5 Questions to ask Before Selecting a Research Firm for a Phone Survey

By: Amanda Barna and Michelle Henry


Telephone surveys continue to be the most reliable source of public opinion data. Telephone surveys are invaluable tools for community and business leaders and serve as the basis for making data driven decisions.

By asking these five questions, you will help ensure that your next telephone survey project provides data that is valid and reliable and that your research objectives are achieved.

  1. Do you include cell phones in your sampling frame?
    Why this is important: When cell phones were first gaining popularity, several research studies comparing the population with landlines to the population using only cell phones were conducted and found that respondents answered questions similarly and therefore concluded that not including cell phones in a sampling frame was acceptable because, at the time, there was no evidence that there were differences in the populations. Times have changed: 25% of US households no longer have landlines. When you add in households that are use cell phones primarily and keep landlines for purposes other than engaging in conversations, the percentage jumps to 35%. This means that only 65% of households can be reached using traditional telephone survey methods- developing a sample frame based on residential landlines. In order to obtain a representative sample of the general public, it is now important to include a cell phone sample- if at all possible. While this may increase the cost of data collection, the data will be better quality and will yield more accurate results.

  2. How do you keep up to date with new and emerging technologies in the field?
    Why this is important: There have been many important changes in the survey research industry over the past 30 years; there have been many important changes over the last 2 years. As technology and communication has changed over the last few years, so has the survey research industry. There are professional associations in the survey research industry such as the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) that have a Code of Ethics that include things such as information that needs to be disclosed to potential respondents, keeping client data proprietary, and a commitment to use the methodology that is best suited to the research problem at hand. These organizations and industry publications keep research firms up to date with trends, emerging technology and new methodologies.

  3. Do you use the same survey instrument for all of your clients?
    Why this is important: While some survey questions are appropriate to repeat across different surveys, there needs to be some degree of customization of each survey instrument. Every project and every client is different. While some organizations may have similar objectives, such as passing a levy, there are different questions that must be used to meet that objective based on the individuality of the client.

  4. Will the final sample be representative of the population?
    Why this is important: The value of survey research findings depends heavily on the quality of the sample. It is important for a sample to be representative so that the views of the whole population are counted and not biased by one particular segment of the population. Many times when conducting telephone surveys, the final sample may under or over represent an important demographic area such as gender. Monitoring the data as it is collected allows a research firm to take measures to adapt the sampling frame if the sample is not matching the targeted population.

  5. What type of on-going support do you supply after the report is delivered?
    Why this is important: There is always a chance that you may have a question about the data or report after the project is complete and the report is delivered. Or you may need data broken down in a different way or need to make a presentation to important stakeholders. What type of support does your research partner say they will provide after the report has been delivered? Is there an additional charge for this support? Will your research partner walk you through the report when it is delivered? Who within the company will you have access to? All important questions to consider BEFORE signing the initial contract.