Surveys soliciting the opinions of strangers used to be a rare phenomenon. In the thirty years, my parents lived in the home where my brothers and I grew up, the household received one telephone survey, which I took because I was the one who answered the telephone. No one asked if I lived there (I was only visiting). The caller asked about political issues.
As soon as I began buying books on the Internet I had to get used to the surveys that followed. Did the book arrive on time? Did I approve of the packaging? Was the product what I expected? Was the service polite and helpful? The first time had the expected air of novelty.
Once I got waylaid in a shopping mall by a woman who wanted me to look at a “short” film and give my opinion. After about ten minutes I told her I didn’t have time for this. Her reply was not “polite and helpful.” I’ve steered clear of anyone with a clipboard ever since.
Surveys over the telephone are harder to avoid unless you have Caller ID. These calls are ubiquitous during an election year, but have begun showing up year-round for all sorts of things, not just candidates. Since most are robo calls, I can easily hang up. But some are from people hired to get at least one answer out of me. When I refused to be drawn after being told I had won a free trip to Las Vegas, the young woman asked, “You don’t want a free trip?” No, I don’t. “Have you ever been to Las Vegas?” Yes, I have. I hung up.
A live person from my bank calls me every time I conduct a transaction there. After the first three calls I pointed out to the man asking the questions that I had been using this bank for over twenty years, and no one had ever asked my opinion on anything. Only now, with the appearance of men behind the counter and in the front offices, was I getting questions. No one ever asked me anything when all the people in the offices were women. The next few transactions were completed survey-free, but, alas, the calls have started up again.
As soon as I visit my doctor, a survey shows up on email. I ignore it, and another one shows up. And then the robo calls begin. I’ve made it clear that I’m not happy with my doctor’s office, so I shouldn’t be surprised with the attention. Now the letters have begun, offering me a new way to access care. If they can’t get my opinion, they’ll give me theirs.
You would think I would be pleased to have a bank or a medical office or anyone else interested in my opinion on how to improve services. After all, we all like having a say in the important issues of our time. But I don’t think that’s the intent of the surveys, and I have yet to see any change from anything I suggested.
These surveys are the result of short-term thinking. Let the consumer feel she has a channel for voicing her likes and dislikes, and she’ll trust us more. She’ll remain a customer. She’ll be less likely to leave because of a minor unsatisfying encounter. That intent may be sincere, but it is still cynical and definitely blind to long-term effect. After a while, the little resentments build, and one day the CEO looks at the weekly report and wonders why he and his minions can’t reverse a year-long trend of departing customers. He can’t find anything specific to go after and change, but the trend continues.
The undercurrent of frustration has to flow somewhere. I’m not a fortune-teller. I don’t know where we’re headed with all this. But we are moving, not standing still, and some of us will be very surprised at where we end up.