Friday, November 12, 2010

Still Life with Robin: No More Marketing Surveys!

by Peggy Robin

It’s been two days since I took my car in for its regular maintenance appointment. Sometime in the next few days I am certain to get a call from the marketing survey firm that does follow-ups on “customer satisfaction” for the car repair place. This happens every time I take the car in: A few days pass and then I get a phone call from a representative of an independent survey company who wants to read off five to ten minutes' worth of  generic questions about “my recent experience” with the service at the shop. In the past I have always agreed to this kind of interview. And then I have found myself stuck on the phone for what seems like an eon as the representative reads tonelessly from an inflexible script asking me to rate various components of that “experience” on a “one to five scale with one being the lowest and five being the highest.”

I have come to the realization that the questions are seldom if ever about anything important to me as a customer. The emphasis is always on how polite and friendly the staff members are, never about how efficient or competent they may be. There’s nothing about cost or value, either. There are numerous questions about how clean and comfortable the customer waiting lounge is. (Not applicable, as I prefer to drop the car off, or if I decide to wait for the car, I will take a walk to a nearby diner.) Then there is always that question about whether my service advisor offered to give me back any worn parts removed from the car. Yes, they always offer that, but so what? What on earth could I possibly get out of taking back my corroded old car parts? I wouldn’t recognize a defective thing-dingy from the engine of my car if it spoke to me in plain English and said, “Hey Peggy, I’m totally broken, so they had no choice but to replace me.”

The last time I did one of these phone surveys, I interrupted the spiel to say honestly that the questions did not cover any of the things that I felt were important to me. That’s when the survey agent, departing very reluctantly from the script, let slip the real reason for these surveys, which has nothing to do with ways to improve the customer’s experience. The reason it’s important to car repair places to do these surveys is so that the car repair places can then claim a high level of customer satisfaction. At least that's what I took away from the agent's answers, somewhat reading between the lines, I have to add.  But that would explain why the survey questions are always so loaded toward the things that can easily earn the car repair place a high score. Sure, the customer service lounge gets a five for cleanliness, and I would never give the service desk people anything less than a five for politeness. They never neglect to call me ma’am … as they tell me the price of the repair will be two or three times what I was prepared to pay.

So here’s what I’m going to say when I pick up the phone either later today or tomorrow and hear the survey rep start in on the script. Me: “First, let me explain to you my new customer policy. I will be very glad to answer all these questions honestly so that the company can use of my information to show high levels of customer satisfaction in its ads and promotional materials -- but only if I am fairly compensated for my time. I’ve participated in focus groups before and have been paid $75 for 90 minutes of participation and opinion, which works out to 83 cents per minute. So if I’m on the phone with you for ten minutes, you’ll need to send me a check for $8.30 -- is that a deal?” When they say no deal, I will say, “I’m sorry but that is the policy – I’m not authorized to deviate from it” …and then I will hang up.

If this strategy works (and I am confident that it will), my next move will be to use it again when solicited for other types of marketing surveys. After a hotel stay, for example, I usually receive an email with a link to a long, detailed questionnaire. I’m going to hit reply to the email and submit my price for completing the survey. I think that might give me a fifty-fifty shot at getting my email address removed from the hotel’s automatic send-a-survey list. From time to time I get calls from market research companies completely out of the blue, not as a follow-up to any business transaction I may have had. I’ve been called to answer questions about banks, about magazines, about brands of breakfast cereal. Now I’ll name my price and see if anyone at these telephone survey call centers is willing to pay up. I suspect they’ll just hang up on me. Which will save me from having to hang up on them. But I’m not sure about that. Let me do a follow-up on this later, and I’ll tell you how it works out, on a scale of one to five, with one being the least satisfactory and five being the most satisfactory…”


  1. Peggy Robin, you are brillaint!

  2. brilliant, sorry spelling error

  3. I, too, am sick of marketing surveys that don't compensate, and all other opinionated surveys that are pluses for the corporation but no compensation to the one being asked questions.

    Like you, now I just say, "Will I be compensated for my time?" and usually just get a shocked couple of seconds with no reply. Then I hang up.

    It's good to get our message across. No more freebies for the corps, they don't give us any!
    Let's start a marketing survey revolution!! :)