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Automated Customer Surveys

Technology from Database Systems Corp. lets you develop IVR survey applications using our interactive voice response IVR solutions. Surveys can be initiated by outbound phone calls or can be a response to callers. Using our PACER and WIZARD phone systems with the Smart Message Dialer and survey software, we can call your survey prospects and play a highly focused and custom greeting. We then can give your survey audience the option to take your survey or even talk with a representative, leave a voice message, hear additional information, or simply decline to participate in the survey. The survey can accept touchphone response or can record each question response for later analysis. To view more information regarding our automated phone applications, please visit our Automatic Phone Survey solution web page.

The following is an article relating to automated survey techniques and products and services in our business.

Telephone Surveys - Indiana University Center for Research

The Center operates a computer-assisted telephone interviewing system (CATI) developed by the Computer-Assisted Survey Methods Program of the University of California at Berkeley. This CATI system is the most sophisticated system now in use at academic research centers. It was developed to meet the most exacting standards of academic and federal government researchers.

The Center was among the first academic research facilities in the country to implement this highly efficient interviewing system. With the CATI system, each question appears on a computer monitor for the interviewer to read. The interviewer enters the response directly into the computer, thereby bypassing the time-consuming data coding, editing, and entry processes.

The CATI System

The Center's CATI system:

  • allows for complex question branching handled automatically by the computer;
  • reduces interviewer error;
  • assures quick turnaround of survey results by executing many of the time-consuming tasks involved in data coding and cleaning;
  • provides efficient sample management and survey administration;
  • provides powerful supervisor monitoring capabilities and quality control throughout the data collection;
  • provides thorough procedures for checking codes and cleaning the final dataset.
One of the many benefits of the CATI system is its ability to handle extremely complex interview schedules. By examining previous responses, CATI can skip over questions not intended for certain respondents. This type of question "branching" can be very difficult, if not impossible, to implement if an interviewer has to flip through pages of a questionnaire to get to the next appropriate question.

CATI also has the ability to take a response and insert an appropriate name or label into a subsequent question. This feature allows the interview to flow smoothly and professionally without the interviewer having to shuffle paper or remember answers to previous questions while trying to complete the interview.

Another feature of the CATI system is its ability to perform data checks and edits while an interview is in progress. Error checks can be programmed into the instrument so that interviewers are made aware of inconsistent answers given by respondents. These checks allow corrections to be made during the interview and prevent having to recall a respondent to clarify an answer. All of the efforts help ensure high response rates and accurate, reliable information.

The CATI system has six monitoring stations, each equipped with a computer and a telephone capable of monitoring interviews. The Center uses multiple screen and telephone monitoring stations.

The CATI software has an interactive statistical package. This package permits the rapid analysis of survey data. If desired, researchers can request distributions and tabulations of responses daily. The simple language of the statistical package reduces the amount of computer training required to do data analysis.

Currently, the Center has one of the most technologically sophisticated CATI systems in use by academic survey organizations throughout the country. The CSR system employs 22 interviewing stations. The CATI system is part of an in-house local area network that has 36M of disk storage. We use NT as our operating system and VNC as our video monitoring software. A training lab with six stations and a supervisor monitoring station is also used for interviewing.

The CSR utilizes two data security measures. The CSR's server uses RAID-5 technology which allows automatic recovery of data in the event of a computer or disk failure. Each day, the CSR's survey data are backed up on tape. Daily backups and RAID-5 ensure that data are not lost because of a computer malfunction. In addition, the server has an uninterruptible power supply so that, even if a power failure occurs during interviewing, no more than five responses from any ongoing interview are lost.

As another data integrity measure, access to the CSR's computers is limited to Center staff and a small number of researchers and graduate students. The server and the data tapes are in secure locations in the building that houses the CSR. The use of passwords by the Center staff is rigidly administered. It is virtually impossible for unauthorized persons to access the CSR's data.

Interviewer Training and Supervision

The Center employs a professional staff comprised of highly-educated personnel. Because of the Center's setting in an academic community, the Center has access to a highly-skilled, motivated work force and can therefore be very selective when hiring interviewers. Thousands of undergraduate students, as well as other persons attracted to a major university locale, are available.

New interviewers are trained intensively for at least twenty hours before they are put into production interviewing. Interviewers learn standardized patterns of speaking pace, voice tone, probing techniques, and feedback responses. In addition, all interviewers are given at least two hours of survey-specific training before each survey.

