CATI vs Digital surveys

What are CATI surveys?

CATI is an abbreviation for “Computer-Assisted Telephone Interviewing.” It refers to a process of conducting surveys and data collection using telephone interviews and computer software. CATI surveys involve professional interviewers calling respondents and guiding them through the survey questionnaire using a computer programme.

Here’s how CATI surveys typically work:

  • Questionnaire Design
  • Sampling
  • Phone Calls
  • Data Entry
  • Real-time Data Management
  • Data Analysis


Here’s a concise example of a Computer-Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) survey:

Scenario: Customer Satisfaction Survey

A telecommunications company wants to assess customer satisfaction with their recent service experiences. They use CATI to conduct a quick survey.

  1. Questionnaire Design: The company designs a questionnaire with questions about call quality, customer service responsiveness, and overall satisfaction.
  2. Sampling: They randomly select phone numbers from their customer database.
  3. Phone Calls: Trained interviewers call the selected customers and introduce the survey. If the customer agrees to participate, the interviewer proceeds.
  4. CATI Software: Using a CATI software tool, the interviewer reads out the questions from the questionnaire while inputting the customer’s responses directly into the system.
  5. Real-time Validation: The CATI software helps the interviewer by skipping irrelevant questions based on previous responses and highlighting potential errors or inconsistencies.
  6. Data Collection: As the survey progresses, the software compiles the responses and ensures the data is accurately entered.


CATI surveys offer several advantages:

  • Efficiency: The use of computer software streamlines the survey process, making data collection and management more efficient compared to traditional paper-based surveys.
  • Data Quality: Real-time validation and consistency checks can help improve the accuracy and quality of the collected data.
  • Faster Turnaround: CATI surveys often have shorter turnaround times, allowing researchers to collect and analyze data relatively quickly.
  • Complex Questionnaires: CATI is suitable for surveys with complex skip patterns, branching logic, and randomized question orders.
  • Cost Savings: CATI surveys can be more cost-effective than in-person interviews, as they eliminate the need for physical travel and logistics.


However, there are also limitations:

  • Response Bias: CATI surveys might introduce response bias if certain demographics are less likely to participate in phone surveys.
  • Limited to Phone Owners: CATI surveys are limited to individuals with access to a telephone, potentially excluding those without phone access.
  • Non-Verbal Cues: Interviewers can’t observe respondents’ non-verbal cues, potentially missing important contextual information.
  • Interviewer Influence: Interviewer tone and manner can influence respondent answers.

What is Digital surveys?

Digital surveys refer to the process of collecting data and feedback from respondents using digital platforms and technologies. These polls are usually done online, using web-based forms, email invitations, social media, or mobile applications. Because of its ease, efficiency, and capacity to reach a large and diverse audience, digital surveys have grown in popularity.


Scenario: Online Customer Feedback Survey

A retailer wants to hear from its customers about their most recent shopping experience. They use a survey platform to build an online survey and distribute the survey link through their website, social media channels, and email newsletters. Customers can use their computers or mobile devices to access the survey and provide feedback on various parts of the buying transaction.


  1. Convenience: Respondents can participate in digital surveys at their convenience, eliminating the need for scheduled phone calls or in-person interviews.
  2. Wide Reach: Digital surveys can reach a larger and more diverse audience, including people from different geographical locations and demographics.
  3. Cost-Effective: Conducting digital surveys can be more cost-effective compared to traditional survey methods, as there are no printing or distribution costs.
  4. Real-Time Data: Responses are collected and recorded in real-time, allowing for quicker data analysis and decision-making.
  5. Efficiency: Survey platforms often offer features such as skip logic, which tailors the survey based on respondents’ previous answers, making the survey experience more efficient and relevant.
  6. Anonymity: Respondents can provide honest feedback more comfortably, as they have the option to remain anonymous.Top of Form


  1. Selection Bias: Digital surveys might exclude individuals who lack internet access or are not comfortable with technology, leading to potential selection bias.
  2. Limited Control: Researchers have limited control over the survey environment, which could lead to distractions or unintended behaviors during response collection.
  3. Response Quality: The lack of face-to-face interaction can lead to incomplete or less thoughtful responses, reducing the quality of data collected.
  4. Data Security: Collecting data online raises concerns about data security and privacy, especially when sensitive information is involved.
  5. Sampling Challenges: Researchers might struggle with getting a truly random sample due to the self-selection nature of digital surveys.
  1. Technical Issues: Respondents may encounter technical difficulties while attempting to complete the survey, impacting their overall experience.

Differences Between CATI and Digital surveys

  Key Differences CATI Digital surveys
1.        Method of Data Collection: CATI surveys involve conducting interviews over the phone. Trained interviewers use a computer program to guide them through a structured questionnaire while interacting with respondents via telephone calls.


Digital surveys are conducted online, typically through web-based forms, email invitations, social media, or mobile applications. Respondents fill out the survey on their own using a computer or mobile device.


2.        Communication Medium:



CATI surveys involve direct verbal communication between interviewers and respondents over the phone. Interviewers ask questions and record responses in real-time.


Digital surveys rely on written communication. Respondents read and answer questions in text format through the online survey interface
3.        Mode of Administration: Interviews are administered by interviewers who read the survey questions aloud and input responses. The CATI software guides the interview process.


Respondents self-administer the survey without direct involvement from interviewers. They read and respond to questions at their own pace.


4.        Interaction and Engagement:



The interviewer’s tone, manner, and verbal cues can impact respondent engagement and responses. Interviewers can provide clarifications and encourage participation Interaction is limited to the written survey content. There are no direct verbal cues, and respondents might interpret questions differently without real-time clarification.


5.        Data Validation:



CATI software can include real-time validation checks, ensuring logical responses and preventing inconsistencies during the interview process  Some survey platforms include built-in validation to ensure accurate and consistent responses, but respondents might still provide incomplete or inaccurate information
6.         Reach and Sample:



Reach can be limited to individuals with accessible phone lines. There might be biases based on phone ownership and willingness to participate in phone surveys Digital surveys can reach a wider audience, including those with internet access, but might exclude individuals who are not comfortable with technology or lack online access


7.        Anonymity:


Respondents might be less comfortable providing sensitive information over the phone due to privacy concerns.


Respondents have the option of remaining anonymous, potentially leading to more honest and open responses
8.        Cost and Efficiency:


Can be more time-consuming and expensive due to the need for trained interviewers and phone call expenses.


 Generally cost-effective and efficient, with no need for interviewer involvement or phone call expenses.



When to Use CATI Surveys?

Here are some situations when CATI surveys are commonly used:

  1. Complex Questionnaires: CATI is suitable for surveys with intricate skip patterns, branching logic, and randomized question orders. The software can manage the complexity and ensure accurate administration.
  2. In-Depth Interviews: If you need to conduct in-depth interviews with participants, CATI can provide a structured framework while still allowing for open-ended responses and probing.
  3. Real-Time Data Validation: When data accuracy is crucial, CATI software can perform real-time validation checks, minimizing errors and inconsistencies during the interview.
  4. Targeting Specific Demographics: If you need to target specific demographics that might be best reached through phone calls (e.g., older adults), CATI surveys can be effective.
  5. Complex Topics: For surveys covering complex or technical subjects, CATI allows interviewers to provide clarifications and explanations to respondents.
  6. Sensitive Topics: CATI can offer a more personal and empathetic interaction, which can be beneficial when gathering data on sensitive or emotional topics.
  7. Interviewer Control: CATI allows interviewers to guide respondents through the survey, which can help ensure that questions are understood and answered correctly.
  8. Geographical Constraints: If conducting face-to-face interviews is not feasible due to geographical constraints, CATI offers an alternative method to collect data from diverse locations.
  9. Quick Turnaround: CATI surveys can have shorter turnaround times compared to in-person interviews, making them useful for time-sensitive research projects.
  10. Tracking Studies: If you’re conducting longitudinal studies or tracking changes over time, CATI allows you to maintain consistent interview techniques.
  11. Multilingual Surveys: CATI can be used to administer surveys in multiple languages, making it suitable for research involving linguistically diverse populations.
  12. Remote Data Collection: In situations where physical presence is not possible (e.g., during a pandemic), CATI provides a means to continue data collection remotely.

When to Use Digital Surveys?

Here are some situations when digital surveys are particularly useful:

  1. Wide Audience Reach: Digital surveys can reach a large and diverse audience, including people from different geographical locations, making them ideal for studies with broad target populations.
  2. Cost-Effective Data Collection: Digital surveys can be more cost-effective than traditional survey methods, as they eliminate the need for printing, postage, and manual data entry.
  3. Quick Data Collection: If you need to collect data rapidly, digital surveys allow for quick distribution, responses, and data analysis.
  4. Convenience: Respondents can participate at their convenience, which can increase response rates and reduce the need for scheduling.
  5. Anonymous Feedback: Digital surveys offer respondents the option to remain anonymous, encouraging more honest and open responses, especially for sensitive topics.
  6. Routine Tracking Studies: When you need to collect data regularly (e.g., weekly, or monthly), digital surveys can streamline the process and provide consistent data collection methods.
  7. Longitudinal Studies: Digital surveys can be used to collect data over an extended period, allowing you to track changes and trends over time.
  8. Multimedia Integration: Digital surveys can include multimedia elements such as images, videos, and interactive features, enhancing the respondent experience and the clarity of questions.
  9. Ease of Data Entry and Analysis: Data collected digitally can be automatically stored, organized, and analyzed, reducing the need for manual data entry and manipulation.
  10. Remote Data Collection: In situations where physical presence is not possible (e.g., remote work, pandemic restrictions), digital surveys provide a practical way to gather data.
  11. Global Research: Digital surveys can be administered internationally without the need for physical presence, allowing for cross-cultural research.
  12. Customization: Survey platforms offer customizable features such as skip logic, randomization, and personalized questions, tailoring the survey experience to individual respondents.
  13. Less Interviewer Influence: Compared to CATI surveys, digital surveys reduce the potential for interviewer bias, as respondents interact directly with the survey content.

Strategies to Improve CATI Surveys:

  1. Training: Provide thorough training to interviewers to ensure they understand the survey questions, skip patterns, and proper probing techniques.
  2. Pilot Testing: Conduct pilot tests to identify any issues with question clarity, survey flow, and data collection process. Adjust the survey based on pilot feedback.
  3. Standardized Script: Develop a standardized script for interviewers to ensure consistent delivery of questions and minimize interviewer bias.
  4. Real-Time Monitoring: Supervisors should monitor interviews in real-time to address any interviewer errors or misunderstandings promptly.
  5. Clarification Instructions: Include specific instructions for interviewers on how to handle situations where respondents are unclear about a question.
  6. Validation Checks: Use CATI software’s validation features to prevent illogical responses and reduce data entry errors.
  7. Randomization: If applicable, use randomization techniques to present questions in a different order for each respondent, minimizing order bias.
  8. Respondent Engagement: Train interviewers to maintain a positive tone and encourage respondent engagement throughout the interview.
  9. Sensitive Questions: Place sensitive questions toward the end of the survey after establishing rapport with the respondent.

Strategies to Improve Digital Surveys:

  1. Clear Instructions: Provide clear and concise instructions at the beginning of the survey to guide respondents through the process.
  2. Mobile-Friendly Design: Ensure the survey is mobile-responsive, as many respondents access surveys on smartphones and tablets.
  3. Question Formatting: Use a mix of question types (multiple choice, open-ended, rating scales) to keep the survey engaging and prevent respondent fatigue.
  4. Limited Length: Keep the survey reasonably short to avoid respondent drop-off due to survey fatigue.
  5. Progress Indicator: Include a progress indicator to show respondents how far they’ve come in the survey.
  6. Skip Logic: Use skip logic to tailor the survey based on respondents’ previous answers, making the experience more relevant and efficient.
  7. Testing: Thoroughly test the survey on different devices and browsers to ensure a smooth experience for all respondents.
  8. Pre-Testing: Pre-test the survey with a small group of respondents to identify any issues with question-wording, response options, or navigation.
  9. Random Assignment: If applicable, randomize question order to reduce order bias and ensure more accurate responses.
  10. Incentives: Consider offering incentives (e.g., gift cards) to encourage participation and completion.
  11. Privacy and Security: Communicate how respondent data will be used and ensure robust data security measures are in place.
  12. Feedback Loop: Provide an option for respondents to provide feedback on the survey experience, allowing you to make improvements.


In conclusion, CATI (Computer-Assisted Telephone Interviewing) surveys and digital surveys are two distinct methods for collecting data and feedback from respondents, each with its own set of advantages and limitations. The choice between CATI and digital surveys depends on the research objectives, target audience, and logistical considerations.

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