Cutting the Cord: How to Transition a Customer Tracking Study from Phone to an Online Survey

If you’re starting a customer tracking survey today, you’re probably going to go with an online survey methodology. Assuming you have your customers’ email contact information, that is a great, cost-efficient approach. However, what do you do if you have a tracking survey that has been running for years – even decades! – using a telephone survey methodology?

There are many benefits to moving to online surveys: they are faster, less expensive, and many customers prefer them because they can take the survey any time it is convenient, and they don’t like being “disturbed” by a telephone survey. Unfortunately, the reality is that phone surveys are becoming more and more difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to complete. However, research has shown time and again that there will be differences in your data based on methodology.

Trending historical data is a valuable exercise for monitoring customer awareness, perceptions, satisfaction, and preferences. However, is your historical data truly comparable? Depending on how long your study has been running, you could argue that 2003 data no longer compares to 2018 data. With technology-based services from the telephone companies as well as the movement away from landline telephones altogether, more and more consumers screen their calls. And while the “Do Not Call Lists” have been designed to exempt marketing research calls, most consumers can’t distinguish between telemarketing and phone surveys, so that has had a dampening on peoples’ willingness to answer the call from unknown callers.

So, if the question is not if to move to online surveys for your tracker, but how to move to online tracking surveys, you must determine how valuable your historical data is. Then you have three ways to transition phone trackers to online survey methodologies:

  1. Conduct side-by-side comparisons. Most experts agree that running comparable studies using phone and online surveys for six months to a year is the best way to make sure your data is comparable, or more accurately to understand how your data differs by methodology. However, there are differences in how customers respond when they read the questions versus when they hear the question read over the phone. Additionally, everyone is very busy, and phone surveys don’t always come when the consumer is ready to pay attention to the interviewer’s reading questions and to answer thoughtfully.
  2. Blow it up and start over. Especially if your tracker has been running for a very long time, there is a good chance that many of the questions are no longer valuable and that emerging issues may not be explored sufficiently. Or your survey may be too long for today’s standards – no one wants to participate in a survey that takes more than 15 minutes! Additionally, you can take advantage of online survey software features that are not available in phone surveys, for example, videos and graphics. Moving from phone to online surveys is the perfect opportunity to step back and take a fresh perspective on the survey, but also on the entire project. Who is using the data? How are they using it? How can a new perspective serve your organization better?
  3. Use a hybrid approach. Use online methodology for one or two waves of data collection, but then run a one-off phone survey to understand the differences in the data better. Did perceptions change or is that difference because of online versus phone surveys? Once you know the answer to that question, you will be able to interpret accurately the changes you will see in your results.

Reality will dictate that, eventually, you will reconsider all phone surveys considering online survey methodology. Some of them will stay as phone surveys due to the importance of tracking historical data. Many others will move online and will be more effective because of their fresh, new approach to the information being developed. In either case, all projects benefit from a periodic re-evaluation to maintain their value and ability to deliver optimal insights.