Survey methods: CATI surveys

CATI is the acronym of Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing.

It’s a telephone research methodology that includes an interviewer administering a questionnaire to the respondent reading it on a computer.

The questionnaire is not just an interview guideline but it automatically leads questions order and how these questions have to be formulated. The interviewer cannot edit the questionnaire script nor the single question: his role is that of an intermediary between respondent and questionnaire. Also, if the respondents need it, the interviewer can give explanations or clarifications when questions are unclear.

Questions are in a sequential order thanks to filters and logic conditions that automatically regulate the questionnaire.

This technique guarantees accuracy in questionnaire administration and compilation but it doesn’t exclude the physical presence of the interviewer.

How does it work?

The interviewer will just need an internet connection and a phone (real or software if you’re working with VoIP). Most advanced software systems, like IdSurvey, are web based so they don’t need an installation and they can be accessed with all common browsers. Thanks to this option, small research agencies (that don’t own a call center) can let their interviewers work directly from home.

The interviewers reach by phone the respondents: they will just need to follow instructions displayed to interview the respondents.

Answers will be saved directly into the computer database in real time. So, no risk of data loss or issues while collecting answers.

The program automatically checks answers incoherence, set control questions and stop the progress of the interview if one answer is not recorded correctly.

There’s several modes to manage calls

outbound: the research agency directly makes calls
inbound: the respondent calls the call center
predicative dialing: the switchboard calls the numbers and directly forward to the interviewer just available respondents. This feature is particularly used by large and medium call centers because it reduces the interviewers downtime.

CATI surveys: main advantages

Advantages of CATI surveys are the following:

Quality: data quality increases thanks to the interviewer’s presence (that can solve any respondent issue and avoid incorrect answers) and the software itself, developed to prevent errors in administration of the questionnaire;

Time: remarkable time reduction to carry on interviews. Two reasons for this: data input and call back management. Data input phase is immediate, there’s no paper and answers are directly inserted in the computer. The software automatically manages call back.

Supervision: in any moment you can monitor interviews progress, incomplete answers or interviews and much more. The CATI software also provides automatic statistics and reports (also partial). This option saves up time;

Saving: if we compare a CATI software with old paper interviews we noticed that this method doesn’t involve huge management costs.

Close contact: the physical presence of an interviewer guarantees a personal contact with the respondent. It’s crucial especially when it’s a research on a thorny subject.

CATI systems usually also allow to monitor interviewers timing and efficiency optimizing their productivity and questionnaire quality.

CAWI surveys vs CATI surveys

We’ve already analyzed advantages and disadvantages of CAWI method in the post Survey method: CAWI.

CAWI method proves to be more convenient than CATI surveys because of the lack of a person as data collector. In fact, you avoid costs in interviewers training, in logistical organization and in call traffic.

On the other hand, CATI ensures a higher data quality and almost a complete accuracy.

You should also take in consideration the complete customization of a CAWI survey: this allows you to carry on an impartial research because there’s no direct contact with the respondent. This aspect could be at the same time a deficiency and a quality, depending on type of survey you need to carry on.

To benefit from the advantages of both techniques you could opt for a mixed mode. This way, you get in touch with the respondent by phone to explain the purpose of the research and its steps. Later on you send an email to him/her with a link to the actual questionnaire.

Not all softwares are developed to managed mixed mode: IdSurvey is designed to manage mixed CATI, CAWI and CAPI surveys easily, intuitively and professionally.

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