People struggling with pandemic isolation find unlikely connection with phone surveyors

Researchers who conduct telephone surveys regarding political or social issues or consumer preferences often have a thankless task. More than 90% of those calls are either not answered or people refuse to participate.
But the isolation that comes from social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic has some people alone at home desperate for someone to talk to. And they have found an unlikely connection with these phone surveyors.
Erica Otten, of Tabernacle, is a telephone pollster with Princeton-based Braun Research.
"I’m a very big ‘people-person,’ so when someone is telling me their struggles and anxieties I want to show my compassion and let them know they’re not alone,” she says. “But we’re not supposed to do that.”
Otten is now working from home and calls people with lists of questions about their consumer habits or political opinions. She says that before the lockdown, she would get hung up on a lot. Or people would politely decline to answer her questions.
“At some point, you have to, not necessarily beg, but ‘Your thoughts are very important. Your answers could really help me out,'’’ Otten says.
Photos: Your Coronavirus Pandemic Experience

But Otten says that people are a lot more likely to talk to her now that they are isolated by the pandemic. In fact, Braun Research president Paul Braun says that the challenge now may be to get people to stop talking.
“Lately surveys that used to take 15 minutes, 18 minutes are now taking 30 minutes. People are not wanting to get off the phone,” he says.
It seems that people are just desperate to talk and to feel as if they have been heard. Braun Research caller Allison Dunn, of Maple Shade, says had a man open up to her recently about his financial struggles.
“When he said ‘I don't have a stimulus check, I don't have my unemployment. I am eating every other day.’ He didn't want to take a survey. He wanted someone to know he was there and he needed help,” Dunn says.
It serves as a reminder of how isolating the pandemic can be and a reminder to check on loved ones who may be struggling.
Braun Research said another factor making people more willing to talk to researchers is less competition with telemarketers. Many call centers in the United States and overseas that are the source or robocalls and telemarketing call centers have been closed because of the coronavirus.