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Oy Vey, Another Survey

I’m sick of surveys. Whatever I do, someone wants to know how they’ve done.

I step off a plane, and the airline shoots me an email asking how it went. Fine, I guess. I’m still standing. Mission accomplished.

Some old-timers long for the golden days of flight when planes had amenities such as aft cocktail lounges. My air-travel bar is low these days. I want to get from here to there without nose-diving into a Kansas cornfield.

But Delta’s satisfaction survey lacks interrogatories like: “Did the pilot avoid a crash: A. Extremely well? B. Somewhat well? C. Not well at all? Comments?”

I stayed at three hotels on a recent business trip. I knew each would send post-checkout, “How’d-we-do?” emails. And they did.

One hotel manager wrote early on to say an official questionnaire was forthcoming. Meanwhile, she asked how I liked the place. It was a pre-survey survey. She also urged me to take a “peak” at websites of other hotels in the chain.

I enjoyed the stay, mostly. But the exercise room was closed for renovations. No one said anything about that when I booked the room.

So, because she asked, I expressed mild dissatisfaction about the treadmill lockout. I also noted, friendly-like, she undoubtedly meant “peek” not “peak” in urging me to look at sister-hotel websites.

She didn’t reply. Perhaps she’s the one who sealed off the health room. Or maybe she dislikes nitpickers citing spelling errors. But that’s my job as an editor; I can’t help myself. Besides, I thought I was helping so she wouldn’t send out any more flawed form e-letters.

She was right about one thing, though. Her hotel sent the official survey right quick.

Her place offers free Internet, unlike the spot I stayed at next. It charges $12.95 a day for online access. Oddly, most budget hotels offer free WiFi, while many pricey places don’t. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

But I needed Internet access that day, well, every day. So I begrudgingly began the click-click pay-up process. Partway through, a pop-up asked if I’d mind taking a satisfaction survey. On what? How the questionable-fee payment is going thus far?

Auto makers poll car buyers about what they bought and where they bought it. That shows a degree of concern. No question, it’s better than the days when the lemon you purchased was yours to keep, and the manufacturer didn’t really want to hear about your problems.   

But automotive satisfaction surveys are out of hand now. Some dealership salespeople beg customers for A-1 ratings. That skews the scores. So does the dealership sending customers cookies, roses and other mild bribes.

Some dealers do preemptive strikes, sending their own surveys before the auto makers launch theirs. That lets dealers resolve potential issues before car companies start asking questions. In a way, it’s a smart dealer strategy. Then again, it’s another survey.

Within reason, surveys serve a purpose. They give consumers a chance to express themselves. Their feedback lets businesses know what they are doing right and wrong, so they can act accordingly. But that noble goal can get buried under a pile of questions.

I attended a conference where a presenter pitched an online questionnaire service touted as helping dealers sell more cars. He said the psychology-based approach allows subscribing dealers to get into the minds of customers. That way, salespeople will know which buttons to push or not push.

But the survey, after starting out with an initial webpage of six questions, ultimately poses 40 of them. How do you get people to answer that many? A chance to win an iPad and similar inducements helps, the presenter says.

One wonders if you don’t end up getting completed surveys from a particular subgroup of people, ones who like answering questions and entering contests. I’d say yes you do, but no one asked me about that. 

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