by Donna Andrews
Yesterday I got an email from something called Millward Brown, which describes itself as a global research firm. It said, in part:
“As a valued Eddie Bauer customer, your feedback is very important to us. You are one of a select group of customers that we are inviting to share feedback about shopping for apparel. Your opinions and suggestions are essential to helping us understand and improve your experience with Eddie Bauer, and more specifically, our future offerings. The survey should take about 25 minutes to complete. We realize your time is valuable, so you will receive a 20% off coupon for Eddie Bauer for completing this survey. To use your opinions, we must receive your completed survey by Monday, July 7th. During the survey you may be selected at random to participate in an online chat with a live moderator. If you decide to participate, you will also receive a $25 gift card code to Eddie Bauer as thanks for completing this additional interview.”
I’ll give them credit—they’re admirably specific about how long their survey will take and why they’re doing it. But I’m still going to pass.
What? You’re giving up a 20% off coupon and a chance at a 25% gift card?
Well, yeah. Not worth half an hour out of my life. And not just because to use the coupon I’d have to spend four times what they’re offering to “give” me.
I’m fed up with surveys, polls, and questionnaires. Lately it seems that every company I do business with wants me to fill out one. At Home Depot, Rite Aid, and Pizza Hut, the cashiers circle the survey information and beg me to rate them. Every time I stay at a hotel I get a survey afterward. Every time I call some company’s customer service. Every time I buy a large item like a computer or an appliance. In fact, every time my email or phone number falls into the hands of a commercial enterprise of any kind.
Isn’t it nice that they want to hear what I think about them?
Doesn’t feel to me as if they want to hear what I think. More like they’re checking off items on a form, so they can say that they actively seek out their customer’s opinions. And worse, so they can use my feedback to conduct a little cheap market research.
When a survey that’s supposedly asking about my experience with a product or service spends the first twenty questions asking about things like my age, gender, education level, income level, and so on, I don’t really buy that you care about my opinion. What does my income level have to do with whether your employees were courteous and your restrooms clean?
When a survey requires that I answer every single one of over a hundred questions and won’t let me submit if I skip one, then you don’t care about my opinion. You care about shoving me into a square hole, even if I’m a round peg.
And don’t nag me with emails reminding me that I haven’t filled out your survey. If I get your reminder, I probably got the original email, and if I’d wanted to answer, I would have.
It’s not quite a survey, but at least one local restaurant trains its employees to ask not “is everything okay?” but “is everything fabulous?” If the idea is to convince me that everything’s fabulous, it’s not working. Asked if everything is okay, I will say, “Yes, fine.” Asked if everything is fabulous, I start thinking of all the ways they don’t quite meet my definition of fabulous. And I think the same happens with surveys. The more detailed questions you ask about how things went, the more I'm apt to start second-guessing even the most positive experience. ("Well, they really were a little slow, come to think of it.")
I realize that businesses need feedback to know where they’re doing well and where they need to improve. And I’m sure they like the ease with which they can seek feedback—surveys are easy to put together these days, and you can conduct them for the cost of a few emails, right?
The problem is that so many businesses are demanding feedback so frequently and in such relentless detail that I’ve gone deaf to the whole thing. I don’t want to waste thinking time figuring out whether I give some hotel’s reception desk an eight out of ten and its waitstaff a seven or vice versa. I’m tired of clicking N/A twenty-seven times because the store’s survey won’t let me skip any question, no matter how irrelevant to my experience. I’m not tempted by small gift certificates and discounts.
Does anyone else actually LIKE filling out those endless surveys?
Am I the only person who would much rather get a survey that said something really simple like “Tell us what you think. No twenty questions—just tell us one thing that we did really well or one thing that really ticked you off.” I might actually answer that survey.
Am I an unusually cranky consumer, or am I typical?