CATI stands for Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing. Just as computers have replaced the clipboard and questionnaire in face-to-face fieldwork, CATI has replaced traditional telephone interviews.

How CATI (Computer-Assisted Telephone Interviewing) works

Interviews carried out by telephone are guided by a questionnaire displayed on the screen of a computer. The interviewer records answers using a keyboard and mouse to correspond with the pre-coded responses displayed on the screen. Any questionnaire routing or complex survey logic is handled by the CATI program.

Furthermore, most CATI software packages handle:

  • Sample management – i.e. The scheduling and allocation of the telephone numbers to individuals or groups of interviewers assigned to fieldwork on a particular study.
  • Quota management – ensuring that the intended number of completed interviews with specific groups or sub-samples are met.
  • Monitoring of response rates, call outcomes and scheduling of interview appointments.

CATI research has considerable advantages:

  • The interviewer is left free to concentrate on the interview itself as the routing instructions are taken care of.
  • Data is entered directly into the survey database in a structured format. This eliminates the need for additional data processing (e.g. transcription, data entry and coding). This helps to reduce cost and errors.
  • The intervireing process is make quicker because data is entered as it is obtained
  • Since feedback is being collected live, researchers and analysts can interrogate the survey dataset while fieldwork is still taking place. This also includes reporting survey results within live dashboards.
  • Modern CATI platforms combine telephone interviewing capabilities with online surveys, enabling mixed-mode methodologies. This is especially important in b2b research studies where several data collection methods may be necessary to maximise response rates.

There are also some disadvantages to CATI market research:

  • Getting a questionnaire set up and running, fault free, on a CATI system takes time.
  • Coping with open-ended responses presents some problems on CATI: Although the systems can accommodate open-ended responses, capturing them requires interviewers to have fast and accurate typing skills.
  • If a respondent makes changes to an earlier answer part-way through the interview, it is more difficult to return and make alterations than is the case with paper questionnaires.
  • Reaching some target audiences using telephone interviewing is becoming more difficult. Household usage of fixed-line telephones is declining, and there are increasingly stringent regulations around reaching consumers on mobile phones. The use of automatic dialers, for instance, is banned or restricted in many countries. For many business-to-business audiences, telephone interviewing is still one of the most effective ways of obtaining representative samples.
  • In general, CATI research is best suited to structured interviews carried out in large numbers, especially repeated surveys where all the possible answers have been worked out and can be listed as pre-coded responses.