Customer Experience

Why do phone surveys have a low response rate?

May 13, 2022

8 mins read

Manisha Khandelwal


Since the beginning, marketers, researchers, and businesses relied heavily on telephone surveys to interview people to gather and understand customer feedback. They used CATI/ phone surveys to gather insights about the customer challenges, expectations, and behaviors to launch or improve products and services in the market.

So, what are CATI or Phone Surveys?

CATI (Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing) or phone survey is a method where an interviewer uses a script on his computer screen to interview or collect responses from a participant or a customer over the telephone. They may take the call from a computer or use a separate phone while being assisted by a computer.

They recorded all the responses within the computer to save time transferring data from paper to digital format. Yet, the issue was that they had to wait for a long time until they collected a certain number of responses. And not just that, they had to dedicate a team to compile all these responses manually and prepare reports. 

It was widely used in the past as respondents did not need a computer to respond to the questionnaire but only a telephone. Organizations used CATI/ phone surveys to promote materials, understand customer satisfaction, introduce new products and services, etc.  

Yet, we witnessed the rapid downfall of CATI/ phone surveys since 2000 as more and more innovative and appealing methodologies were introduced. The response rate went too low, and CATI surveys became more challenging and tedious in the next couple of years.  

Reports indicated that there had been a 41% declination in the phone survey responses.

But, why?

Call disruptions, call forwarding to the voicemails, difficulty connecting with the right person in case of an organization, misunderstanding or misrepresentation of data or speech, and the introduction to quick and simple online surveys had been some of the reasons why CATI surveys started getting low response rates. 

And online surveys gained sudden momentum as they are far more appealing and easy to complete compared to the CATI/ phone surveys. Besides, they are cost-effective, more accurate, less prone to mistakes, easy to execute and analyze, quickly shareable, and comes with visually pleasing elements and style. 

But what were the actual problems with CATI/ phone surveys, the reasons behind low response rates, and how do digital surveys replace CATI surveys?

Let’s start with understanding the challenges of phone surveys.

Problems with Phone Surveys

Though a widely used survey model, CATI/ phone surveys have several issues that caused them to fade out in the digital era. Here are some of them.

  • Costing: CATI/ phone surveys are charged based on cost per interview, which can be really high when the sample is high. Studies indicate that you need to spend an average of 5-10 dollars per response on a CATI survey. For instance, imagine your cost to capture 1.5k responses a month or an average of 20k responses a year. 
  • Right Audience: It often takes multiple calls to identify the right target respondent and schedule a call for the survey. 
  • Length of surveys: Respondents get irritated with the untimely call with too many questions. So either they disconnect the call or give incorrect answers. 
  • Quality of data: Respondents feel uncomfortable giving a bad rating so they give the positive one hampering the quality of data.
  • Possible disruptions: The respondent can face a lot of disturbances during calls and end the session quickly.  
  • Misrepresentations or wrong answers: The interviewer fills the questionnaire with incorrect answers if they do not correctly understand or misinterpret the respondents’ responses.
  • Agent training: Interviews are often outsourced or delegated to third-party agents. Therefore, you need to give them adequate training and awareness to make the best out of interviews and surveys. 
  • Small data sample: CATI surveys are useful only when collecting small data samples. It becomes a tiresome, expensive, and time-consuming task to collect responses from 10000 respondents. 
  • Data reliability & manipulation: Data manipulation is a major concern when it comes to CATI interviews. The agents often request or persuade the respondents to give a top rating. Hence, the reliability of the data collected remains a question.  
  • Too slow: CATI/ phone surveys do not offer feedback in real-time. Connecting to the right people, gathering all the feedback, analyzing that feedback, and creating resorts can take weeks.

Yes, there are many limitations to the phone surveys, the low response rate being the most critical. Because if you dont get responses, how will you get the required data?

Why do phone surveys have low response rates?

The response rate of phone surveys is less than 5% as compared to the online surveys which is more than 30%.

The decline in the phone response rates wasn’t anything sudden. It happened gradually. According to studies, it only took 7 years for a 41% fall in the response rates. 

But why?

Here are some of the reasons why CATI surveys are getting low response rates of CATI surveys. 

  • Calls without appointments: Agents call respondents anytime without appointments or any prior intimations. Respondents often do not attend these calls or terminate the line in between. 
  • No connection between the respondent and the agent: CATI surveys are often executed by a third-party agency. Therefore, they neither empathize nor care about the respondents, leading to not-so-engaging conversations and poor responses. 
  • Long questionnaire: Some interviewers go on and on with questions that frustrate the customer, prompting the customer to end the call instantly or discourage further calls. 
  • Lack of agent training: During CATI interviews, the pace of the conversation is controlled by the agent, and it makes some respondents uncomfortable. 

Now that respondents are not responding to the CATI/ phone surveys, what is the alternative?

Online surveys.

How online surveys are replacing CATI surveys?

The limitations of phone surveys in the modern era, including the declining popularity of landline service prompt users to switch to online surveys. And not just that, online surveys’ flexibility and ease of use take them far ahead of CATI/ phone surveys.

  • Respondents can respond genuinely as there is no compelling force or person behind the questionnaire. 
  • The survey link can be shared over WhatsApp, Email, SMS, or any other messaging platform as per the respondent’s availability on that platform. 
  • As respondents share their feedback in their own time, pace, and space, the response rates are much higher.
  • Online surveys cost only 50% of the CATI/ phone surveys.
  • Online surveys offer feedback in real-time on your dashboard.
  • The analysis of feedback and reports are created automatically. 
  • Online surveys are visually appealing and customizable as per requirements. 
  • And you can create, edit, and share the online surveys on your own.

Comparison: Online Surveys vs. CATI/ Phone Surveys

online vs cati surveys 


Try Online Surveys with SurveySensum →


Make the most of the online surveys with SurveySensum

SurveySensum is an enterprise customer feedback platform that helps automotive, healthcare, BFSI, and telecom sectors improve their customer satisfaction. It helps you gather, analyze, and take action on real-time customer feedback across journey touchpoints and boosts customer satisfaction.

Companies such as Daimler (Mercedes-Benz), Honda (Astra), and Nissan (Indomobil) in Indonesia have replaced CATI/ phone surveys with online surveys and have improved their customer satisfaction by 40% with their SSI and CSI surveys.

And Manulife Indonesia increased its overall NPS by 5 points by launching CSAT surveys after every transaction online throughout the customer journey and taking action on the real-time insights received.

Case Study: How is Manulife listening to its customers in real-time?

Here are some of the reasons how SurveySensum is helping organizations boosts customer satisfaction score, increases response rate, and improves NPS score.

  • It helps you launch all kinds of online surveys which gives you a minimum of 30% response rates.
  • It helps you save up to 70% cost as compared to what you pay for CATI surveys. 
  • You get real-time customer feedback on your personalized dashboard. 
  • You can share the survey on multiple channels like SMS, email, or WhatsApp.
  • You can create, share, and capture unlimited responses every day all by yourself.
  • It is easy to send follow-up surveys to the people with negative feedback.
  • It eliminates the possibility of biased feedback and creates a connection with the respondents. 
  • It analyzes thousands of feedback in a few minutes with its text and sentiment analysis tool.
  • It helps you create surveys in multiple languages.

So, when you get real-time feedback from your respondents, you can take action in time, closing the feedback loop and enhancing their experiences with you.


Try Online Surveys with SurveySensum →

Manisha Khandelwal

Senior Content Marketer at SurveySensum

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