CATI: So Long Pen & Paper

Remember when everyone had a Rolodex and every phone had a cord? Look how far we've come since then. Long gone are the days of manually entering phone numbers and survey answers. Now, we're living in the Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) era. 

CATI grew popular in the late 1990s as the go-to tool for telephone survey research. Since then, it has exploded in popularity and is being used in call centers around the world.

It's important to note, though, that CATI is not the same as a robo-dialer. CATI works by having the interviewer record responses with a mouse and keyboard, as opposed to filling in a survey by hand. 

CATI has major advantages such as: 

  • Allowing the interviewer to listen closely to survey responses, rather than concentrating on filling out a paper survey by hand
  • Data is entered automatically, rather than each individual survey needing to be coded by hand
  • The length of interviews is cut down, as everything is done on a computer rather than by hand
  • Quota management can be tracked in real time 

These are a sampling of the many advantages CATI provides, but like most things, it isn't perfect. 

  • Technology can be finicky on a good day, and CATI isn't an exception
  • If a respondent changes an earlier answer, it's more difficult for the interviewer to backtrack and make the appropriate changes
  • Open-ended responses are tricky. The interviewer has to have sharp typing skills, as well as be able to transcribe the respondent's feedback in real time
  • Target audiences are getting more difficult to reach. How often do you answer the phone when you don't recognize the number? 

It's for these reasons telephone surveys are becoming more expensive. A great alternative is digital surveys. Their price point is getting lower every year while the quality of data is equivalent to that of telephone surveys.