Online Surveys vs Phone Surveys

The battle between online surveys and phone surveys is a hot one. With the rise of online survey tools and an increasing number of hurdles holding back phone surveys, it makes sense to bring these two ways of getting customer feedback together for a comparison.

In 2009, Jay Leve, CEO of polling firm SurveyUSA told Research Live that he did not believe there was a future for any form of telephone research that was reliant on the research being done by barging in and interrupting respondents.

“Ringing someone’s phone without warning and asking if they have 20 minutes to spend with you flies in the face of everything that’s going on in the world today” – Jay Leve, SurveyUSA

Fast forward four years and the picture is very much the same. People no longer want to be interrupted, they want to complete surveys on their time. This has spurred on the rise of online surveys with many tools now available to help businesses conduct their customer satisfaction surveys.

When it comes to measuring customer satisfaction, I like to recommend a combination of both online and phone surveys. Use online surveys to conduct initiation customer feedback, and then follow up with a phone call to expand on answers.

In this post I’ll take a deep dive into the online surveys vs phone purveys battle and compare them against eachother on these important areas:

  • Speed and time
  • Cost
  • Response rates (participation)
  • Personalized and human touch
  • Quality of responses


Speed and time

Getting customer feedback can be time consuming.

Using online surveys, you can save a lot of time. One of the big benefits of conducting customer surveys via the internet is you can reach all your customers, quickly. Research we’ve conducted at Client Heartbeat has found that companies can get almost 25% of their responses within the first four hours. That’s a lot of customer feedback.

Phone surveys take a lot of time. You are hiring someone to make the calls manually and have to call each and every customer individually. Our research suggests you’ll only reach 15% of your customers on the first call, and it can take up to five calls over the next two weeks to reach all of your customers. When it comes to speed, phone really struggles. One of the big disadvantages of phone surveys is you are interrupting your customers day and asking 10-20 minutes when they simple just don’t have the time.

Online surveys win this one, simply because they enable you to reach customers quickly and on their schedule. You aren’t interrupting them and stealing their time, in fact, you’re respecting their time and giving them a platform to respond to when they are available.

Online Surveys 1, Phone Surveys 0.


Surveying costs money, whether it is via an online survey or a phone survey.

Online surveys are a lot cheaper because all you need is the software or tool. You don’t need to hire someone to make the physical calls. Furthermore, online survey software can automatically compile, sort the responses and place them into neat reports or excel spreadsheets. Online survey tools start from $15/mth, and can range to over $100/mth depending on the detail of customer feedback you want to gather and how many customers you have.

Phone surveys on the flip side are expensive. You need to hire an employee or company to conduct the phone calls, and enter the results into a database manually. Keeping in mind that it may take up to five calls to reach each customer, you can see that it can become very time consuming and expensive. Think how much it would cost to hire someone for three hours per day, over two weeks. That’s 30 hours in total and with an average wage of $20/hr, that’s $600!

With phone surveys costing up to 24 times more than online surveys, there is a clear winner here. Online surveys win this one because they are more cost effective.

Online Surveys 2, Phone Surveys 0.


Response rates (participation)

Response rates are critical to getting actionable feedback from your customers. If only 5% of your customers respond, how can you tell what the other 95% thinks about your service?

Online surveys traditionally have averaged between 10-15% responses rates, which is pretty low. If you’re getting response rates around that number then you’re leaving a lot of customer feedback on the table. There are tricks to help you increase survey response rates (read them here), or you could use a tool like Client Heartbeat. It’s a simple customer feedback tool that will help you get industry high response rates of 65% or more. If you choose to use a regular online survey tool, to get high survey participation I recommend you keep surveys personalized, make them really simple, and ask no more than 10 questions.

Phone surveys have always been really good at getting high response rates and participation. Nothing beats picking up the phone and talking to your customers. As a result, you can expect response rates of 85% or above (in theory, you should be able to get 100%). This is great because you get to hear from each and each one of your customers. The more customer feedback you get, the better chance you have of identifying unhappy customers, and finding ways to increase customer satisfaction.

