Business Research Methods: Best Use Cases of Mixed Mode Surveys (Online and Phone)

Business Research Methods: Best Use Cases of Mixed Mode Surveys (Online and Phone)

Mixed-mode research commonly refers to using more than one market research method for the same task, like using online surveys and phone interviews in the same research project. The most suitable mode of data collection varies depending on the purpose of the research, the size of your sample group, and your resources.

When conducting market research, there are several tools and techniques available to you for gathering survey responses. The most suitable mode of data collection varies depending on the purpose of the research, the audience you are studying, the optimal sample size (n), and your available resources.

In many cases, it is best practice to use more than one technique for the same project—a process known as mixed-mode research – to get the most meaningful results to understand your building materials customers and the competitive environment.

What is a Mixed-Mode Survey for Market Research?

Mixed-mode research commonly refers to using more than one market research method for the same task, such as using online surveys and phone interviews in the same research project. The point of using the mixed mode method is to ensure that you have representation of the right respondents to get high-quality data needed to answer your research objectives. 

Types of Survey Methods

Market Research Survey Methods

The most common pairing of modes that we recommend to clients for quantitative studies are online and telephone surveying methods, but there are other methods you can pair that would qualify your study as mixed-mode, or mixed-method.

In-person surveys and focus groups are methods best used for qualitative research.

Online surveys are a standard technique for market research in the building materials and home improvement industries. When designed and administered properly, they provide cost effective and timely information to help with measuring brand health, and quantifying customer behaviors and attitudes.

Online surveys tend to be more successful with homeowners and DIYers given the large universe and ability to access that audience online. Telephone surveys can be more advantageous when conducting research among Pros and retail managers because they are often hard to reach online in mass. 

At The Farnsworth Group, we are incorporating more quantitative phone surveys into our contractor research due to the rising complications conducting purely online surveys, and our commitment to the highest quality standards.

Modern Complications of Online Surveying

Online Incidence Rates Can Be Lower, Especially Among Specialty Trades, Reducing Quality

Online surveys require a large sample population of potential respondents, because online incidence rates tend to be lower. 

Online survey methods may also leave out ideal respondents who work primarily offline, such as Pros who are busy on job sites or department managers at retailers.

You want to reach Pros that are busiest, those making decisions, with less down time to take surveys. This challenge can be solved by leveraging telephone surveying techniques.

Using Mixed Mode Research to Combat Survey Fraud

Moreover, there has been a surge of bad actors in recent years, particularly with online respondents, leading to an increase of false and unreliable responses that contaminate data quality. The term “bad actors” refers to a variety of entities in the context of market research, including 

  • Survey bots developed with the appearance of being human to take online surveys.
  • Teams working on a larger scale to commit survey fraud, also known as survey farms
  • Truly human participants that don’t provide genuine, thoughtful answers, but instead take the quickest path through the survey to achieve the incentive or reward

You Can Use Mixed Method Surveys to Circumvent the Schemes of Bad Actors

There is almost overnight generative artificial intelligence (AI), like Chat GPT, that has proliferated those trying to game the system. As a result, bad actors that fall into the non-human category are increasingly sophisticated, making it difficult for market researchers to detect their involvement in an online survey. Our team is seeing a higher percentage of false respondents than ever before with the release of AI.

This raises the bar for insights teams and market researchers when it comes to survey design and post-survey cleanup processes before analysis on the data set is conducted.

One way to address these various challenges is by introducing a mixed-mode survey method that includes phone interviews, rather than exclusively relying on online surveys.

The Benefits of Leveraging Telephone Surveys

It’s true, mixed-mode surveys require more coordination and a more hands-on process. Yet they enable you to capture data from hard to reach audiences and ensure representation for a broader range of the best fit customer segments. The extra investment and time commitment are worth the payoff, because it means preserving, and even enhancing, the quality of your findings.

