3 Research Methods that Leverage Voice Surveys for better Qualitative Insights

November 28, 2023
The Phonic Team


Qualitative insights are priceless. Yet, no matter how you slice it, they typically come at a cost. Qualitative data can be collected in written form or through spoken conversation, and both methods have trade-offs.

Whether in survey research or longer-form diary studies, it is tough to generate high-quality written responses. This is because writing a detailed response to a question takes a lot of activation energy and strong writing skills, together making the response format largely ineffective for the general population. Think back on times when you’ve expressed yourself through written words (e.g., text message or social media DM), compared to having a spoken conversation. When you have a lot of ground to cover, it tends to be easier to talk about your thoughts and opinions than it is to write about them. And you’re not alone if you feel this way! The increasing popularity of sending voice memos over long text messages perfectly encapsulates this struggle.

This is why the richest qualitative data in Market Research comes from having conversations with people: qualitative researchers will moderate focus groups (i.e., group conversations) and conduct in-depth interviews to collect qualitative insights. But these methods have their own challenges. They tend to be time consuming and expensive as they require the researcher to interact with the subjects, and the subjects to be compensated fairly for hours of their time.

What’s a researcher to do? How can we have our cake and eat it, too?

Voice-based survey methodologies

Recent developments in voice surveys have paved the way to more scalable qualitative research methods. Voice surveys allow participants to respond to questions with their voice using their mobile device or desktop, directly in the survey interface. This frictionless experience provides researchers with an opportunity to obtain qualitative insights at a much larger scale than focus groups and interviews allow, and in a way that is more accessible than written responses. In this blog post, we’ll discuss 3 methods to collect high quality qualitative data through voice surveys:

  1. Reflect and respond
  2. Respond then elaborate
  3. Audio Diary study

Method #1: Reflect then respond

Asking open-ended questions that elicit insightful and detailed responses can be difficult. One thing you want to avoid is listing out a series of individual questions or prompts, because these can result in constrained responses - respondents will simply move down the list and answer each question one at a time. How can you guarantee that respondents will hit on topics or questions of interest in a more natural, conversational way?

Rather than writing a series of prompts on a single open-ended response, split the detailed prompt and audio response into two components.

The first component is a thought exercise that contains more detailed prompting and might be structured like this:

In this example, we want the respondent to talk about their recent grocery shopping experience, and there is a series of questions that prompt the respondent to think about their trip in detail. Importantly, these questions should not be biased towards your variable of interest, and should instead prompt detailed thinking about their recent experience overall. To ensure that respondents take the time to read through and think about these questions, set a time limit such that they must spend at least 30-60 seconds on this page.

Immediately following the thought exercise, use an open-ended audio question that prompts respondents more generally:

Using this method, we are giving the respondent a chance to think and reflect on the main question(s) and details, while also allowing for the audio response to be more fluid than responding to a series of questions. It also ensures that the most important or memorable information comes through in their response.

Best for: Discovery based research, alternative to in-depth interviews, recall of experiences and/or telling of personal stories, concept testing

Avoid: Using too many prompts in the thought exercise, using more than once within a single session

Method #2: Respond then elaborate

Different from reflect and respond, here we are first asking a quantitative, closed-ended question. For example:

Selection question "How often do you eat fast food"/

Respondents are then asked to elaborate on their choice in a follow-up open-ended audio question. These follow-up questions can be tailored based on their initial response using advanced survey features such as piped-text and display logic.

Audio question
Audio question

Best for: Investigative research, understanding closed-ended choices, obtaining qualitative insights to “closed-ended” questions, tailoring open-ended questions to different groups of respondents, customer experience feedback

Avoid: Using “why” as a follow-up question and instead use more specific prompting

Method #3: Audio Diary

Diary studies are a common research method used by qualitative researchers. With audio surveys, rather than have participants write out a response to a prompt each day, you can have them respond with their voice!

This is a great solution for populations that will find using their voice to respond easier than writing their response:

  • Populations with accessibility needs.
  • Young children and/or teenagers.
  • The general population. Unless you’re a writer, poet, or an artist, expression is most easily achieved through spoken language!

By offering a voice-enabled solution, you’re guaranteeing higher quality data and responses that are a more accurate reflection of the respondent’s true thoughts or opinions.

One advantage of diary studies is that respondents are able to engage with the prompt and reflect as they write out their response. To get a similar level of reflection, use the “Reflect and respond” method above! You can also build voice surveys that allow respondents to listen to their previous recordings from earlier days and reflect back on them, bringing them full circle.

Best for: Longitudinal research, seeing how responses change over time, tracking progress over a period of time, alternative to written diary studies

Avoid: Too many prompts within the same day

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