How to design market research telephone interviews that generate top quality data

Despite the massive success of online surveys and the growing use of chatbot and artificial intelligence voice surveys, telephone surveys continue to be a popular research methodology. Whether you need qualitative or quantitative data, a telephone call is a great way to connect with a small or large sample of targeted people across a large geographical area. We’ve summarized more of their pros and cons here.

As part of the telephone survey process, highly skilled and experienced interviewers  at CATI centers use standardized questionnaires to gather data on a set of pre-determined topics. Together, a skilled interviewer and a well-designed questionnaire create top quality data from which to generalize conclusions about a target population.

Let’s review some of the techniques that are required to generate good quality data from telephone interviews.

Sampling Techniques


  • Landlines and mobile phones: According to a 2018 Statistics Canada report, 67% of Canadians had a landline and 88% had a mobile phone. In fact, nearly one third of households are mobile only. As such, telephone surveys must incorporate both landline and cell phones in the methodology or risk biasing their data.
  • Recognize Canada’s vast geography: Canada is so vast that it uses 6 zones. One person’s 9am is another’s 5am, and one person’s 9pm is another person’s 5pm. In conjunction with innumerable household schedules, shift work hours, emergency work hours, and travel, it is of utmost important to arrange interview times by region, by day of week, and over a full week in order to reach a full range of people.

Interview Techniques

  • Skilled interviewers: Of utmost importance is the use of skilled and experienced interviewers. Well trained interviewers can navigate through unexpected issues and redirect participants back to key questions without losing focus or creating distractions in return.
  • Develop rapport: People rarely open up to strangers immediately. A great interview includes at least a few minutes for the interviewer and participant to get to know each other before diving into meaty, personal, or sensitive questions.
  • Get personal: Allow interviewers to stray from the templated questions so they can use more natural, personal, casual, and personal When interviewers feel comfortable speaking, so do participants.
  • ”CanadianEncourage probing: One of the great advantages of telephone interviews is that when the interviewer doesn’t understand an answer or when it feels like there might be much more to an answer, the interviewer can kindly and respectfully probe for more details. Answers become more complete, nuanced, emotional, and useful. The potential to greatly reduce the amount of missing data is gratifying.
  • Avoid humour: Humour is fickle, especially in conversations among people who have different cultural backgrounds. It may work in a drawn cartoon or face to face when you can see someone snickering or hiding a smile. On the telephone, however, there are no visual cues that would allow a research participant to know what is a joke and what is a genuine research question or comment. Skilled interviewers know how to keep a conversation light and entertaining without incorporating components that might be confused, misinterpreted.
  • Individually accommodate people: Unlike written questionnaires which require participants to have fairly good reading and writing skills, telephone interviews simply require people to have basic listening and communication skills. Allow skilled interviewers to rephrase complicated questions, break long sentences into key components, and help people who may have weaker speaking skills. Let them can accommodate people who may have poor English skills, children (with parent’s permission), or people with cognitive disabilities.

”CanadianQuestionnaire Techniques

  • Confirm screening: Take advantage of hearing a person’s voice, tone, rhythm, and pacing as part of demographic targeting validation. Though hearing a voice is not a perfectly reliable method of determining age, gender, ethnicity, and native language, it can provide clues that can be used in combination with other information from the interview.
  • Avoid complicated question types: Unlike online interviews which permit visuals of multiple items, telephone interviews are not (currently) designed for visuals. Further, not everyone is capable of creating clear visuals in their mind, nor remembering a range of physical characteristics. Focus on simple questions with just a few possible pre-determined answers. Or, take full advantage of the format and allow people to share their opinions in their own way using personally selected words, phrases, and sentences.

Telephone interviews were once viewed as the standard of research quality, unbeatable by any other method. Today, online and AI enabled research are challenging that assumption. But, telephone interviews are still unbeatable when it comes to bringing a human connection to research that must be conducted across a large geography.

If you’re ready to conduct a telephone survey, please get in touch with us! Our in-house 60-station CATI center is staffed with experienced French and English interviewers who are highly skilled at speaking with consumers, and adept at getting past the “gatekeeper” to connect with B2B professionals (including C-level executives) and medical professionals.

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Canadian Viewpoint is a one-stop market research data collection and fieldwork company. For over 40 years, we have been trusted by clients ranging from global Fortune 500 companies to local, boutique market, social, and academic research firms and offering top-quality solutions for offline, online, qualitative, and quantitative fieldwork. We specialize in providing high-quality solutions for offlineonline, qualitative, and quantitative fieldwork. As long-term members of the Insights Association, accredited members of the Canadian Research and Insights Council (CRIC), and corporate members of ESOMAR, we uphold the highest industry standards. Our diverse range of services includes sampleprogramming and hostingmall interceptscentral location recruitmentmystery shoppingin-home usage tests (HUTS)sensory testingshelf testingcomputer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI)Facial Coding, and other cutting-edge technologies. Explore our website to learn more about our offerings and access our demo site to experience our tools firsthand.

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