Arguably the most compelling story of the last ten years of the MR industry has been the introduction and then dramatic growth of online interviewing. Virtually non-existent 10 years ago, online today accounts for around $1.6 billion of the research in the US alone. Despite that growth, the often-forecasted demise of telephone interviewing has yet to occur. At least two factors may be at work, both of which are sampling related. The first is the need for high quality customer satisfaction research, especially of traditional businesses who generally do not have customer email addresses and for whom access panels generally cannot provide representative samples of their customers. The second is emerging concerns about access panel data quality as increasingly evidenced by high levels of multiple panel membership, heavy survey taking by panel members, the emergence of fraudulent respondents who misrepresent their qualifications to panels and surveys, and worrisome levels of survey satisficing (a.k.a inattentives) in online surveys.
Given the above it is fair to ask whether telephone surveys, despite the plunge in response rates, might nonetheless be capable of producing better quality data than online for a significant number of MR applications. Key to this is emerging academic research that increasingly views nonresponse bias on a par with response rate as an important measure of survey data quality. There is evidence, for example, that data quality differences between studies with substantially different response rates may not be as great as assumed. We are beginning to understand more clearly how the emergence of cell phone only households is likely to impact telephone survey data. And there may be validation techniques that allow us to better understand the levels of bias created by high nonresponse and how to correct for them.
Where all of this goes is not at all clear. But what is clear is that our clients expect us to work these things through for them and deliver the best possible data for solving whatever problem they have hired us to help them solve.