Greeting and Response: Predicting Participation from the Call Opening

Schaeffer, Nora Cate, Bo Hee Min, Thomas Purnell, Dana Garbarski, and Jennifer Dykema
Working paper no. 2017-02


Although researchers have used phone surveys for decades, the lack of an accurate picture of the call opening reduces our ability to train interviewers to succeed. Sample members decide about participation quickly. We predict participation using the earliest moments of the call; to do this we analyze matched pairs of acceptances and declinations from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study using a case-control design and conditional logistic regression. We focus on components of the first speaking turns: acoustic-prosodic components and interviewer’s actions. The sample member’s “hello” is external to the causal processes within the call and may carry information about the propensity to respond. As predicted by Pillet-Shore (2012), we find that when the pitch span of the sample member’s “hello” is greater the odds of participation are higher, but in contradiction to her prediction, the (less reliably measured) pitch pattern of the greeting does not predict participation. The structure of actions in the interviewer’s first turn has a large impact. The large majority of calls in our analysis begin with either an “efficient” or “canonical” turn. In an efficient first turn, the interviewer delays identifying themselves (and and thereby suggesting the purpose of the call) until they are sure they are speaking to the sample member, with the resulting efficiency that they introduce themselves only once. In a canonical turn, the interviewer introduces themselves and asks to speak to the sample member, but risks having to introduce themselves twice if the answerer is not the sample member. The odds of participation are substantially and significantly lower for an efficient turn compared to a canonical turn. It appears that how interviewers handle identification in their first turn has consequences for participation; an analysis of actions could facilitate experiments to design first interviewer turns for different target populations, study designs, and calling technologies.