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Telephone Surveys vs. Web Surveys: A Comparison

After you have determined your survey design (see related article) – including establishing informational goals of the survey, how you will use or apply the information to your organization, and defining the sample population – you need to choose your interviewing methodology.

Two of the most popular and effective survey interviewing methodologies are telephone surveying and web surveying. However, both types have distinct advantages and disadvantages, so you must carefully assess your specific needs before deciding which method you will implement.

Telephone Surveys

Surveying by telephone is recommended when your desired sample consists of the general population (i.e., not Internet users only). The scope of reach possible with telephone surveys is vast, with 96% of homes in the United States having a telephone.

Advantages of this method include: rapid contact with respondents, especially when integrated with the use of a CATI (computer-assisted telephone interviewing) system (see related article); interviewers can elicit more complete and substantive answers from respondents as well as ask for clarification and elaboration concerning responses; and survey software is available to integrate previous survey data with current data.

Disadvantages of this method include: phone surveying is more expensive than web surveying; sales calls often masquerade as "research" calls, which results in higher call screening and lower respondent contact rates; the typical calling window of 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. often interrupts the respondents' limited personal time; and no visual support can be implemented.

The Bottom Line

Survey efforts that would benefit most from a telephone survey are those requiring a sample of the general population, with the ability to ask for clarification and expansion on respondent answers.

Web Surveys

Surveying via the Web is rapidly gaining popularity for data collection efforts focusing on segments of the Internet user population. Further, the scope of reach of Web surveys is rapidly gaining on the rate of telephone surveys, with an increase from 66% to 75% of all homes having Internet access between 2003 and 2004 (see related article).

Advantages of Web surveys include: faster speed of responses, substantially reduced cost, and increased respondent flexibility. A survey posted on a popular Web site can collect thousands of responses in just a few hours. Further, once setup is completed, there is virtually no cost associated with a web survey; therefore, data from both large and small samples cost the same to process. In addition, Web surveys are a great tool if you want to target a specific population, such as other businesses in your industry or internal employee attitudes.

Disadvantages of Web surveys include: they typically do not reflect the general population; respondent survey completion rates are lower for longer surveys; and random respondents — outside of your target sample — may reply if your survey appears on a Web page without password protection or other means of controlling access.

The Bottom Line

Survey efforts that would benefit most from a Web survey are those requiring a sample of a specific Internet user population, with the ability to keep costs low and analyze data rapidly.

Which Type of Survey Should I Choose?

Use the comparison chart below to help you decide whether telephone surveys or Web surveys are best suited to your specific needs:

Type of Survey

Advantages

Disadvantages

Recommendation

Telephone Survey
  • Reach 96% of all homes
  • CATI software streamlines process
  • Interviewers can ask for clarification on responses; additional detail
  • Sales calls often pose as "research" calls
  • Typical calling window interrupts respondents' personal time
  • Call screening is common
  • No visual support

  • General population surveys
Web Survey
  • Very low cost
  • Extremely fast
  • Complex questioning assures better data
  • Anonymity of respondents results in more honest answers to sensitive topics
  • Respondents provide more detail to open-ended questions.
  • Survey software simplifies compilation and analysis of data collected.
  • Do not reflect population as a whole
  • Respondent completion rates lower for longer surveys
  • Random respondents may reply if your survey appears on Web page.
  • When desired target population consists mainly of Internet users.
Examples:
  • Business-to-business research
  • Employee Attitude surveys
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