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Ivor Knox

Ivor Knox

Ivor has personal oversight of all Field & Fab projects from project design through to reporting. As well as understanding operations inside out, he knows exactly what clients expect at the end of projects, and how it feels to stand in front of an audience presenting results and justifying methodologies.

Read the full biography here.

Call Centre Intuitive

...or what CATI did next

10th May, 2012

I first worked in a CATI centre 20 years ago, initially as a telephone interviewer, then as a supervisor, finishing off with two years as a centre manager before moving across to the dark side as a client-facing researcher. While many things have changed since then (such as no longer needing to read out lengthy definitions of “the worldwide web”, “electronic mail” or “mobile telephone” to B2B respondents), most of the same considerations apply now as did in the recession-hit early nineties. How do we book enough interviewers to cover next week’s projects? How do we avoid interviewers dropping off our books and seeking more regular jobs with guaranteed hours when we’ve got no work for them the week after? What happens if we win both of those large projects we’ve pitched for, meaning we need twice as many desks? How do we explain to a client that, much as we’d love to honour our original quote for a 5 minute, 100% incidence survey, one-armed window cleaners in Barnsley may be a little problematic to find and keep on the phone for half an hour, all the more so since you’re insisting that they need to be up a ladder at the time of interview?

telephone interviewer

All of these issues are part and parcel of life in CATI, and will be familiar to anyone who operates in this area. Most of them are just managed as they arise, but the trickiest is keeping capacity at an appropriate level. This is particularly the case for a company like ours, where the majority of our work is ad hoc, and very often pretty quick turnaround – we often find ourselves quoting for a project and then having it running in the phone unit less than a week later. For quite some time, we have operated with a capacity of 25 stations, and this was generally adequate for our needs – on average no more than 10-15 of these seats were taken up by ongoing, laid down projects, leaving the rest for ad hoc surveys.

However, last summer, we started to experience a steady increase in demand for CATI services, and found ourselves increasingly stretched to accommodate all requests. A couple of times, just one more win would have meant us having either to subcontract or turn away business, and juggling the time zones and shifts on a 24-hour, global project was challenging to say the least. At around that time, some suitable additional office space became available, allowing us the possibility of doubling our capacity. There was plenty to consider; the cost and length/ flexibility of the lease, investment in equipment, the need (and capability) to recruit a larger team of interviewers in a rural location. Against all of this we had to make as good a guess as we could as to whether the surge in workload was going to continue – especially since we could see at first hand the rapidly-increasing boom in online research being carried out by our sister company, panelbase. On the other hand, when CATI first became commonplace, doomsayers were signalling the end of face to face interviewing – yet here we are at Field and Fab, with hundreds of interviewers carrying out tens of thousands of face to face interviews each year (albeit often armed with iPads rather than clipboards). In the same way as there are still many projects which are best served by face to face contact, there are always likely to be surveys which require CATI rather than online.

So how did we reach the final decision to take the plunge? It was a mixture of art and science, rather like market research. In the end, probably the key factor was the realisation that it would only need us to turn away two or three average sized projects in the coming year for the lost profit to make us regret not having taken the risk to expand. The potential upside seemed to outweigh the downside, but it was a judgment call, and thankfully it was the right one. We’ve been running well above our previous capacity more weeks than not since our expansion, and the gamble has already paid for itself several times over. Even then though, we’ve recently found ourselves having to partner with another agency on a huge tender, giving away more than half of the profits. Why didn’t we look at that even bigger office, just down the road? Well, it would probably have been sitting half empty two months later. ‘Never say never’ though; we’re still keeping a close eye on tender opportunities and conversion rates, and not a month goes by when we’re not having a peek around the area at property in case there’s a need for further growth in capacity.

Please get in touch if you’d like to discuss our capabilities – as MD, I personally oversee all of our field and tab operations, and I’m always happy to have a chat about the ins and outs of potential projects.


Ivor Knox

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