Research Methods for Information Research

3. Some types of interview

3.5 The telephone interview: some ground rules

It is important to:

  • explain to the potential respondent what you are trying to achieve and why, preferably in the initial contact email
  • suggest how contact should be established. If you have written to introduce yourself and your project, say that you will ‘phone to find out whether the recipient is willing to be interviewed and, if so, when will be a convenient time
  • always follow up by ‘phone within the period that you specified. The aim at this point is to allay any concerns about being interviewed and to arrange a convenient interview time. You will have to be able to offer a realistic estimate of the amount of time required for the telephone interview. You will also have to be ready to do the interview on the spot if that is what the respondent strongly prefers
  • when dealing with people at work, it will take 2 to 3 contact calls on average to catch up with your potential ‘victim’ if that person is at operational or middle-management level. In general, the more strategic the respondent, the higher the average number of contact calls required
  • always ‘phone when you said you would ‘phone, reintroduce yourself (you are only one of many voices at the other end of the line) and check to see that the timing is still convenient. If it isn’t, reschedule the call
  • the main irritant here is that the respondent may not be playing by the same rules! Relatively few people book research interviews into their diary in the same way as if you were going to visit them. They may have completely forgotten the appointment and may be away from the office or even on annual leave when you dutifully ‘phone up. The good news is that if they really foul up on the appointment, a plaintive message to say that you ‘phoned as promised is usually enough to get better co-operation next time. Be ready for the conscience-stricken respondent who ‘phones back as soon as they return to the office, all ready to talk.
  • try to avoid interviewing people on their mobile ‘phone. Apart from the obvious matter of expense, this kind of contact diminishes any influence that you might have over the environment in which the respondent is trying to concentrate on (or even to hear) your questions. Although I did interview a Senior Health Service Manager when he was simultaneously weaving his way through heavy traffic, shouting mild abuse at other motorists and chatting to his passenger, this was not the perfect interview setting
  • conversely, ‘phoning someone at their office or home should ensure a reasonable environment for the conversation and is the best possible way of reducing the effects of the ‘Great Interrupter’ – the telephone! (Even so, the occasional respondent will interrupt the call to field another one)