Online Respondent Attention Spans Are Short, Averaging Just 7 Minutes

Whereas the attention span of an online survey participant averages only 7 minutes, with telephone interviews, respondents tend to remain more engaged, meaning you can clarify questions or answers so there are no potential misunderstandings. Plus, you can ask follow-up questions based on the answers you receive. This is especially helpful when you want to connect with your customers for usage, attitude and behavior research, and dig deeper into their motivations.

Introducing telephone survey methods into your research mix is a prime way to get around the poor quality saturation challenges that many online panels are facing. 

Because over the past decade, more and more research has shifted to online platforms among online panels, those respondent pools have become overused and unqualified. 

So, now’s your time such that when they zig, you zag.  The irony truly is that technology that originally pushed market research towards online methods is now pushing the field back to more traditional methods.

Here at The Farnsworth Group, Jason Anderson is our Fieldwork Manager, serving our clients’ with over 20 years of telephone data collection expertise.

Should I Switch to All-Telephone Surveys?

Mitigate Saturation Challenges of Online Panels by Fielding Telephone Surveys

The benefits of telephone surveys may leave you wondering if you should be pursuing purely phone-based research fielding. Realistically, though, phone interviews are not a universal approach that will work to understand every question you and your building products teams have. 

Phone interviews are not an ideal medium for fielding grid questions, long aided lists, or questions that use Max Diff or Conjoint methods.

Further, the increased cost and longer field times can disqualify phone interviews from budget conscious or expedited research projects.

This all comes down to which two of these three variables want most - quality, price, or timeline - during your project evaluation and vendor selection process.

When to Use Mixed-Mode Surveys in Market Research

Whether your purpose for market research is to uncover customer behaviors and understand your audience; gauge their view of your brand and your competitors; or understand what’s driving channel selection, mixed-mode surveys come in handy. Deciding whether to use them comes down to the particular scenario you’re dealing with.

‍A few scenarios in which conducting both telephone and online surveys makes sense include:

  • To access “offline” users that aren’t as comfortable or motivated to fill out a digital survey on their own; for example, architects are accustomed to being on their computers or mobile devices constantly, while electrical contractors may not be engaged in online research.
  • To expand your potential survey field to encompass more customer segments; for example, homeowners and DIYers are plentiful and feasible for online research, but niche groups, such as commercial property owners, are difficult to reach through online research methods.
  • To validate results generated from online surveys by gathering data via phone interviews and weeding out bad actors that undermine the validity and authenticity of your findings.
  • To get more qualitative data to complement quantitative data collected online and ask more open-ended or broad questions.
  • To reconcile or explain contradictory results.

Whether you choose to conduct online or phone interviews during market research for building products or home improvement brands, don’t underestimate the value of building rapport and how that can motivate respondents to give authentic and accurate answers.

Best practice is to open telephone surveys with a brief overview to help put respondents at ease. If it’s appropriate, take the opportunity to explain what interviewees can expect, what respondents will be answering, how the data will be used, and any clarifying instructions. When stakeholders feel their answers will be appreciated or they feel comfortable being able to explain their answer, they are more engaged and willing to participate wholeheartedly. 

Considerations for How to Mix Modes in Your Study

How to go about conducting mixed mode research should be determined during the survey design stage based on your objectives. You will have to decide which methods to mix, whether to pursue a sequential versus parallel mixed mode study, and how to control for unimode questionnaire design, all of which our research team at The Farnsworth Group helps clients with.

Applying Mixed-Mode Research to Customer and Market Insights

Conducting quality custom market research requires using methods and techniques that are tailored to your particular brand, your customers, and your business objectives. You also want to strive for an approach that is designed to address current challenges in the market research industry, such as bad actors undermining data quality. 

That’s what our team at The Farnsworth Group is here to help you achieve.

When you’re conducting usage and attitude (U&A) research, developing a new product, improving marketing strategies, or investigating opportunities for market growth, we are here to help you select the right modes of data collection to provide the most valuable, actionable and genuine insights to your question(s) at hand.