Is the Demise of the Telephone Survey an Opportunity or a Threat to the Market Research Industry?

“Telephone survey response rates have slumped to 9%, down from 25% a decade ago” screamed the headlines.

Interesting, we thought. We must read on…

Figure 1

You’ll see from Figure 1 that it’s not simply a case of survey response rates dropping over the past 15 years; contact rates and cooperation rates have also been on the decline. Clearly, the fewer people you are able to actually reach in the first place, the fewer responses you are likely to garner, but even so, for a researcher, this is a worrying trend.

According to US-based Pew Research Center, which has released these figures, the general decline in response rates is evident across nearly all types of surveys, both in the United States and abroad. At the same time, greater effort and expense are required to achieve even the diminished response rates of today.

One thing which we, as b2b research specialists, should point out is that these figures relate to ‘public opinion surveys’, which are a little different to the surveys we conduct. Yet there are certainly implications for b2b and consumer market researchers alike.

There can be no doubt that the market research industry – as indeed every other industry – needs to keep abreast of changes and must constantly evolve in order to ensure it remains relevant. For example, over the past decade or so, the huge increase in online research has been marked – from the amount of secondary research the internet now gives us access to, to the increasing importance and ease of conducting online surveys, to the growth of online focus groups, forums, etc. Obviously the phenomenal rise of social media websites, not to mention the appearance of online tools such as Google Consumer Surveys, are current hot topics – albeit viewed currently (rightly or wrongly) as perhaps more of a threat/opportunity for those in the consumer research arena. The astounding growth in usage rates and in the technological capabilities of mobile phones is also one to watch as ‘mobile research’ increasingly comes to the fore.

So, is it really such a big problem if indeed “Telephone survey response rates have slumped to 9%, down from 25% a decade ago”? In truth, probably not so much.

It will always be necessary to talk to customers, suppliers and the like to find out their preferences and opinions; what’s more, there will always be people who are willing – even desperate – to voice their ideas and make known their feelings. We, as an industry, just have to recognise that the time at which or they way in which they want to speak to us may change, and we must be willing to adapt accordingly.

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