I recently made a small purchase on Amazon. A few days later I learned by email that the delivery had been made – such are the dimensions of Edwards Towers. I checked the front porch, and there it was. All good, as ordered. The email asked me to rate the delivery: I was offered It was great or Not so great.
Great? If a basic task is performed successfully, is that great? Have expectations sunk so low? Should we shake the postman’s hand in congratulation every morning? I had a Bupa customer survey where Great was the second best option out of five. Was half the world conquered by Alexander the Meets Expectations? Was Russia terrorised by Ivan the Disappointing?
One survey gave me the opportunity to score my satisfaction on a scale from 1 to 10. Number 1 was defined as “Did not meet expectations”, 10 was “Exceeded expectations”, leaving me eight scores to choose from if it met my very wide range of expectations.
You can’t go for a night out without receiving surveys asking for your feedback on the restaurant, the theatre, the taxi ride home. I realise that brief and accurate feedback is the backbone of some successful businesses: Amazon Marketplace, Uber, Tripadvisor etc. It’s the long surveys I really resent: “It will only take twenty minutes”. Twenty minutes!
After a positive consumer experience, I have sometimes, in a spirit of goodwill, commenced on a survey, only to give up in boredom and frustration when the sixth page of questions comes in view with no end in sight. Or when I get to unrelated questions, like “Do you worry about your pension provision?” and realise that the survey has quietly moved from gathering feedback into soliciting marketing information.
It seems that most surveys are designed for convenience of analysis: some barely offer the opportunity to use words, relying on endless satisfaction scores. Words are what most people would choose to express their opinions, but are untidy when you try to add them up.
Surveys are also often designed to tell the business what it wants to hear, or at least to avoid confronting them with the truth. Once my wife was asked to complete a survey about her hospital meals: was the food served hot, did it arrive when expected, was there a vegetarian option? Nowhere did she get the chance to say it tasted disgusting.
I have sometimes been reduced to guerrilla tactics: the survey from my dental practice was mercifully short, and did offer an opportunity to use my own words, but I couldn’t resist:
Of course, my dentist might be annoyed by the facetious reply, but hey, what are they going to do about it? Oh…
Sometimes the demand for feedback is so persistent that it borders on aggressive. I took my car to a Nissan dealer in Watford for a recall. The experience was quite satisfactory, until I received this in an email from them:
I would be grateful if you could complete the questionnaire scoring your service advisor all 10’s if you were happy with the service that you received. I know it is a high score to ask, but Nissan view anything below a 9 as a failure. If for any reason you feel that you cannot give us the above score, then please could you reply to this email before completing the questionnaire, and I can address any concerns you may have.
Of course I ignored this: beside my usual aversion to surveys, I resented being instructed on what score to give them. A week later, I felt like a schoolboy being told off for not completing his homework:
You may remember we told you about a survey you would receive and the importance of scoring us 10/10! Would you be happy to complete the survey as it would help the service advisors personally?
This last sentence is designed to make you feel like a bad person if you refuse. As I write I worry that my refusal may have had terrible consequences for the perfectly pleasant young fellow who was my service advisor. Perhaps I had turned a deaf ear to a cry for help from a victim of Japanese corporate culture, and caused Nissan to demand a ritual resignation, just as surely as if I had given him 8/10.
If surveys are supposed to make customers feel they’re being listened to, it’s not working here. The design I find least annoying is brief and personal, just two or three questions asking for verbal answers: e.g. what did you most enjoy about your visit? What did we get wrong? Name one thing we could improve. Without insisting on an answer, or chasing people up. Ideally (and this might be a stretch) a brief acknowledgment worded in a way which confirms that the response has been read and understood. That would feel like being listened to.
So please, don’t invite me to participate in your survey, even if there’s a chance of winning a £25 Waitrose voucher. Unless it’s as one of the hundred people answering the questions for Pointless. Now that would be fun.