All CSR interviewers are trained in refusal conversion techniques as part of their initial twenty hours of training and are regularly retrained on conversion procedures. It is standard CSR procedure to attempt to convert "refusals" at least twice. When possible, a conversion attempt is made at the first instance of refusal. A second attempt is usually made after a few days. The Center has developed a unique refusal conversion team that is especially successful in converting reluctant survey participants.

To ensure adequate monitoring of interviews, the CSR has one of the highest supervisor-to-interviewer ratios among academic survey centers. All interviewers, including the most experienced, are monitored constantly. When a study begins, interviewers are continually monitored by a supervisor. Later in the study, interviewers are systematically monitored. Each interviewer is monitored at least twice during each interviewing shift. This close supervision during the entire data collection process exemplifies the high professional standards maintained at the CSR.

The Center is a full-time operation that conducts interviews during day, evening, and weekend hours. This allows Center interviewers to contact hard-to-reach respondents, a procedure crucial to producing high quality survey data. Callbacks are scheduled at the convenience of the respondents. Respondents may also call the CSR's toll-free 800 number to schedule convenient times for their interviews. All "no answer" telephone numbers are called at least eight times at varying times of the day, including weekends. The Center's supervisory staff constantly monitor the progress of interview outcomes and each sample of telephone numbers to prevent problem cases that could interfere with the integrity of survey procedures.

Informed Consent and Research Ethics

The survey procedures used by the Center for Survey Research adhere to the highest academic and government research standards, and the Center maintains the highest ethical standards in its procedures and methods. All Center staff demonstrate integrity and respect for individual dignity in all interactions with colleagues, researchers, and survey participants.

Informed Consent:

Below is a description of the standard procedures used for informed consent for surveys conducted by the Center for Survey Research. We provide an example of an introduction for telephone surveys. Informed consent procedures for a mail or other self-administered survey are available on request.

In our introductions, we:

  • introduce ourselves - interviewer's name and Indiana University Center for Survey Research;
  • briefly describe the survey topic (e.g., barriers to health insurance);
  • describe the geographic area we are interviewing (e.g., people in Indiana) or target sample (e.g., aerospace engineers);
  • describe how we obtained the contact information (e.g., the telephone number was randomly generated; we received your name from a professional organization);
  • identify the sponsor (e.g., National Endowment for the Humanities);
  • describe the purpose(s) of the research (e.g., satisfaction with services provided by a local agency);
  • give a "good-faith" estimate of the time required to complete the interview (this survey will take about 10 minutes to complete);
  • promise anonymity and confidentiality (when appropriate);
  • mention to the respondent that participation is voluntary;
  • mention to the respondent that item-nonresponse is acceptable;
  • ask permission to begin.

Example Introduction:

"Hello, I'm [fill NAME] from the Center for Survey Research at Indiana University. We're surveying Indianapolis area residents to ask their opinions about some health issues. This study is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and its results will be used to research the effect of community ties on attitudes towards medical practices.

The survey takes about 40 minutes to complete. Your participation is anonymous and voluntary, and all your answers will be kept completely confidential. Your telephone number was randomly generated by a computer. If there are any questions that you don't feel you can answer, please let me know and we'll move to the next one. So, if I have your permission, I'll continue."

At the end, we offer the respondent information on how to contact the principal investigator. For example:

"John Kennedy is the Principal Investigator for this study. Would you like Dr. Kennedy's address or telephone number in case you want to contact him about the study at any time?"

Sampling Procedures

The Center uses the Genesys Sampling System to generate random telephone number samples. The Center was among the first survey organizations to adopt this system, which is now used by most major survey organizations.

The system uses a list of all possible telephone numbers in the US to randomly generate telephone numbers. This system produces more efficient samples than older sampling systems, such as Mitofsky-Waksberg, with about the same level of coverage.

With the Genesys system, we can:

  • target populations by selected demographic characteristics;
  • analyze the neighborhood characteristics of participants;
  • target geographic areas using census tracts.
This capability has substantially cut survey expenses by reducing the additional household selection needed to interview population subgroups.

Within households, we use a random number to select an adult respondent to interview. This second random process ensures that all adults have the possibility of being included in our random telephone surveys.

Most surveys we conduct are with listed samples; that is, samples where we have contact information for the respondents. In these surveys, we use macros programmed into Access databases to ensure sampling integrity. For most listed sample surveys, we send either presurvey letters or email messages.