In the guts of our system, there is a single, big, red knob labeled “Call Volume.” (Metaphorically speaking, of course). When we started, we set it at a bit over 10,000 calls per hour, and that worked fine. But since more folks are using the system and want to run ever-larger campaigns, we decided to twist the knob to 30,000 - thus tripling our capacity. To do this, we had to add a bit more hardware first, but fortunately our system is built so we can just add more computers as we grow. Need to make even more calls? Just let us know, and we’ll crank the knob up even higher.
We’re delighted to announce that the American Association of Political Consultants (AAPC) awarded us a Pollie for the Most Innovative Use of Automated Phone Technology!
The AAPC is one of the most important professional organizations in politics, and for them to recognize us with a Pollie is an honor. Our prize was based on the fact that we make sophisticated polling accessible to even the smallest of campaigns, a revolutionary change to the current landscape that even Mark Blumenthal remarked on in his column in the National Journal.
When we started Precision Polling, our hope was to make it possible for anyone to gather data quickly and affordably using the telephone. As a young technology startup, founded by a team that’s new to the world of politics, we couldn’t be more happy to know that our work is making an impact in this space. Our thanks go to our customers for helping us build a great product that delights consultants, pollsters, and campaign managers alike, and helps win races.
Our customers love the power to design and run polls exactly the way they want. So today we’re excited to announce several new features that provide more control over running polls:
- Control callbacks
If we’re not able to reach someone (there is an answering machine, busy signal, or no answer), what should we do? We used to only give you two options: give up, or try every hour up to 3 times. But we learned this is sometimes not enough; sometimes clients want to retry only one time; or clients want to retry at the same time tomorrow. You now pick how many retry attempts (1-5), and the time between retries (from 30 minutes to one day). Use this to maximize the value you get from your phone list (if they aren’t answering now, they might a little bit later).
- Set how quickly we make calls
By default, we run as fast as possible, making tens of thousands of calls an hour. But suppose you want to call a list of 1,000 people between 6-8pm; if you ran at full speed, you’d be done a few minutes past 6pm, which could introduce possible bias regarding who-is-at-home-when. Now, you can specify a rate like “make no more than 500 calls an hour”.
- Define what a “complete” is in more detail
We’ve also tidied up the notion of whether a call counts as “complete” or not. You can now create a survey so that the call is counted as complete if the survey finishes “normally,” OR if a particular question is answered. For example, suppose you want to know the caller’s stance on a particular issue, but want to weed out answers from people who are not registered voters. You would ask “are you a registered voter, yes or no?” And then you’d ask the registered voters what their stance is, and mark that question as being the survey-completion criteria. The non-registered voters would never get a chance to answer that question, and so their responses wouldn’t be counted as “complete” (though you can of course look at their answers, if you want to).
We hope that these new features will give you more control over the surveying methodology, and help you get the most out of your sample. Please let us know what you think, and tell us what other features you’d like to see (the features above started as a request from a customer!).
Tight budget constraints limit the kind of research and engagement political campaigns (or non-profits, or unions) are able to do. The most common question we get is: how much will it cost me to run a poll with 500 or 1000 completed responses?
The answer: it depends. The cost is almost entirely based on the response rate - how many people complete your survey, vs. how many hang up or don’t answer. The higher your response rate, the fewer calls you have to make, so the less the cost.
Organizations contacting their members tend to get response rates between 10-25%. We have seen political polls to the general public get response rates in the 3-7% range, though some have gone as high as 10%.
So how do you boost the response rate and make every call count? It turns out to be more of an art than a science because it depends on so many human factors. Based on what has worked well for our clients, we have compiled a list of the top 10 tips for improving your response rate. If you have experience with these approaches, or suggestions for others, please share them in the comments.
- Use a local caller-id
The caller-id is the first thing someone sees when you call them. If it’s from a local number, they are much more likely to pick up the phone. Precision Polling lets you select your own caller-id.
- Call in the early evening
If they aren’t home, they aren’t going to answer. The best time to call on weekdays is 6-8:30pm. Friday and Saturday evenings aren’t great, though you can call at almost any time on Sunday.
- Keep your intro snappy
Get straight to why you’re calling in the simplest words possible, or you may risk them hanging up. The best intros squeeze in what you are calling about; why the participant should care; who you are; and how long it will take. Of course, you have to also make sure that you meet any disclosure requirements (some states require an organization name and phone number, for example).
- Use a recognizable voice
If polling the general public, try to get a celebrity to record your poll (e.g. TV anchor, football coach), or failing that, use a female voice with a neutral accent. If you’re polling your own members, ask someone that they will recognize to record the poll, like your organization’s president.
- Pump up the volume
Be sure to test your poll to make sure it’s easy to hear. Recording with a loud and clear voice gives the best results.
