Survey Mania

The topic of survey “harassment,” as I call it, came up the other day at a Brooklyn dinner party.  Our hostess, Connie Maneaty, mentioned she had recently applied on-line for Global Entry. If you have ever filled out this form, you know how laboriously long the process is.  Connie wanted to make a copy for her records but before she could push the print button she was blocked by a survey.

Guests around the table started to grumble about the insane proliferation of surveys which assault our daily lives. Connie’s husband, Steve Adcock, added with mild resignation. “It happens so often I hardly think about it anymore.  Enter an internet site and immediately, before I can get my bearings, a survey pops up asking me to rate the site, even before I've had a chance to look at it, never mind use the site. But it is like spam, just another internet annoyance.  Of course, the subterfuge involved is while the site may want to find out what I think of them, they also want to gather data, my data, so they can ‘improve the browsing experience’ which is a euphemism for annoying you with more ads."   

They’ll track you down

A week ago, I needed to change the name on two newspaper delivery services plus an American Express credit card. Preferring to deal with human beings—even though it can take time to get to a living, breathing representative—I elected to do so via phone. Two of the three transactions started with a recorded message asking me to stay on the line afterwards for a survey.  Whenever this happens, I pause to wonder if the outcome of the call will be negatively affected if I don’t comply. However, in both instances I ignored the request.  Low and beyond, American Express was not about to be told “no.”  The next day, they tracked me down via my email address with their questionnaire.   

What’s in it for me?

After shopping at Home Depot the other day, the cashier grabbed a yellow marker and circled an URL on the purchase receipt before handing it to me. With a lukewarm smile, she asked, “When you get home, please take this survey and let us know how we are doing.” I was disinclined to do so but for the sake of research for this post, I went on-line.  Much to my surprise, they stated up front that “Our communities thrive on your reviews.” That seemed like a compelling way to start things. Then, they offered to add my name to a sweepstake for a $5,000 gift card from the store if I took the survey.  Now you’ve got my attention, Home Depot.    

Surveys to determine a company’s financial viability  

While we all understand most surveys are primarily trolling for data, sometimes the information gathered is also critical to a company’s financial health.  My friend Sara Jones, who works for the legal department of a hospital, explained to me that the medical field, in particular, “lives and breathes” by the outcome of their surveys.  When I asked her why so, Sara responded that “The amount of payment from Medicare and Medicaid is affected by the scores. Senior leadership meets regularly to discuss the scores and what can be done to improve them.” 

How not to create a survey 

In my opinion, most surveys are irritating, time-wasting and invasive of your privacy. They are also frequently poorly conceived and thus produce meaningless results. Sara recounted her favorite example, “I ordered some cosmetics on-line. When the package arrived, it had a survey in the box. It said I could get a $10 discount on my next purchase if I gave them a 4-star rating.” Talk about putting the cart before the horse! 

Another example of a badly constructed survey was offered by Diane McComber, a retired food scientist.  When she was teaching at Iowa State, some of her students, ages 20-22, were taking a marketing class.  Part of their coursework was to design a survey about beer consumption.  In determining age categories, they listed under 20, 21-25, 26 -30 etc. and finally, over 40 as the last group.  “They were so young, they thought everyone over 40 was in the same age classification.” Result? Garbage in, garbage out. 

Why do people participate in surveys?

For me, unless there is a serious purpose for the survey or I feel strongly, one way or the other about the topic, it’s “delete, delete, delete,” just as my friend Joan Brower describes it. However, Joan recently gave me an example of a good model more businesses should follow.  Joan uses Fresh Direct on a regular basis.  Last year the company moved their warehouse which caused some disruption in their food delivery service.  Following several impressive CEO communications announcing and following their move, and after the relocation was made, they sent out an online survey.  Joan had been displeased by delivery problems and missing items, so she filled it out. 

Several months later, once Fresh Direct had ironed out most of the kinks, she received another survey.  As she was impressed that the company had corrected most of the issues—while also addressing certain environmental concerns—she filled out the second questionnaire, this time expressing her satisfaction.  Several months later, in the mail came a card from Fresh Direct. “To thank me for being a loyal customer and I presume for communicating with them to provide constructive feedback, Fresh Direct gave me a 20% discount on my next order over $75.00, an amount which is not hard to accumulate,” she chuckled." The key to participation was their focus on customer buy-in and engagement. I now plan to use the discount code for Passover ordering as my sons are coming home for the holiday and they love my brisket and all the traditional accompaniments to this meal.” 

What constitutes a good survey?

Clearly Fresh Direct knew what they were doing.  According to several firms who devise surveys for a living, rather than blanketing masses of people with generic questions, it is better to target specific audiences with meaningful questions relevant to their personal activities.  It also helps to let the targeted consumers know if they provide you with feedback on an issue, it will help them in some way.  The better you demonstrate this, the more likely it is you will receive the true voice of the customer.

Most companies, however, collect data for the sake of collecting data and checking the box to say, “We did this,” as Steve would put it. Considering the average response rate to customer surveys is only 10 percent, wouldn’t it make more sense that people learn how to conduct them effectively?  Instead, they end up having to send out twice as many surveys in order to secure the prerequisite 10 percent needed to tally credible results. 

Beware of Political Surveys 

Have you ever fallen victim of a political campaign survey?  I have.  As a devout Democrat, whenever I see Obama’s name mentioned, I’m ready to reply.  However, now that I’ve figured out that the surveys always end in a request for money, I am less enthusiastic about doing them.  Some of the ladies at my knitting class recounted their stories about giving money once and then being hounded continuously thereafter by the candidate’s election team.  According the them, Corey Booker is particularly guilty of this. So, unless you don’t mind being contacted three times a week, best not to get involved in the first place with a political campaign. 

If, however, you elect to participate in surveys, try this tip:  go to the last question.  It normally reveals the true motive of the data collection. For example, JD Power mailed a professional-looking questionnaire asking to rate my recent experience at Frank Campbell Funeral Home (which I had used for my late husband’s service.) Given my black sense of humor, I couldn’t wait to see what the end of page four disclosed.  Question #32:  Would you be interested in learning about funeral and/or cemetery pre-arrangements?” Sell, sell, sell. 

For the love of surveys 

Surprisingly to some of us, not everyone is averse to answering surveys.  My Gen-X trainer, Jennifer Spina, believes it’s a way to make her voice heard.  So, if filling out surveys is your thing, you can even make money doing so.  Survey Voices advertises up to $300 for sharing your opinions with them. Furthermore, if you’re interested in asking people to give you information on whatever topic you fancy, you can create your own sophisticated-looking, on-line survey, free of charge, too, via www.surveymonkey. Just please remember not to include my email address when you send it out.  Chances are, I’ll blow you away. That is, unless you’re dangling a $5,000 gift certificate under my virtual nose.