To be consistent with the 2012 Presidential Election and the campaigning we will all see over the next month, the Research Bunker introduces: Decision 2012 featuring the Telephone Survey Versus Online Survey.

The two candidates have long been combatants in the market research realm and we have decided to place them head-to-head in a methodology debate in an attempt to settle on one choice for your business needs (because the suspense was killing us). Many have said the telephone survey methodology is on the way out, while Internet or online surveys – including those done through mobile devices is the wave of the future. But which is the better choice from a client perspective? Below is the Decision 2012 transcript from the Telephone Survey and Online Survey debate.

Decision 2012 Telephone Versus Online

Moderator: Thank you all for coming today to be part of the telephone survey versus online survey debate. I will be your moderator for this evening’s events. I will simply make sure both parties stay on track. Please do not confuse me with a focus group moderator. This is much more boring than focus group moderating. I am stuck moderating a debate between two theoretical objects/services and how it relates to market research. But hey, it could be worse. Let’s get back on track. Telephone survey, do you have an opening statement?

Telephone survey: First off, I was invented by Alexander Graham Bell, ever heard of him? Yeah, he was one of the most influential figures in American history. Whereas the Internet and my debate partner, the online survey, has several different contributors/developers and doesn’t even know who their inventor was. I’ve been around since the mid-1870s and I plan on being around in market research for a long time. In fact, over the generations I’ve been able to improve myself and spawn off distant family members like cell phones and smart phones, which are used in market research today to field calls as many respondents list them as their primary phone number.

Moderator: And your opening statement online survey?

Online survey: Well, simply put, I am the wave of the future. Market research respondents like me because they can complete a survey at their convenience, not when my debate partner calls them at dinner time. I provide multiple avenues to complete surveys as well – desktop computer, laptop, netbook, tablet, smart phone, even some dumb phones. Market research teams can send out an invite for a survey and virtually have the majority of their fieldwork completed in a day or so. Also, because I am not using staff to complete any work (e.g., telesurveyors on the phone for 5-10 minute clips over the course of 400 completes or more), I tend to be less expensive. Face it grandpa, people like me. Get used to it.

Telephone survey: Whatever the online survey thinks they gain in turnaround time and cost, I make up for it with better communication. When respondents are filling out your online survey and they type an answer to an open-ended question and click next, the market research team has no opportunity to probe deeper on what they mean. For instance, if the survey question is: “What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of the ABC Store?” If the survey respondent answers “busy” and clicks next, you won’t know if that is “busy”-good or “busy”-bad. It could be good because the store seems lively and energetic, but also could be bad because there may be long lines or little access to customer service. I can probe on that and give the client more accurate results. You can’t. I am also more personable. Survey respondents are doing market researchers a favor by participating in studies, so it allows my telesurveyors to personalize the call and make the experience more enjoyable than clicking a mouse. People hate your happy face slider scales.

Online survey: People love my happy face slider scales. Research shows they smile as they slide them. Scientific fact (I think). I would also argue the data quality for my online surveys is better than your telephone surveys. With respondents being able to complete the surveys at their convenience they are likely to be in a better mind frame when doing the survey and not be distracted, like at the time you call – when they are with the children, at work, etc. They also have all the time in the world to respond to my open-ended questions and not face the chance of being accelerated through a survey to meet quotas or stay within a budgeted timeframe of length.

Telephone survey: I would argue the data quality for my surveys is much better because we have professional staff administering the survey and proofing the data before they submit each telephone survey case. It doesn’t really matter, the end-all point is I am more representative of a given target audience than you are, online survey. I can dial through samples randomly to create a margin of error for my surveys. I also eliminate any bias that your surveys might encounter because not everyone is comfortable with a computer, has the Internet, or a smart phone. Usage of panels causes some major concerns with how representative the surveyed audience is. It may take longer and cost more but I can guarantee that my survey results will be more representative than a panel and most online surveys.

Online survey: But you can’t guarantee it. Not everyone owns a phone, and it’s very difficult, if not impossible to geographically target a cell phone sample. Couple that with the erosion of landlines and your methodology is on the ropes. Like the rotary dial in the 1980s.

Moderator: Okay, we are out of time, any closing statements?

Telephone survey: I think it’s time you stop capitalizing the “I” in internet. You’re not that important anymore.

Online survey: Enjoy your bridge game tonight while you eat your Grape Nuts.

Decision 2012 - Telephone Survey Versus Online Survey

Based on this graphic, George clearly gets too excited talking about methodologies.

Which methodology wins the debate and which methodology offers more advantages for a client? Comment below.

Are you interested in working with a market research consultant to conduct a telephone survey or online survey. Or perhaps you would just like to talk to a market research consultant to determine which methodology fits best for your business needs. Contact our Business Development Director Sandy Baker at or by calling 315-635-9802. Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS) is a market research consultant located in New York State.