Automated Telephone Interviewing gives marketers no choice

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Automatic telephone interviewing (ATI), a market research tool that harnesses the power of mobile phones, gives marketers, advertisers and brand owners absolutely no choice. But, according to award-winning pioneer of mobile-based market research in Southern Africa, Peter Searll, this is not a bad thing.

A former Cape chairman of the South African Market Research Association with 20 years’ marketing research experience, including stints as technical director at Research International, Searll is now one of the founders and managing partners of Dashboard Marketing Intelligence.

Searll argues that ATI shifted the research paradigm because it delivers on all three ‘corners’ of the old business ‘triangle’.

“Historically, brand owners and their marketing research suppliers were forced to sacrifice one of these ‘corners’ – representing price, quality and timing – in order to achieve the other two,” he says.

“For example, if the client had a low budget but required a high-quality research product, the research house dictated the timing. If the client needed a quick turnaround time, he or she had to either pay a premium to receive a high quality product, or accept a lower quality product to be able to come in on budget.

“Not so with ATI. It offers levels of speed, accuracy, flexibility and customer intimacy that outperform familiar market research interviews conducted by live agents – at a fraction of the cost of the traditional methodologies. Brand owners no longer have to make those tough choices.”

ATI is a simple and straightforward system that automatically conducts short voice interviews with respondents on their mobile phones. Selected respondents who agree to participate are able to answer questions either by speaking or using their keypads. Data is captured by the system, analysed and fed back to client according to specification.

The technology actually provides a very intimate customer interface for research clients. This is achieved by the facts that the respondent can select the language he or she wants to engage in, and postpone or decline interview. In addition, respondent voice responses are recorded and shared, and can be transcribed and coded if necessary, to enhance the quantitative data.

One of the key benefits of ATI is the speed at which research can be done. Given it harness an easily understood and trusted technology, large sample sizes are easily handled and fast turn-around times are possible.

Furthermore, an interview can be immediately triggered by an event such as a sales call, and the system can automatically send an e-mail or sms to the client in certain cases, such as ‘out of stock’ or ‘please contact me’ situations. Flexibility and the ability to implement customised questionnaires based on specific triggers, interaction types or customer types are also enhanced with ATI

As any brand owner appreciates, consistent measurement is vital, and ATI ensures the interview is conducted in the same way time after time after time to eliminate interviewer bias. Deploying technology in this manner also allows for data validation to be processed automatically and eliminates typical data processing errors.

And, when it comes to reporting, the system operates on a 24/7 so data is available immediately after validation, and can be accessed live on the web or delivered electronically to the client.

Importantly, accuracy, flexibility and customer intimacy are not sacrificed at the altar of speed.

Dashboard Marketing Intelligence was the first company in Africa to utilise ATI. Established to provide marketers with the insight and direction that they need in a way that is fresher, faster, accurate and cost effective, it is pioneering the use of technology as an enabler and introducing a new wave of practical tools and market research approaches.

ATI is just one of its tools. The company has used it in South Africa for more than 10 years to conduct over 300 000 interviews and have rolled it out into other African and Middle Eastern markets with clients such as MTN to provide insight into customer perceptions and brand performance.

Within South Africa’s borders, Dashboard has been successfully running the Eskom customer care research account for 10 years, ever since it developed a custom-built ATI system for them. ATI interviews customers to assess their service interactions in 7 different languages. Using ATI as the solution enabled Eskom to triple their previous sample size within the existing budget, and provides consistent and stable KPI measurement.

“ATI doesn’t just provide clients with a strategic overview of how the brand is faring – or how call center and technical staff are performing – at any one time,” adds Searll. “The system also provides the ability to drill down into the actual operations and identify touch points where performance could be improved, a critical component given that service centre manager performance bonuses are often based on the ratings.

“For example, the overall response rate to emergency calls may be satisfactory but closer analysis of the data could highlight that in Heidelberg the response rate is three times the average. Bringing this to the attention of managers in that area could help expose HR issues, resource issues and so on, and ensure those are rectified.

“Also important to our clients are the voice recordings, as these add texture to the data and give them direction when it comes to reacting to potential problem areas.

“With Africa’s potential as a market being increasingly recognised, and given its poor infrastructure and far-flung communities, tapping into the one technology which is king on the continent to conduct research – be it customer care research or research that will help guide a new brand’s path into a market – is a smart move,” he concludes.