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7 Reasons to Use Call Centers for Data Collection

By Wayan Vota on June 21, 2018

Call Center Data Collection

Recently, I was at a meeting that focused on data collection from health clinic operators, school principals, and agricultural extension agents (who are very similar), and one of the participants pointed out an “old” technology that could still be cutting edge in 2018: call centers. Their idea was very simple and smart.

Call centers still have amazing advantages over “new” technologies like mobile data collection, remote sensing, and other shiny, flashy tools.

Listening to their presentation, I couldn’t help but see seven levels of brilliance in deploying call centers to improve project outcomes, in every country, but especially in resource-constrained environments where technology and literacy are an issue, like Liberia or South Sudan.

1. Almost Instant Deployment

Call centers can be up and running really fast. No need to do a large train the trainer roll out across the country. You can train a handful of people in the capital city, give them phone lines, and then have them call project staff across the country and walk the project staff through the needed data collection activities. Nationwide deployment could happen in a month!

2. No Major Technology Purchases

Call centers only require phone lines and call tracking software, and both are well-established technologies. VoIP calls (like Skype or WhatsApp calls) are almost free and only need an internet connection. Pair them with Zendesk or Salesforce and you have a robust call center infrastructure with a few headsets and mouse clicks.

3. Zero User Training

Everyone knows how to use a phone. To call or to receive a call. And once the recipient is connected with the operator, they can be told what to do. Yes, the first call may take longer than anticipated, but then all future calls can get faster – all without any training on how users actually use the phone.

4. No Literacy Issues

As long as operators know the recipient’s language, they can communicate. Recipients don’t need to be able to read the major language – or any language at all. Nor do they need much device literacy – just pick up the phone and talk.

5. Instant Data Syncing

Data is instantly available once the operator keys it in. You don’t need to wait for the recipient to type in the data, find an Internet connection, upload and sync, and then test data upload validity. You only have one data input point, and they (operator) is already online.

6. Global Portability

Of course, you’d want to launch the call center in the same country as your project, if only for logistics and language convenience, but if something happened in that country, you could move your operators to anywhere else, globally, and still keep calling your recipients.

7. A Human Touch

Last but not least, call centers do provide something that cannot be replaced by machines – a human touch. In fact, the person who mentioned call centers in the meeting pointed out that their initial calls were lasting 30 minutes longer than expected. Why? Recipients were so excited to get a phone call from the capital city! It was proof that someone did care about their work.

And that’s the best benefit of all. In an age where we expect robo calls and automated SMS, a real human’s voice, asking about the project progress and outcomes, is still a major event in field staff lives that should be celebrated.

Filed Under: Data
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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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7 Comments to “7 Reasons to Use Call Centers for Data Collection”

  1. Thanks Wayan, these are important points. I would add, however, that one big downfall of phone interviews is that it’s hard to know how the population you reach reflects the larger target population. In other words, it’s hard to generalize your results. Check out results from our experience on the Mobile Phone Access and Usage Survey in Mozambique.

    • Wayan Vota says:

      Marga, this post is focused on calling out to a known constituency, like clinic operators, vs doing polling, which I believe you are referring to. I’ll update the post to make that more clear.

      I agree with you on the pitfalls of phone surveys for general populations. The classic case of phone surveys gone wrong is Dewey Beats Truman.

      Also, can you share the link to your report?

  2. Laurie says:

    I like the idea, Wayan. Phone companies in some countries charge for receiving a call. Is there a way around that? Sounds like this is an idea that should be tested to see how people react. Also, you might want to contact my brother. He’s an expert on call centers.

  3. Neil Penman says:

    Its definitely a valid approach but I don’t think it needs to be an complete alternative to phones. Most mobile data collection solutions also include a webforms option. ODK based tools generally bundle Enketo. So you can mix and match mobile data collection with call centre data collection using webforms to suit. Where the tool includes support for processes and tasks (Ie my solution Smap) then you can also trigger a call centre to do an outbound call in response to data submitted from a mobile phone or vice versa allowing you to further integrate the two approaches.

    • Neil says:

      Wayan, thanks for highlighting the many benefits of an “old” approach!

      In my experience, the biggest barrier to going with call center for data collection is cost. Not for the infra, but for the people. In many cases your sample is not huge or your collection needs are sporadic, so standing up and taking down a call center is a burden. There are call center for hire services, but again they are prohibitive compared to the mobile data collection approach

      • Neil Penman says:

        Hi Neil Good name!

        If you use the same software to run the call centre that you use to collect the mobile data collection then you could not set up a call centre using your own staff in their own offices? I would have thought with that approach costs would be similar.

        Not that I think a call centre is going to always be a better way of collecting data and disseminating information than a face to face interview. But in some circumstances it might be. For example follow up questions which have been identified once the results of a field based survey have been processed

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