Tim Macer reviews pop-up survey technology ViewsCast

Room for a View

Getting closer to the consumer's "moment of truth" is the aim of a host of varied research activities, from mystery shopping to pop-up surveys on the web. Getting closer still is the aim of ViewsCast, a new ASP-based survey technology product for telephone and web that effectively offers the novel idea of pop-up surveys on the phone. Originally developed as a customer satisfaction measurement tool for call centres, ViewsCast has the potential to become a valuable part of the researcher's repertoire of research methods, not least because it can deliver rich, unfiltered insight in a highly cost-efficient way.
ViewsCast uses the advanced technology found in the telephone switches used by call centres and some CATI centres too, to deliver a voice-prompted self-completion interview over the telephone.
In call centres, where ViewsCast is starting to make a significant impact with a string of blue-chip clients, the agent can transfer the caller to a ViewsCast interview at the end of the call. ViewsCast has developed a proprietary interface to facilitate auto-populating the questionnaire with knowledge extracted from the call or from the company's database or CRM system.
It will also work as a standalone solution, by providing respondents with a freephone number and a security pin, to avoid duplicates. This could be mailed to people, or even printed onto a till receipt or handed directly to the customer, in the retail or service delivery situation, and backed up by a modest incentive. If tied to a customer number or a loyalty card number, the research data can also be linked to existing customer data.
While IVR (interactive voice response) technology is not new, ViewsCast turns technical potential into a practical research application by providing a powerful editor to set up questionnaire scripts as easily as you would for any decent CATI package, plus a modular system architecture of interlinked virtual servers and databases that will support other interviewing methods too. The current version handles both telephone and web surveys, and provides the capability to add digital interactive TV and G4 mobile phones as these start to make an impact.
Questionnaires are created in ViewsEditor, which runs as a browser-based ASP application over the internet to ViewsCast's server. The editor is similar to may other CATI or CAPI questionnaire design tools, with a block structure of questions and answers, properties and actions. Single and multi-coded questions, numeric questions and open-ended questions are all supported in both IVR and web modes. With IVR, there are options that will be unfamiliar to the CATI scriptwriter for measuring timeout periods, setting terminator keys and so on. After all, this is a self-completion
  • Voice response surveys made easy
  • Integrates with web surveys
  • Excellent user-friendly design tool
  • Modular architecture both expandable and future-proof
Click to view larger image Cons
  • Routing logic can get confusing
  • Limited support for data exports
questionnaire and the logic must be 100% watertight. Global and local ssettings, and the presence of sensible defaults help to make this complex task relatively simple. It takes two to three days to script a typical survey from scratch, including the audio prompts, which are also recorded in the editor using a standard PC mic. Each text script can have multiple voice recordings to allow for multi-lingual versions, which could be translated directly by the speaker from the on-screen English.
My favourite feature in the editor was the ingenious script tester, which runs through your script looking for hazards and oversights in your logic. For instance, it will detect any points where your error and timeout handling is inadequate, or where a voice prompt is missing. It is a feature that many of the standard CAI packages would do well to imitate.
Questionnaire branching, routing logic and answer suppression is supported either from keyed responses or from information passed across from the telephone switch or related CRM system. This could be the language to use for the interview or any customer data. Defining the logic was a little clumsy for complex conditions, and as the branches are always of the 'goto' type, there is a danger that a complicated script could get a bit unruly.
Results are fed back instantly to the enterprise through another web interface. Charts and tables can be pre-defined, though for more sophisticated analysis, the interface will also let you download the results in CSV, Access or Excel formats. Triple-S and other MR-specific format are not currently supported, though ViewsCast?s existing MR agency clients reportedly use Access to extract the metadata for use in their analysis packages.
London-based Financial Telemarketing Services Ltd, the call-centre subsidiary of Pinnacle Insurance plc, started using ViewsCast to measure customer satisfaction on inbound calls on some of its campaigns earlier this year. At the end of a call, the agent invites the caller to participate and transfers the call to the relevant ViewsCast survey.
FTS is enjoying an impressive 60% participation rate in its
ViewsCast surveys. Steve Bennett, MD of FTS says: "In the past we used to listen to a selection of calls at random: now we can follow up on virtually any call. We also used mystery shopping. This is much more true to life than mystery shopping - you can't class mystery shoppers as real customers in the way they give feedback. We are now giving our real customers the opportunity to provide feedback. It is harder to question the validity of the responses."
While FTS relied heavily on ViewsCast in the initial stages, it now uses the web interface extensively for reporting and maintains its own surveys using the online editor. "Once you are used to the system you can make changes in a matter of minutes," reports Bennett. "If we spot something we want to put into the questionnaire we can add that question almost immediately."
Respondents are reporting high levels of satisfaction with FTS's services, and in an openended comment at the end of the questionnaire, satisfaction with survey process too. Bennett explains: "The feeling I get is that they quite enjoy the experience. Because they know it is a machine they are talking to, not a real person, we also feel the answers are more honest - they are not trying to say something to please the interviewer. So it makes it even more encouraging when the feedback we are getting is so positive."

ViewsCast: www.viewscast.com

Tim Macer writes as an independent specialist in software for market research. His website is at www.meaning.uk.com

Published in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, October 2001, Issue 425.

© Copyright Tim Macer/Market Research Society 2001. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.