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Phone Interview

A semi-structured or structured interview that is conducted over a phone or Internet audio line. Phone interviews can supplement other HCI methods and allow HCI specialists to follow users over an extended time.


Related Links

Authoritative References

Dillman, D. (1978). Mail and Phone surveys: The total design method. New York, NY: Wiley.

Published Studies

Ratner, J. (2003). Learning about the user experience on the Web with the phone usability method. In J. Ratner (Ed.) Human factors in web development. Mahwah: NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum. (pp. 123-146).

Robson, C. (2002). Real world research (Second Edition). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Shuy. R. W. (2001). In-person versus phone interviewing. In J. F. Bugrium & H. A. Holstein (Eds.). Handbook of Interview Research: Context & Method. Thousand Oaks: CA: Sage Publications. (pp. 537-555).

Related Subjects

  • Face-to-face interview: A phone interview is an alternative to a face-to-face interview and is used when costs, distance, or circumstances of the work or environment preclude talking directly with the participant. Phone interviews can complement or supplement other types of interviews or HCI methods.
  • Remote usability testing: Remote usability testing often involves a combination of thinking aloud and phone interviews.

Detailed description

Outcomes and Deliverables

The deliverables for a phone interview would be:

  • A list of the people contacted and their backgrounds for a profile of your sample.
  • A transcript or notes of the interview.
  • A summary of the quantitative data from rating, ranking, or other closed-ended questions.
  • Context of use information task, environment, and constraints).
  • A list of common themes, patterns, or trends from open-ended questions.

Benefits, Advantages and Disadvantages


The phone interview is a benefit for management and HCI personnel since it reduces travel costs while permitting interaction with remote participants. With the advances in remote conference tools the interviewer has the possibility of observing what the participants are doing with software. Phone interviews can supplement site visits, face-to-face interviews, and other methods. For example, after a site visit or a survey you could gather additional data by conducting a phone interview.


  • Phone interviews are relatively inexpensive.
  • Phone interviews can have a shorter data collection period than face-to-face interviews.
  • Phone interviews may have a better response rate than mail surveys.


  • Phone interviews can be quite tiring, so they are often shorter than face-to-face interviews.
  • Phone interviews can be difficult if the interviewer or interviewee has a strong accent.
  • Phone interviews are not as good as face-to-face interviews when you are dealing with complex issues.
  • If you have multiple interviewers, you have to worry about consistent approaches to the interviews and group training.
  • Phone interviews are not as anonymous as online surveys.
  • Phone interviews are often conducted at times that are convenient to the participant, but not for the interviewer (evenings, early mornings, weekends)
  • Phone interviews at a person's office or home can involve many potential distractions like colleagues stopping by, calls on other lines, background noise, and the lure of using the computer to work during the phone interview.

How To

Appropriate Uses

Phone interviews are useful when you have participants or stakeholders in widely distributed geographical areas.

Phone interviews can be used as part of a longitudinal research effort (for example, you might want to interview beta users once a week during a beta tests, but can't go to the sites because of travel costs).

Phone interviews can be used in combination with prototype evaluations (Ratner, 2003) and other HCI methods like field visits, diary studies, and online surveys.


  1. Develop an interview plan that includes the goals of the study, the types of users that you are interested in, your general procedure, and a data analysis plan.
  2. Develop the questionnaire for the interview. In a phone interview, the questionnaire will contain prompts, notes, and transition statements for the interviewer as well as the questions and response categories. Pilot test the questionnaire over the phone.
  3. Choose your interviews and train them on good principles of phone interviews.
  4. Conduct a pilot test using the questionnaire over the phone. Revise the questionnaire.
  5. Begin recruiting your interview participants based on the requirements and user profile in your interview plan. It is good to contact the participants on the phone during recruiting to get a sense if they would be "good" participants (people you can understand and hear over the phone)
  6. Create a "rule book" that has guidelines for the interviews, especially if you have multiple interviewers. The rule book has a checklist for everything you need and should do during a phone interview.
  7. Remind participants a few days ahead of time about the phone interview and check to see if the time is still good.
  8. If you call the participant and he/she isn't available at that moment, have a schedule of open times and suggest several other times that you could talk to the person. Having this schedule of open times at your fingertips can cut down on the effort it takes to reschedule an interview.
  9. When you being an interview, take several minutes to establish professional rapport with the participant. Try to use a conversational and pleasant tone of voice.
  10. Pace your call to cover the necessary questions. You questionnaire should generally place the most important questions first in case you get cut off.
  11. Keep a detailed log of all your calls and any issues that emerge.
  12. Review your notes immediately after the interview and note any big issues that emerged.

Participants and Other Stakeholders

The main participants will be remote interviewees who meet the recruiting profile.

The product team should be involved in the design and pilot testing of the survey.

Large scale phone interviews require significant recruiting support, so you may need a dedicated recruiter.

Materials Needed

You need a quiet place where you can conduct the interview without background noise or interruptions. You can set up a system for audio recording which is relatively simple. If you are planning a large scale phone interview, you might want to contact a dedicated phone survey company with enhanced phone equipment that tracks calls, allows automated data logging, and summarization.

Who Can Facilitate

Conducting phone interviews may sound simple, however, the interviewer must be trained to deal with the specific issues of phone interviews which include:

  • Establishing rapport with strangers in just a few minutes.
  • Conducting interviews at a pace that matches the participant's level of comfort. People will listen and speak at different speeds and a good phone interviewer can sense this and match his/her pace to that of the participant.
  • Being sensitive to the cognitive demands of the questions.
  • Prompting the participant without unduly biasing the responses.
  • Being sensitive to the cognitive demands of the questions and be prepared to prompt the participant without biasing the results. Keeping the participant focused on the interview questions and knowing when to close out responses to one question and move on to the next. This can be hard when you are conducting a semi-structured phone interview where some questions have a closed set of responses while others are more open-ended.

Common Problems

  • Phone interviews require sensitivity to the needs of the participant. For example, you need to consider whether the person has privacy, is getting fatigued, is clear about what you are asking, etc.
  • An important issue with phone surveys is the length and complexity of questions and the number and complexity of the response categories. In a paper or online survey, you can provide your participants with a long list of job descriptions for example, but that isn't really feasible for a phone survey. You may need to provide shorter lists and then follow up with questions that provide more detail.
  • When you are developing a phone questionnaire, the order of questions is important for involving the interviewees and reducing resistance to the interview, creating a conversational flow, and reducing memory and cognitive burdens.
  • In a phone interview, the order of responses can be an issue because of recency and primacy effects. In a recency effect, people remember the most recent response category; in a primary effect, people remember the first response category they hear. This can be more of a problem in phone interviews than paper and pencil (though you need to consider primacy and recency effects there also). To reduce the potential bias, you could randomize the order of questions when the items are not in a particular order.
  • Callbacks are the calls you make if you miss an interview with someone. If you make too many callbacks or are too aggressive in your request to reschedule, you could harm your chance of actually getting the phone interview rescheduled. You need to consider a general policy for callbacks and be somewhat flexible.

Data Analysis Approach

The data analysis approach is the same as it would be for semi-structured or structured interviews.

Special Considerations

Costs and Scalability

Phone interviews are relatively inexpensive since they save on travel costs and don't involve much special equipment.

International Considerations

Phone interviews in different countries should be conducted by interviewers who speak the languages of the participants.

Ethical and Legal Considerations

The laws regarding the recording of phone calls vary from state to state in the USA and they also vary from country to country. Interviews should review the legal requirements for recording phone conversations. Participants should be informed in writing about any recordings and also be reminded at the beginning and/or end of the phone interview and asked to provide verbal consent.


Lifecycle: User research, Evaluation
Sources and contributors: 
Chauncey Wilson, Nigel Bevan.
Released: 2005-10
© 2010 Usability Professionals Association