Phone surveys are the gold when it comes to high survey response rates. A clear winner here, but it’s worth remembering that Client Heartbeat is a good alternative.

Online Surveys 2, Phone Surveys 1


Personalization and human touch

The very best way to survey someone is face to face, but unfortunately with both online surveys and phone surveys, we can’t do that. So, which is better than?

Online surveys generally don’t offer much personalization. Unfortunately, a lot of companies don’t brand their surveys, don’t add personalization, and offer no follow ups. As a result, customers are less inclined to respond to their online surveys. You can get around this by using a survey tool that lets you personalize the surveys for each customer, and lets you add your logo and colors, to reinforce your brand.

Related: 7 mistakes you must avoid when doing online surveys

Phone surveys are the next best thing to face to face. A Rice/NYU study, published in the Harvard Business Review in 2002 as How Surveys Influence Customers, showed that customers who took part in a customer satisfaction survey by telephone were more loyal than those who did not take the survey. The survey found that these customers were three times more likely to do business with the company again and less than half as likely to defect to a competitor. Statistics don’t lie and these are pretty resounding, it goes to show how adding a personal human touch can really help building stronger customer relationships and create sticky loyalty.

Phone surveys take the honors here. A human touch has a significantly effect on survey responses and will build customer loyalty.

Online Surveys 2, Phone Surveys 2.


Quality of responses

Actionable customer feedback is why you do surveys in the first place.

Online surveys provide a great avenue for you to ask specific questions that you want responses to. They let you tailor your survey to get the most valuable feedback from your customers. The big benefit I see with online surveys is the ability to analyze and compare survey data. Since it’s all online, you can chop and mash the data to crunch some real intelligence that can influence business decisions.

For example, Dorks Delivered uses Client Heartbeat to survey their customers every three months. Since the tool keeps all the customer feedback data and tracks changes in satisfaction levels, Dorks Delivered can measure customer satisfaction and find customers who are potentially unhappy and ‘at risk’ of terminating their contracts.

Another big benefit for us is that the tool lets us see what our customers are thinking about us, and over time see if their satisfaction has gone up or down. If a client gives us a bad score and Client Heartbeat tags them as “at risk”, we can proactively give them a call and solve their problems before they decide to terminate the contract.” – Joshua Lewis, Dorks Delivered

Phone surveys can also produce top quality responses. The biggest benefit of using a phone survey is that you can ask follow up questions to clarify your respondent’s answers and dig deeper into their feedback. This is so valuable, as it provides more detailed responses which can help bring out more clear analysis of how you are doing as a company. Additionally, since you are calling customers, there’s no question of inaccurate data, you are literally speaking with them, so you who you’re talking to and can associate the feedback on an individual level.

This is a close one but I’m going to give it to online surveys, purely because I’m a big fan of tracking customer satisfaction over a period of time. I think the ability to measure trends in feedback is huge when it comes to keeping customer happy and increasing customer retention.

Online Surveys 3, Phone Surveys 2


A combination of Online Surveys and Phone Surveys works best

All in all, when it comes to getting accurate customer feedback that you can use to increase customer satisfaction and reduce customer churn, I believe a combination of online surveys and phone surveys works best.

I recommend using online surveys to conduct the initial parts of your customer feedback because it offers a fast and respectful way to get responses (make sure you brand and personalize your online surveys). Then once you get feedback, you should identify key customers that you’d like to follow up with more specific questions to clarify their responses or get more detailed feedback.

Taking this approach gives you the best of worlds; it’s fast and cost effective, while also offering a personalized approach that is helps to increase survey participation.

Do you want to read some additional online surveys vs phone surveys comparisons? Check these out:

Gordon Tan

Gordon Tan is an entrepreneur based in Australia who has started and sold multiple technology companies with a combined value of $150m. This included a client satisfaction benchmarking platform which gave him first hand insight into the best practices of over 6,000 businesses. After retiring at 35 he is now a recognised thought leader on winning and retaining clients - His two passions: making clients the heartbeat of a business no matter what the product or service and this blog.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *