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Customer Interviews vs. Customer Surveys

How Questionnaires compare to Slice-of-life Research in the Modern Marketplace


You’re at the stage of the market research life-cycle where you’ve defined the research problem or test hypotheses, and research strategy. Next on the task list is the data collection. The prevailing philosophy that researchers work by, is that there is a time and a place for all data. In the pursuit of deep, meaningful insights, however, all data is not equal.

Quantitative data offers numerical information, using questionnaires and surveys. The analysis of this format involves statistical techniques. Interviews, by contrast, are exploratory and seek to provide qualitative data. The analysis of qualitative data includes highlighting keywords, extracting themes, and elaborating on concepts to uncover meaning that isn’t readily available.

Surveys at a Glance – The novelty of Numerical data

You’re sitting at the airport, waiting for your flight to board. Whether it’s a business or leisure trip, you’re in a world of your own. Did you leave the light on in your apartment? A chorus of thought flits by as you settle into travel mode. A sudden tap on the shoulder jolts you out of your head-space.

It’s a friendly-faced stranger with an I Pad destined for your reach. “Hi there, do you mind taking a quick survey?”–She continues noting the apprehension on your face–“it will only take a few minutes”.

And before you know it, you’re the latest casualty of a quantitative drive-by. You’re now answering a series of mildly invasive questions for the promise of a box of mints. We’ve all been through a similar interaction. Many people dismiss surveys the moment they’re done with them, but the answers you’ve provided are destined to help brands with their marketing and product design efforts.

Surveys and questionnaires are seen as a viable method for collecting quantitative research. And the statistics are telling, SurveyMonkey predicts that its online questionnaire platform alone collects over 100,000 survey responses every week. That’s a lot of data. And in the age of big data, you can’t really go wrong with numbers. Or can you?

In their book, The small BIG, authors Martin, Goldstein and Cialdini illustrate the importance of qualitative data and how using quantitative data alone can have a negative impact on marketing strategies: “Although we are confident that many customers will happily provide answers, we are less confident that the answers they provide will be an accurate reflection of what happens in reality, resulting in marketing strategies based on those answers having high failure rates.”

So while surveys are usually faster, cheaper, and involve a greater sample of participants, they also depend on people reporting things accurately.

Personal Interviews – Coming face to face with your research

Qualitative research is touted as an indispensable knowledge base for identifying customer needs. Focus groups in the ‘50s pioneered a long lineage of user-discovery that is still implemented today. The In-depth Interview, however, prioritises one-to-one engagement over two-way mirrors. Interviews are personal interactions between researcher and subject, where the objective is to explore deep-seated motivations and attitudes. These findings often help to validate or invalidate the research problem defined at the outset of the research strategy.

‘Designing an entire experience’ - New-school experience design

The movement towards user-centered design and thus, an investment in human-centric data, reflects the ever-growing marketplace. Consumers weigh up more options than ever before, whilst companies focus on creating a user experience that goes beyond consumption. Design Thinking, Lean Startup, Customer Development and Agile methodologies all essentially demand the implementation of user-centered design and a customer-oriented approach to problem-solving. At the core of it all? Qualitative research.

Of course, customer discovery interviews involve a heavy time and resource commitment for researchers. And then there is the question of accurately transcribing interviews and the analysis of data. However, leveraging technology has led to breakthroughs in the field of market research. It’s allowed for the creation of tools which help to mitigate many of the previously held drawbacks associated with customer development and qualitative research methods.

Qualitative Data – The Customer Interview Method


The Pros

  • In an interview, questions are often open-ended and the interviewer has the opportunity to probe or ask follow-up questions.

  • Interviews allow for the order of questions to be changed as the conversation requires.

  • Analytical information can be gathered through interviews.

  • Interviews can help to support or decrypt results from quantitative analysis.

  • Interviews are generally easier for the participant or respondent, especially if the information required is based on opinions or impressions.

  • Interviews can be conducted over the phone, so remote interviews are possible.

  • Interviews allow researchers to obtain detailed information. From personal feelings and perceptions to opinions.

  • Interviewers can clarify ambiguities and follow up on incomplete answers.

The Cons

  • The interviewer or interviewers have to be well-trained.

  • Interviewing customers individually involves many hours and a larger expense.

  • Interviews can be time-consuming. From setting up, interviewing and transcribing to analysing feedback and reporting.

  • There is a possibility that customer interviews could be influenced by the biases of the interviewer.


Quantitative Data – Customer Surveys


The Pros

  • Surveys provide fact-based information to the respondents and are relatively easy to administer.

  • Compared to other data-collection methods, surveys are faster to design.

  • Survey methods are generally cost-effective, depending on the survey mode.

  • Surveys can be conducted remotely, using online, mobile devices, mail, email, kiosk, or telephone.

  • Allows for the collection of data from a large number of respondents.

  • A broad range of data can be collected via surveys.

The Cons

  • Respondents are not always compelled to provide accurate information or honest answers that present themselves in a negative light.

  • Surveys with closed-ended questions may be less valid when compared to other question types.

  • The number of participants who respond to a survey question may be different from those who chose not to respond, which will create bias.

  • Question/answer options could lead to unclear data due to certain answer options being interpreted differently by the participants.


The type of data you collect always depends on the question you would like to answer. This approach is necessary when conducting customer discovery research and interviews. The idea is to defer better judgement and learn from conversations with your customers by listening. So if you’re attempting to learn from past mistakes, if you’d like to know where your brand resonates with the public, or if you would like to validate a new product design, the easiest way to an answer is by engaging with the right people.

At Voyc, we believe that the future is qualitative. Our platform is geared towards scalable research solutions in customer discovery and, with the power of AI, we help mitigate the time and cost factors associated with conducting, transcribing and analysing qualitative data.

Our Demo is now available at your request.