F. Interviewing Methods

F. Interviewing Methods

F. Interviewing Methods

The basis for the sampling of respondents in a consumer research survey is to ask them to provide answers to a questionnaire. There are several different methods of approaching respondents, including the personal interview, group interviews, the use of postal questionnaires and telephone interviews.

1. The Personal Interview. It is not surprising that the personal interviewer, approaching respondents at their homes, in the street or at work, achieves a much greater response than any other survey method. The interviewer can, by her presence, encourage the respondent to answer each question in the questionnaire and she can assist her by explaining the reasons for the survey and the importance which attaches to the respondent's contribution. Mistakes made in answering questions or misunderstanding of the meaning of questions can be dealt with at the time, thus reducing considerably the number of spoiled questionnaires which would have to be disregarded at the editing stage.

A good interviewer can add considerably to the response she obtains from her interviews by the assessment she makes of the individual respondents. She is often provided with a special form in which she can enter comment of this nature.

The drawback to the personal interviewer method is that it is expensive. Apart from remuneration there is the question of travelling costs, which can be considerable, particularly when a sampling method is being employed which may involve the interviewer in a number of recalls upon respondents. Even with the quota system, which avoids such recalls, the interviewer may have to devote considerable time to finding respondents who have the desired characteristics-age, sex, income bracket, occupation-to fit into her quota. The interviewers themselves must be carefully selected. Apart from all considerations of suitability one must take account of the fact that the interviewer is a personality who will have her own ideas and opinions which, however detached she may try to be, must create some bias.

2. Group Discussions. Some researchers select a small group of respondents representing a cross-section of the universe to be surveyed and invite them to attend a group discussion. Such gatherings are usually chaired by an experienced interviewer who, instead of conducting interviews, puts a number of points to the meeting to provoke discussion.

The resulting conversation can be recorded on tape for subsequent examination by the research team. They are concerned not only with what the respondents have to say but the way in which they say it. By such means the broad opinions of a representative group of housewives may be considered; but the information gathered has, of course, no statistical use.

3. Postal Surveys. The conduct of a postal survey which eliminates the need for trained interviewers is obviously much cheaper than systems requiring the employment of paid interviewers. There are, however, a number of problems.

The questionnaire sent out to respondents through the post cannot be as comprehensive as that used for a personal interview. Since there will be no interviewer at hand to explain the questions they must be put in an elementary manner and require as little writing as possible on the part of the respondent. The normal method is either to frame questions which require a simple 'yes' or 'no' answer, or to provide several alternative answers to each question and respondents are asked to put a mark against the one they consider applicable.

One of the main difficulties with the use of postal questionnaires is that only about one person in ten will take the trouble to respond. Furthermore, the fact that they have taken this trouble, whereas the other nine out of ten have not, suggests that they are probably not typical of the universe they are supposed to represent.

Various devices are employed to encourage respondents to respond. Sometimes a free gift is attached to the questionnaire and the researcher hopes that the respondent will feel obliged to complete and return the questionnaire.

Like all unsolicited direct mail approaches-of which this is but a specialized category-the accompanying letter of explanation must be concocted in such a manner that the respondent is urged to make the necessary effort to read and complete the questionnaire and post it back. This letter must explain the purpose of the survey in terms which the respondent will understand and, ideally, which will excite some interest on his part. This subject will be discussed in more detail in a later webpage on the subject of Direct Mail. It is sufficient to say here that postal surveys form an important part of mail order trading and are frequently used to gain market reaction to new products and new selling techniques as well as the creation of mailing lists.

4. Telephone Surveys. Having far less application than the postal survey, market research by telephone has been used to question consumers with regard to purchases of cars, domestic appliances and various types of household goods. It is a method used more widely in the United States where a far greater number of households possess a telephone than is the case in Britain.

The method is comparatively cheap, immediate responses can be obtained and the interviewer can telephone a large number of respondents in a fraction of the time it would take to make personal visits to their homes.

There are major drawbacks. Since the possession of a telephone is very far from being universal, respondents reached in this manner will not be typical for many types of surveys. The number of questions which can be put to respondents is, once again, extremely limited. Attempts to establish their age and occupation are likely to meet with an immediate rebuff. Generally speaking, people do not like being telephoned by complete strangers asking them questions and, more often than not, a semi-hostile response is likely to be encountered.


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Please Note

The Trade is, of course, a major source of product ideas. All manufacturers examine, with avid interest, the new products of their competitors.

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