The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. Vol 2 Issue 5   May 2006


Effective market research is as much about gathering information properly as it is about analyzing it.

In today’s edition of “Research With A Twist,” we make the case for recording your research interviews, to ensure that what is captured reflects what people really think.

As always, your thoughts and comments are appreciated.

Julie Brown

Mark Palmerino
Executive Vice President

“This is a recording”… Three Benefits of Recording Interviews

Back in the mid-1990s, CSR was retained to complete a comprehensive customer segmentation strategy for one of the largest financial services providers in the country. The goals included gaining a better understanding of customers and their needs and preferences for certain products and services, and to maximize marketing investments by better targeting messages based on this improved understanding.

One of the information-gathering approaches we used was quite straightforward: We provided the Customer Service Representatives with a short series of questions to ask of callers to the company call center at the conclusion of each call. We then used those answers to perform our segmentation.

We also made sure to record and transcribe each of the calls — standard procedure for us, but a first for our client, who up until that time had simply relied on the agents’ real-time note-taking to collect data when conducting research.

Here’s the punch line… at the end of the data-gathering phase, we compared the agents’ notes with the recordings and found an error rate in excess of 20%! That’s right, 20% of the data collected by the agents was either missing key information or totally, irrefutably, wrong.

You don’t need to be a senior official in the Bush administration to understand the benefits of recorded conversations. These include:

  1. Separating data gathering from data transcribing. The average American speaks English at a rate of 125– 150 words per minute (even faster for us highly caffeinated Northeasterners). The average person types, on the other hand, at less than half that speed. Anyone trying to capture spoken information accurately — particularly when conducting the kind of open-ended research in which we specialize — is facing an uphill battle in trying to keep pace with spoken answers.

    Conversely, when you record a phone call, the interviewer is freed up to think, interact and engage the interviewee in conversation. As a result, he or she is transformed from hurried scribe to inquisitive detective (who would you prefer were conducting your research?).

  2. Offering an unfiltered record of what took place. If the interviews are recorded, everyone involved in the project can listen — first-hand — to respondent answers, at their leisure. This allows team members to hear for themselves such things as whether certain questions were misunderstood, or if some aspect of the question flow proved frustrating for participants.

    Because listening to tapes, real-time, can also be time- consuming, another benefit of taping is that the conversation can then be transcribed word for word. This allows team members to then read the typed transcript of the entire discussion, which requires much less time than listening to a tape, and still provides readers the ability to understand whether the questions are working as intended.

    Unfortunately, all these critical nuances are often lost when the research team is forced to rely on interviewers’ written notes and best recollections of any interview.

  3. Providing an opportunity to use respondent feedback in other situations. One of our clients regularly uses recorded sound files in the presentations it makes to its own suppliers. While charts and graphs are terrific for understanding the big picture, there’s nothing more compelling in getting your point across than spoken, unscripted, audible praise (or criticism) from a customer.

    Similarly, if one of the reasons you want to conduct a focus group is so that colleagues and/or senior management can hear the “voice of the customer,” you can easily create a CD of key sound bites that you can hand to them for listening in the car.

Like the children’s game of “telephone,” each time a survey respondent’s comments are filtered through someone’s brain, there’s an opportunity for lost, or misunderstood, information. Particularly if the data gatherers themselves are compensated primarily on the basis of survey speed and completion rate (i.e. the average company or research vendor call center), you’re leaving valuable information on the table by not recording each conversation.

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Mixology (Putting research into practice)

Recording and listening to interviewees is easier today than ever, thanks to the proliferation of computers and other digital devices. There are a few things to keep in mind however, when putting this into place in your organization:

  • Record digitally. In truth, almost anything will work, but digital voice recorders offer added benefits. Background noise can be eliminated, sound bite summaries are easy to make, and the files themselves can be shared via e-mail and other digital media.
  • Maximize production quality during the interview. Even though poor quality and noise can be mitigated after the fact, the best solution is to create quality recordings to begin with. If possible, do your best to ensure that interviewees are not on speaker phones or cell phones.
  • Get permission. Although it’s rare that people say no (maybe 1 in 100), as recent news reports make clear, there are legalities involved in recording conversations. You should always make sure that each instance of a recorded conversation has been agreed to by the respondent before you push the record button.


“This is a recording”… Three Benefits of Recording Interviews

Mixology (Putting research into practice)

Twist and Shout

About Us

We are thrilled to announce that our annual print publication — “Insights” — is at the printer and will be in the mail to you by the end of this month!

It’s an opportunity for us to dig deeper on some of our recent engagements (and results), and we think you’ll find it a nice complement to this newsletter.

Be on the lookout for it, and if you’re not sure you’re on our snail mail list, just respond to this e-mail with your mailing address. We’d be happy to send you a copy.

“An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.”

— Niels Bohr

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About Us
The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. (CSR) is a research firm. We combine open-ended questioning with our proprietary technology to create quantifiable data.


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Understanding What People Really Think

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