Face-to-Face Surveys

Face-to-Face Surveys

Live question and answer interviews were once the most accurate form of information gathering available. But that fact has radically changed over the past twenty years. Telephone surveys, direct mail, and especially the internet have all but destroyed this once, all-powerful form of surveys.

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Although time consuming and costly, the face-to-face survey method collected data that was practically looked upon as scientific fact. Arguably true, interviews were the most reliable form of surveys at one time, and they were considered to provide the most accurate data because the questions could be lengthy and the interviewer could get a more in-depth response from the subject.

The initial decline of face-to-face interviews began with the evolution of mail and telephone surveys. Those two forms of survey-taking, along with ever-increasing labor costs, began a new era in which detailed, information-gathering surveys were conducted over the phone or through traditional mail. The driving force for abandoning face-to-face interviews was simple: cost. By using traditional mail, a larger pool of data could be collected at a much lower expense to the company performing the survey. The same holds true for phone-oriented surveys. It boiled down to what was cheaper, faster, and ultimately provided more data. However, face-to-face interviews still hold an enormous advantage over newer and cheaper forms of survey-taking: they can acquire data from subjects who would otherwise be impossible to gather data from. While most of us can't imagine life without a computer and the internet, there are still hundreds of millions of people who have no internet access whatsoever. And a face-to-face interview would be able to collect data where an online survey would altogether miss a very large portion of society. Although costly, time-consuming, and labor-intensive, the face-to-face interview is still an extremely powerful tool for collecting data.

Face-to-face surveys offer several, obvious advantages over other forms of market research. They solve obstacles such as: incomplete subject lists, those who are unreachable by computer, and those who do not have phone lines (yes, believe it or not, some people live without a phone line!). When performed over a geographic area, face-to-face interviews leave very little to chance because interviewers simply travel from physical address to physical address and knock on doors. Another bonus is that interviewers can stress the importance of the survey and encourage subjects to provide more accurate data.

Yet another expensive drawback to face-to-face surveys is the proper training of interviewers. The question and answer nature of live interviews requires personnel who conduct the survey to be well-versed in the survey material. They also need to be prepared to handle a wide variety of potential questions and responses from the subject. If training is poor, interviewers can make errors when gathering their data. These errors run the risk of ruining the accuracy of a survey.

A large scale, face-to-face survey performed over a specific area requires strong organization. A supervisor will most likely be needed to organize routes and assist interviewers in case an unlikely question is asked from a subject. Not too mention, there will inevitably be households where nobody is home and a return trip to the residence will be needed. A supervisor - although a necessity for such an undertaking, only adds to the excessive cost of a face-to-face geographic survey.

There's no doubt about it, face-to-face interviews come at a high cost. The labor and time that is required for a live interview survey is hard to justify when there are much less expensive and viable survey systems available. Most often, a telephone survey or even an online, email survey is much more cost effective to perform despite the fact that data will not be collected from certain groups of the population. Considering the above mentioned costs for a face-to-face survey, it's no wonder that face-to-face interviews are the least used survey method.