- Keep your poll short
Automated polls work best when you’re asking no more than 10 questions (2-3 minutes). Any longer, and people start to hang up. As a rough rule of thumb, for every 10 additional questions, your response rate will drop by 1%. One way around this is to structure your survey so the important questions are at the front; and then define the survey to be considered as “complete” if the respondent finishes these important questions, with the remaining questions as optional (though useful) data.
- Use simple sentences
Simple language and short sentences make it easier to follow questions, especially when listening to them over the phone.
- Keep it relevant
Some of the highest response rates we’ve seen are for targeted local issues (e.g. mayor of your town, or pollution in a small neighborhood), or widely discussed topics (e.g. healthcare). Introduce your survey in a way to make it relevant, perhaps by mentioning a hot-button issue you know the respondent will have an opinion on.
- Call likely voters
If possible for your survey, call those people who are most likely to be actively engaged in the political process (look for good voting histories) because they generally are more willing to pick up the phone and share their opinions. Outside of politics, looks for other signs of engagement, like member attendance. Of course, only do this if it won’t bias your desired results.
- Speak their language
We’ve had customers record polls in dozens of different languages: Spanish, Mandarin, Vietnamese, and Russian to name a few. You can do the same by recording questions in multiple languages and starting your poll by asking which language they prefer. The response rates tend to be much higher for non-English-speaking groups receiving a phone call in their native language than it is for English-speakers receiving a phone call in English.
We’ve been getting a ton of questions about using Precision Polling outside the United States. We’re as excited as you are, and are pleased to say that Precision Polling now works in Canada, Puerto Rico, India, Australia, and the UK - with many more countries coming soon.
We still keep or same pricing model of charging per-call, but the amount varies by country (and by number being dialed, since in some countries there is a huge cost difference between calling a land-line vs. a mobile number). Click here to see our rates.
We hope this not only serves customers across the world, but also helps firms reach across borders to talk to customers, perform market research, or gather public opinions.
Seattle is a hotbed for new media experiments, and Publicola is no different. It’s a politically focused blog run by former editors of The Stranger, has attracted a series of investors, and in just a year is read by everyone in Washington politics.
Last year we sponsored a poll that Publicola did for the Seattle Mayor’s race. It got so much coverage in other local media, and such a large surge in traffic to Publicola, that they decided to start running polls on a regular basis. So last night, at Publicola’s 1 year anniversary party at the Crocodile (with some great bands), we jointly announced plans to feature polls once or twice a month on Publicola’s website. A respected local polling firm, EMC Research, will help design and analyze results, and yours truly will be the engine that powers it all.
We love helping new media find cost effective tools to be able to compete with the big guys. The local TV stations can afford to purchase surveys from SurveyUSA, but until we arrived on the scene, innovative blogs like Publicola had no retort. Now they can participate too, and readers benefit from better reporting all around. We’re just happy to make it easy and affordable for anyone to gather data from the phone.
Mark Blumenthal, editor of pollster.com and one of the formest experts in the field of polling, wrote a piece in the National Journal that places Precision Polling at the heart of a trend towards accessible polling.
In his post titled “Everyone’s a Pollster”, Mark calls Precision Polling “surprisingly powerful” and goes on to list some of our more sophisticated features like automatic crosstabs and weighting. He also talks about some of the downsides of a more level playing field, such as ensuring a high quality bar in reporting polls. As for us, we’re just delighted that even the pros agree: Precision Polling makes it easy for anyone to gather data from the phone.
Wow, we just got TechCrunched! TechCrunch is one of the largest technology news sites on the web, and is syndicated to the Washington Post’s technology column too - so this is a wonderful opportunity for us to spread the word. We’re ecstatic to be getting positive coverage on a national level, and being compared to pioneers in the survey space like SurveyMonkey.
John Cook from TechFlash just published an in-depth post on Precision Polling. We’re avid readers of TechFlash, Seattle’s hub for technology news, and couldn’t be more honored that John took the time to learn about what we do in such great detail.
Two very cool things happened yesterday: first we moved into our new offices in a historic building in downtown Seattle; and second, all the two dozen non-profits that live in our building threw a massive annual open house party spanning 14 floors with hundreds of people!
It’s clear that we’re housed in a building that has a great sense of community and purpose, and we wanted to give back to the festivities. With no time to throw our own little party, we instead decided to sponsor a contest to give away $200 to the one cause that got the most votes. But how to collect those votes in a huge party with lots of people?
That’s were Precision Polling came in. In less than 10 minutes we designed and recorded a survey that people could dial into to vote for their favorite org. We also created a poster to advertise the contest (see below), and gave it to the non-profits to post at their parties (they loved it).
As the evening went by, people dialed in to cast their votes. We could see who was leading in real-time from our iPhones, and at the end of the night could instantly announce the winner: GroundWire, a non-profit that helps other non-profits use technology to reach their goals. Congrats guys!
If you’re setting up a contest, or organizing an event where you want live participation, think about using Precision Polling. It takes minutes to setup, and at 10 cents a minute, it would take 100 calls for you to get charged just $10.