Rigors of the Phone Room

By Sanjay Vrudhula

Sanjay VrudhulaToday’s market researcher has many technological tools for both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies.  The advent of wireless devices, social media platforms, high-speed Internet connectivity and international panel availability for sampling has created unique opportunities for understanding the behavior of the marketplace.

Seldom will you find a researcher that somehow is not or was not connected to a “phone room”, the shortened name for a telephone survey center where computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) occurs. Phone rooms have been the backbone of quantitative data collection for what seems like 1000 years (as seasoned researchers may say…). The staff of CRI earned their stripes in phone rooms where the rigors of daily operations educated them on all aspects of market research and thus gives them a unique perspective on newer research methods and solutions.

In the last 15 years, CRI staff has overseen the execution of over 2 million hours of interviewing in their phone rooms.  This includes surveys for media research, political polls, studies to test advertising campaign awareness, and surveys of all types for financial institutions, retail, insurance, energy, healthcare, and municipal and community issues. There probably hasn’t been a research question posed that hasn’t been asked by one of CRI’s phone room interviewers. The process of implementing a survey into a production environment involves many steps. These steps are the core of understanding research design. They include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Consultation with the client to determine the research objective(s)
  • Designing a survey instrument to answer the research objective
  • Determining the appropriate respondent set and procuring the appropriate sample
  • Programming, implementing and fielding the survey
  • Produce statistical reports with the clean data collected
  • Scrap and rework all of the above steps to meet budgetary constraints while keeping an eye on statistical validity of the entire research project

In the midst of the actual design of the project elements, managing the human element to support the phone room activities is another facet that has given CRI staff the insight to great research. Over 15 years of recruiting thousands of interviewers and training them to ask and collect data the same way as each other every time is an arduous task at best, but a great exercise in resource management. Implementing quality control procedures and error management systems are crucial to the management of quality phone rooms.

Phone room work often runs 7 days a week. In many cases, there are both daytime B-to-B studies and evening consumer studies being fielded each day. This involves complicated IT and telephony systems that require 24×7 uptime. These hardware systems endure constant activity capturing data so their design and maintenance are challenging and rigorous tasks.

The phone room has taught the staff at CRI “how to research.” The repeated exercise of fielding phone surveys has enforced best practices in the science of market research. We understand the finer points of sample management, response rates, respondent fatigue and questionnaire brevity when conducting a study–all the while keeping the acceptable margin of error in check and maintaining financial responsibility to the project.

Sometimes a phone study needs to be abandoned for another method if the respondent set becomes financially and logistically impossible to reach. In today’s landscape of mobile phones eliminating landlines as a primary telephone method, CRI staff is recognizing the need for multi-modal solutions.

Telephone surveying as a core competency is a great way to become a great market researcher. Nearly every single day, a research product is delivered to a client. This product is full of insightful data for decision making. It is the result of a highly perceptive consultative and design effort, a scientifically managed production effort and an insightful presentation of results.  CRI staff has been delivering these products for many years through its phone room operations and is now able to share those best practices through their latest methods and solutions. We continue to select the very best tools and combination of tools to suit our clients’ needs, budgets and timelines for decision making.