In a series of “Secret Confessions” blogs, Nichola Martland, Research Team Leader at Competitive Advantage, reflects on her experience and her tips for successful telephone interviews.

Second in the series, in this blog, Nichola reveals the tools and support mechanisms critical to the success of her research programmes.

Q: Your pivotal role in the Market Research team is clearly defined. What do you need your Research Team to do to ensure a programme of successful telephone interviews?

Point 1: Ask the right questions:

It sounds obvious but a questionnaire that asks the right questions! It makes the difference between a well-received survey that stimulates meaningful responses and an inferior survey that confuses and breeds inaccuracies.

Whether I’m interviewing existing or potential customers, I’m mindful that I’m representing the Client, albeit impartially and that this is an opportunity to raise their profile, not damage it.

Correctly scripted questions, worded to prompt the depth and breadth of responses that cover the Client’s requirements in the brief are vitally important. They should enable the respondent to understand exactly what you are asking and for them to give an informed response. You don’t want a question that is badly worded and therefore confuses the respondent.

Point 2: Ensure the questionnaire flows smoothly and is not too long

I would say that a questionnaire that flows smoothly and is not too long is vitally important. Questions of similar relevance should be grouped together. For example, in a customer satisfaction survey, product questions shouldn’t be mixed in with questions about customer service.

I find a questionnaire that is no longer than 15 minutes is best for getting good, detailed responses. Anything longer than 15 minutes and you lose the respondent’s interest. Plus we need to remember that people do have jobs to do and deadlines to meet, which needs to be respected.

Point 3: Contacts that are relevant and up-to-date

In order to achieve the interview quotas agreed, I need a contact list of that is relevant and more importantly up-to-date. I’d rather spend my time interviewing people than chasing up incorrect telephone numbers or alternative contacts, as the original may be out-of-date and no longer with the company. CRM systems help us in this regard, especially when the Client can provide qualified contacts from a well-managed system.

Point 4:Continuous monitoring

Once I’ve started the interview programme, I need continuous, quick feedback on responses submitted from the team and Client. We operate a feedback system so that the first 10% of responses are thoroughly reviewed before any further interviews are undertaken. This allows us to assess if the questionnaire is functional and is delivering the quality of responses required as per the Client brief. It also allows us, with the Client, to fine-tune any necessary tweaks before the project continues, so we can fully optimise results.

Communication with the Client during the course of the research is key. It gives me the chance to raise any issues that I may have come across while conducting the research, which can be addressed and changes made if necessary.


Good input results in good output. Investing time at the very beginning of the research project should ensure the quality of the questionnaire and the accuracy of contacts to ensure optimised results. The safety net of communicating back to the Client after the initial trial interviews ensures the functionality of the survey and reassures the Client of the quality of the responses relative to their requirements.

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