business name and number for business policies, but no contact name. In this case, the interviewer can explain whom he/she is trying to reach.
  • There are multiple versions of the survey. For example, there are differences in which questions are asked of whom and/or the survey is being fielded for multiple brands or product types. In this case, the script can read directly from the sample file and pipe in different text depending on the respondent’s brand or type. It can also skip over questions that are not applicable.
  • The telephone survey requires extensive quota cell management. For example, you may want to get a specific number of completes for each brand. Then within those brands, you may want a certain percentage to be for B2C policies and another for B2B policies.
  • The survey requires extensive explanation or clarification. For example, a respondent may need clarification regarding some of the industry terms used in the telephone survey.
  • The survey contains follow-up or probing open-ended questions. For example, the respondent may say that they were very dissatisfied with their overall service experience. In this case, the next question may be to probe for specifics (e. g. “Why specifically did you say you were very dissatisfied with your service experience?”) Often, the initial answer is fairly vague (e. g. , because the service wasn’t good). The interviewer, however, will probe to get specifics that are actionable within your organization.
  • You have accurate phone numbers for the majority of the intended respondents. (Remember that, by law, cell phone numbers cannot be used. )
  • You do not have enough sample for IVR and/or mail. Since the response rate is higher for CATI, it will take a less usable sample to achieve the desired number of completes.
  • The targeted respondents are busy people. CATI can record scheduled callback times, allowing the interviewer to call the respondent back at a time/number convenient for them.
  • The subject of the survey is not too sensitive or controversial. Respondents may be unwilling to discuss sensitive topics with the interviewer. (Mail is the best data collection method for sensitive topics).
Once you have determined CATI is the best methodology for your next project, selecting a qualified marketing research firm is the next important decision. Consider these 10 critical questions when searching for a qualified marketing research firm to conduct CATI research for your organization:
  1. Do you use the latest CATI software? (The most up-to-date software will include predictive dialing and automated call distributor capabilities. )
  2. Does the phone facility have sufficient flexibility and capacity? (This ensures the facility can handle multiple projects simultaneously. )
  3. Can phone stations be assigned for either outbound or inbound calls? (This allows busy professionals to return a call at their convenience, resulting in higher response rates and more representative samples. )
  4. Can interview scripting access external databases? (This means that questions can be customized to a specific respondent, integrating information on purchases or revenue. )
  5. Can the system play prerecorded messages and digitally capture voice responses? (This allows the interviewer to use conferencing to bring a client representative into the call immediately and/or transfer the respondent to a client-specified location, such as a customer service department. )
  6. Are predictive dialers used? (Predictive dialers randomly call numbers in the sample list, turning over the survey to an interviewer only when it detects a “live" respondent, thus dramatically increasing interviewing productivity. )
  7. Does the call center have redundant quality checks? (This ensures that skip patterns are followed precisely and questions are rotated randomly. )
  8. Is monitoring equipment used? (This allows clients to listen to surveys in progress from their own offices, as well as interviewing center supervisors and project managers to continuously monitor the interviews. )
  9. Are telephone surveys pre-tested? (Test interviews check the survey instrument both for ease of administration, accuracy and usefulness of the information. )
  10. Are interviewers experienced? (Interviewers are charged with a very demanding responsibility: conducting quality, professional interviews resulting in accurate survey databases. )
  11. When a marketing research firm answers these 10 critical questions, you will be well-informed and can make the best decision about their CATI capability. Choosing a qualified research partner, along with the most appropriate methodology, will result in the most valuable data for your organization.

    About the Author Rebecca Anton is Managing Director for Operations and Quality with Polaris Marketing Research. The Atlanta marketing research firm specializes in consumer and business customer satisfaction and loyalty measurement programs, with web, mail and telephone surveys, state-of-the-art online interactive reporting, interviewing and data collection, quantitative and qualitative research expertise and personalized project management. Anton can be reached at 404-816-0353.


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