Timing the Mode Switch in a Sequential Mixed-Mode Survey: An Experimental Evaluation of the Impact on Final Response Rates, Key Estimates, and Costs

Mixed-mode surveys need to determine a number of design parameters that may have a strong influence on costs and errors. In a sequential mixed-mode design with web followed by telephone, one of these decisions is when to switch modes. The web mode is relatively inexpensive but produces lower response rates. The telephone mode complements the web mode in that it is relatively expensive but produces higher response rates. Among the potential negative consequences, delaying the switch from web to telephone may lead to lower response rates if the effectiveness of the prenotification contact materials is reduced by longer time lags, or if the additional e-mail reminders to complete the web survey annoy the sampled person. On the positive side, delaying the switch may decrease the costs of the survey. We evaluate these costs and errors by experimentally testing four different timings (1, 2, 3, or 4 weeks) for the mode switch in a web–telephone survey. This experiment was conducted on the fourth wave of a longitudinal study of the mental health of soldiers in the U.S. Army. We find that the different timings of the switch in the range of 1–4 weeks do not produce differences in final response rates or key estimates but longer delays before switching do lead to lower costs.