Researchers have been challenged in recent years in how to overcome flat or declining survey response rates. And in the age of the internet and mobile phones, they are also tasked with figuring out the best approach to target and communicate with their desired survey population. In order to combat these issues, researchers are turning to mixed-mode surveys.
It’s important to note that the choice of mode is the catalyst decision that affects who can actually be interviewed for a survey and how to most effectively contact the people in the target population. While researchers make a series of decisions, large and small, for every project, the choice of mode is especially crucial to the success of a project and the reliability of its findings. This is because the mode has a domino-like effect on the execution of the entire survey, impacting question formats, testing opportunities, response rates and more. Plus, different modes can also influence how people respond as well as the level of overall participation.
Why a mixed-mode approach?
Mixed-mode surveys have risen in popularity since they provide researchers with choices and flexibility. The internet and ubiquitous nature of email has led to an increase in email usage and online surveys. Now, researchers can choose the most effective avenue to target consumers, reaching them where they are most available and most likely to respond: landline or cellular phone, paper “snail mail” surveys, email communications and online surveys, for example. This variety allows researchers to customize a survey by choosing the best method for different parts, something that wasn’t possible years ago.
Not only can researchers improve the coverage of their desired population by targeting them in many ways, but there’s also the hope that participants respond in higher numbers. Participants who may regularly turn down online surveys may be more open to them once they are first contacted via phone. Plus, offering survey participants a choice of how to provide feedback generally increases response rates.
It’s also important to note that, in some instances, mixed-mode surveys may offer cost benefits. Everyone knows research can be expensive. Surveys that used to be executed 100 percent via phone can now be done partially online, providing enormous savings in cost and time to a client.
Mixed-mode requires precise management to be successful
Along with the choice and variety benefits of a mixed-mode project comes additional project management. Mixed-mode projects must be carefully managed and planned. The experience must be flawless. The cross over between modes (from a phone call to an email survey, for example) needs to be taken into account and thought through in meticulous detail. If one portion of the research goes smoothly and another is botched, then the entire process fails.
For example, many researchers opt to do a mixed-mode of phone outreach combined with an online survey. In this case, participants are first contacted and vetted with a brief phone call. In this case, the researcher is a big influencer in the end result of the phone call; their tone, conversational style and how closely they follow a script all impact the recruit’s action.
Once the phone call is over, the participant is then directed to an online survey. This is where the handover needs to be seamless. The participant’s experience should match what they were told to expect during the phone conversation. If they were told they were going to receive an email within 15 minutes, it should land in their inbox within 15 minutes.
For greater success, mixed-mode surveys should include boiled down, simple directions for recruits. Researchers can quickly confuse participants with instructions related to emails, timing, links and so on. It’s critical to be clear and just tell the participant they will receive their message in X minutes and that they must just click the link to continue. Keep things simple.
Before you use mixed-mode, weigh the advantages and disadvantages
Before using a mixed-mode survey, researchers should thoroughly evaluate the pros and cons of using mixed-mode, including the effects it could have on the data quality. You’ll want to plan on how to evaluate the data to review it for modal effects and consistency. Evaluate your target population to see if a mixed-mode approach is right for you.