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NEBU's Dub Interviewer reviewed

Tim Macer finds a product that uses the internet to deliver impressive WCATI solutions

The internet allows you to do some strange things, geographically speaking. Just why you would want a group of telephone interviewers in Ireland, speaking to respondents in Canada on telephone calls dialled in Sweden from a computer in Holland for a project being managed by a fieldwork centre in the UK, while being monitored by the client in Japan may be hard to figure. Yet this is something the latest version of NEBU’s Dub Interviewer suite turns out to be particularly good at doing, and perhaps with good reason.

Dub Interviewer is one of a handful of web-enabled CATI solutions. WCATI works on the principle that, instead of using a local area network to carry the communications between the central CATI system or server and the PCs or terminals used by interviewers, the internet provides the inter-connection.

Simply taking a web interviewing system for self-completion is not sufficient. WCATI requires all the centralised management of sample distribution, callback and appointment keeping, quota control, and supervision and monitoring of work that you find in all the standard industrial strength CATI systems, and these are all built into Dub Interviewer.

Firms may dismiss the notion of the kitchen table telephone interviewer, but this is not the only application for WCATI. For some NEBU users, the web-enablement is no more than a different network protocol in the office: interviewers, supervisors and computers all stay under the same roof.

Yet this single change also opens up the way balancing workload between different locations, opening satellite CATI centres in lower cost locations and linking CATI centres in other countries into one network. It also means you can set up a CATI system without any need for IT investment or an IT department. All you need are a number of PCs with an internet connection, and NEBU’s own systems in Holland can be used as your virtual CATI server, though the firm’s WCATI ASP service.

One of the most useful potential savings can even turn into an earner. Phone rooms with an internet connection can actually pick up overflow work from other agencies using Dub Interviewer, without having to re-program it for their own CATI system. The screens and prompts may be a little unfamiliar to interviewers, but as NEBU’s web CATI interface is deliberately fairly conservative, this probably won’t be an issue.

In the latest version of the software, NEBU has overcome two common restrictions of web-enabled software. First, it makes it easy to transfer interviews from phone to web, and vice versa. The same script is used, but appearance changes automatically according to different CAWI and CATI templates, and question wording can be varied to suit.

To switch modes, you can create a decision point, capture the email address or phone number as appropriate, and suspend the interview. The system then continues the interview in the other mode, either sending an email with a link and a password for the respondent to continue online, or initiating a CATI call. Very sensibly, respondents online have no direct access to answers entered by the telephone interviewer.

NEBU has also found a way to monitor web-based interviews in real time, displaying each key stroke or mouse click as it happens, which was previously a major restriction in quality control for WCATI.

The greatest innovation is the WCATI dialler, a ‘virtual’ dialler built in collaboration with Dutch telecoms solutions provider Oké. It is an ingenious yet fairly reliable method and worked instantaneously in demo. The interviewer logs in and if the interviewer’s phone number is not known, this is requested and typed in. The CATI system communicates this to the dialler over the internet, which calls up the interviewer.This connection stays open as long as the interviewer remains logged on.

Next, the CATI system allocates a call to the interviewer, and instructs the dialler to call the respondent. Finally, the dialler connects the respondent to the interviewer.

Call volume discounts and routing through lower cost locations should mean the two calls cost no more than one in a conventional set-up, yet brings the benefits of a dialler without any capital investment or maintenance responsibility.

The NEBU system provided a good solution for the international research agency Kadence, with offices in London, Boston, USA and Sydney. Call centres in London and Boston share not just the same system but the same interviews, as appointments made during the day in London are often fulfilled by Boston interviewers in the evening.

Kadence’s MD Simon Everard appreciates the flexibility that web CATI has brought. “We recently needed 30 German interviewers and we arranged for a German agency we worked with to log in to our system over the internet,” he says. “We were able to control the whole process without any no separate CATI system being involved. From that point of view it is absolutely outstanding.”

Kadence has recently taken on several complex multinational studies and is finding that this technology is giving it a significant edge. “One reason for purchasing this was its ability to start an interview on the phone and then continue it on the web; instead of having to send out mail we can now do it almost instantaneously,” Everard says. “Being able to use both phone and web and transfer between them means we can often get through to people we can’t easily reach just by phone. It saves money too: we are finding it can be two-thirds of the cost.”

Almost all CATI suppliers charge by the seat. The flexibility WCATI offers is causing NEBU to rethink its seat-based price list in favour of costs that reflect usage. Seat-based pricing models can be punitive to CATI operators that suffer from peaks and troughs. They often make the laudable objective of passing on overflow work unaffordable.

Click-through charges like FIRM and GMI, or a possible hourly interviewing rate proposed by NEBU, could overcome these problems, if they gained acceptance. But it means a move away from fixed budget models that some find comforting. It is an interesting proposition, and one that could help make the industry more responsive, if others were to adopt more flexible pricing as well.

Published in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, August 2003, Issue 447.

© Copyright Tim Macer/Market Research Society 2003. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.

Web-based data collection suite that offers seamless integration with CATI and CAWI and also allows remote monitoring of interviewers over the internet. Integrates with own web-delivered power and predictive CATI dialler.