Choosing to administer a survey is often the first step businesses take when they begin a market research project. Surveys are great ways to get quantitative data that can inform decisions and hopefully increase ROI. But deciding to tackle a survey campaign is only part of the first step, as there are several ways to administer surveys, each with their own pros and cons. Your objectives and resources, as well as the demographics of your target respondents, will determine not only the type of survey your business administers, but the time and place that you deliver it, too. Thus, choosing to use face-to-face interviews or online, paper or phone surveys shouldn’t be a selection you make based only on whim or even budget or time constraints. You must have a thorough understanding of your research objectives and how the people you think can help you will best respond to them. Here’s a quick overview of the four basic survey types so you can choose the right one the next time you need quantitative results:
Face-to-face interviews can be the most costly and time-consuming way to give a survey. You must hire and train someone to interview your respondents and compile the information gathered. You also have to find and meet with people in a convenient location, a hard and expensive task if respondents are spread over a large geographic area. A face-to-face interaction can limit respondent honesty if he or she feels uncomfortable talking to an interviewer in person, as well. The benefit, though, is that you can better control the survey experience by having your interviewer answer respondent questions, clarify their responses and make note of their nonverbal signals. In-person interviews are ideal when you have only a few questions and can target a smaller group of people who live close to one another.
There are many advantages to presenting a survey over the Internet. You can target a limitless number of people living across a wide geographic expanse, and you don’t have to spend a lot of money doing it. Respondents could be more willing to expose embarrassing details since they are anonymous, and data can be simultaneously given and recorded, saving you valuable time and money. The flip side is that frequently respondents either ignore the survey altogether or blithely record answers just to receive an offered incentive. And the anonymity that might lead them to reveal interesting comments won’t allow you any opportunity to address them later on. You also have to determine if your target audience has online capabilities (possession of an Internet connection and the knowledge of how to use it). Online surveys are best suited for companies that want information quickly and have a diverse audience.
Nowadays, almost everyone has a phone (either landline or mobile), making phone surveys one of the best ways to reach a lot of people. They yield data that can be transcribed quickly and in real-time (making it less likely that there will be collection errors) and, like face-to-face interviews, they capitalize on the rapport an interviewer can have with a respondent. Phone surveys can even elicit responses to sensitive subjects because an interviewer is there to engage and enrich conversation, but the respondent can still feel anonymous because he or she does not see the interviewer in person. And compared to the many pieces of both real and digital mail people receive each day, phone calls just stand out more! However, unlike face-to-face interviews, phone surveys can’t capture the body language cues that come from interviewers being face-to-face with respondents, and they depend on “fancy” equipment in order to deliver results. Nonetheless, phone surveys can help companies reach a lot of people with many of the same benefits as face-to-face interviewing but at a lesser cost.
Paper surveys are one of the least expensive options, but they have lower response rates than other modes (except possibly online options) and take a lot of time to administer and record. While you can target large populations and better control bias, you won’t be able to respond to any questions your respondents might have about your intent, and you won’t be able to utilize skip logic to enhance your research results. Paper surveys are best used in conjunction with other research modes. Indeed, in most situations, mixed-mode survey techniques can help insure that that your survey data is well-rounded and represents the best sample of your target audience.