Customer Surveys: Think They’re Useless? Me Too

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There an insidious explosion of customer surveys in America.

You know what I’m talking about: When you buy a computer, the retailer sends you a survey; so does the computer company. When you order a book or a shirt or a box of fruit online, you are asked to complete a survey. And when you’re in “on-hold-hell” with a utility provider (aren’t the cable people just so fast to answer that phone?), you are asked to stay on the line even longer to take a short survey.


A survey is not a business-customer relationship.

If corporations spent as much time and money on training employees and management to be more personable and more efficient as they spend on implementing and analyzing surveys, maybe the survey would not be needed at all. That’s just my opinion.

So, what does this explosion of surveyed and mined data mean to the average business manager or executive? You already know the answer: all data can be manipulated, most of it is bunk, and you can probably learn to skew the numbers yourself if you are either devious or creative enough.

I like things simple. Simple is easy to execute. Here is an idea to ponder: get to know your customers and employees by building (Darn, what are they called, again? Oh, yes… ) relationships with them. Build relationships with your customers. What a novel idea.

Again, that’s just my opinion. Want to know more about surveys? Read on. Here are some more points from a survey of America’s Survey Hell:

Beware the silent survey.

These are the most insidious of all. Many people do not realize how much information they are giving away for free. “Frequent Shopper” or “Discount” cards you scan at checkout are the worst. Visiting a website isn’t very private, either. If you visit my website, I know where you live to within about 1000-5000 meters, what IP address I can find your computer at on the web (that could be useful, except I’m too old to be a computer hacker), what type of computer you have, what browser you use (even what version), your screen resolution, how many times you’ve been to my website, your marital status, and what your GPA was in the 6th grade. And only the last two are lies.

Fun facts.

If didn’t survey people to discover that birth order affects job choices, and that 4 in 10 American employees have gained weight at their current jobs, how would I ever know these important things? Also, did you know that there is a college-level course, “Constructing Questionnaires and Surveys”, at the University of Pittsburgh? Why?

Most people LIKE surveys?

Yep. Most people actually seem to like surveys. Seriously. One survey from 2010, asked: “Do We Run Too Many Surveys?” Believe it or not, over sixty percent of the 481 respondents checked “No.” You have to be kidding me. Dang tree huggers…

Anyone can do a survey.

Do-it-yourself survey sites like InstantSurvey, Zoomerang and SurveyMonkey are actually used by legitimate organizations. But, for better or worse, now anybody can create countless online surveys using these sites. I made one in fact. It is at the end of the article.

Here’s the thing.

Honestly, isn’t the potency of surveys diminished by their overabundance?

I once heard a marketing director where I worked say that surveys were marketing campaigns in disguise, and that management confuses surveys with relationships. Kudos! I think she nailed it.

Often customers feel compelled to take a survey due to the pressure of the employees presenting them. The concept is called “respondent burden.”

But as surveys proliferate, potential respondents are reluctant to contribute increasing amounts of their time. Eventually, people grow to resent the concept and stop taking surveys, unless their experience was at one extreme or another: very dissatisfied, or very satisfied. Otherwise, it isn’t worth their time.

It all began innocently enough.

Like most scourges on the human population, this just snuck up on us. Years ago, if a small business wanted to know how satisfied their customers were, they just asked. For a large corporation, surveyors were hired to conduct face to face interviews, and a human being wandered the store or mall with a clipboard and asked questions of whoever they could corral into answering.

Then, in the 1970’s, surveyors moved to telephone data collection, and your dinner hour was forever interrupted until caller ID, the “Do Not Call” list, and cell phones let you eat in peace.

Next came internet surveys, interactive voice recognition, and other methods of collecting data that involve much less cost and quicker turnaround times for corporations thirsty for consumer information.

Are surveys even useful?

With customer surveys, in the end, does an organization actually use the information it gleans from a survey? Or, is the survey an end in itself? Does the act of offering a survey shows the customer “We care”? I would say it is a combination of both.

Employee satisfaction surveys are even stranger than customer surveys. They often act in “reverse.” In other words, when survey results reflect employee dissatisfaction, they are often filled out by people who are taking them seriously. That is great and useful feedback: employees care and want a better workplace. But when an employee’s surveys reflect satisfaction, it often is filled out by employees who just don’t care and want to get it over with. If you owned the business, which employee would you rather have? Which score would you prefer: “honest-but-bad” or “don’t-care-good”? I would settle for the “honest-but-bad” survey.

In the end, what do all these surveys mean?

The survey profession needs to do a better job of helping businesses understand the differences between junk data and quality surveys.

To help me sort through the surge of surveys, please take just a few minutes to complete my own following survey. It will help me do a better job of surveying, um, I mean, serving you.

Just click the link below for a fun and simple ten question survey. And no, I am not tallying the results. Feel free to vent about surveys in the “comments” box, also.

Click Here: Hate Surveys? Take Mine!

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