Customer Surveys: A Mad As Hell Moment

OK. I’m cranky today. My March Madness bracket is kaput — much like the hopes for a GOP candidate knocking Prez O out of the White House in November. Next year I’m making my picks based on the mascots. Grrrrrrr.

In the meantime, go Bobcats.

I’m also annoyed by what has become a really troubling practice — the deluge of customer and other surveys that hound you online and in real life. OK. Constructive feedback is beneficial. But having to take time to answer questions just about everything you do something is, well, bordering on the abusive.

When I travel, I stay at one of the Marriott properties, Residence Inns and so on. That automatically triggers a series of surveys — and if you don’t complete them, you are bombarded with others. Sigh.

As usual, I’m not the only one out of the ledge yelling, “I’m Mad as Hell.” There are actually some thoughtful people who are voicing concerns about this disturbing trend, as evidence in the NYT story, “When Businesses Can’t Stop Asking, ‘How Am I Doing?“‘

A commercial transaction, in its simplest form, involves a customer paying for goods or services. But these days, that is just the first step.

Businesses want your opinion of them, too, and their requests for feedback, like relentless tugs on the sleeve, now seem to come with every purchase, every call to a customer service department and every click of a mouse that is followed with a pop-up ad pleading with users to take a survey about the “Web site experience.”

On the telephone, in the mail, on their computers, smartphones and iPads, American consumers are being solicited as never before to express their feelings about coffeemakers, hand creams, triple-bypass operations, veterinarians, dry cleaners and insurance agents.

One reason is that software companies like SurveyGizmo and QuestionPro have made it possible for small companies to create customer surveys at a fraction of the cost of traditional surveys done by established research companies. Businesses of all sizes, desperate to lock in customer loyalty, see surveys as a window into the emotional world of their customers and a database that will offer guidance on how to please them.

“It’s like the gold rush now,” said Jonathan D. Barsky, a founder of Market Metrix, which develops systems for measuring customer satisfaction in the hospitality industry. “Anyone who can craft a customer survey and throw it on the Internet is doing it.”

There is no way to determine exactly how many consumer satisfaction surveys are completed each year, but Mindshare Technologies, a small company that conducts and analyzes on-the-spot electronic surveys, says it completes 175,000 surveys every day, or more than 60 million annually.

ForeSee, an offshoot of the American Customer Satisfaction Index in Ann Arbor, Mich., a company that measures consumer sentiment about business and government, says it collected 15 million surveys in 2011.

Consumer patience may be fraying under the onslaught. The constant nagging has led to a condition known as survey fatigue and declining response rates over the last decade.

“The frequent requests to fill out these surveys, especially with no incentives, have been so annoying that people just stop doing it,” said Richard L. Oliver, a professor of management at Vanderbilt University and the author of the textbook “Satisfaction: A Behavioral Perspective on the Consumer” (McGraw Hill, 1996). “In the old days, you felt as though you had been selected to represent the community, or even the nation. But this is the information age, and people know their information is worth something.”

If customers balk at taking what can feel like an SAT test, the fault may lie with the surveys themselves. Many businesses, often against the advice of the experts they have hired to construct their questionnaires, cannot resist the urge to ask, ask and ask yet again. Exasperated consumers, assured that the survey will take only five minutes to complete, often bail out as they approach the 10-minute mark.


Since I delete most of the surveys as soon as I see them, I’m gone long before the 10-minute mark these days.

From the flick Network, Howard Beale: I want you to go to the window, open it, stick your head out and yell: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.”

Just sayin’.



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