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American Pie: What Do You Think? - Surveys And Ratings

John Merchant has had his fill of survey requests to rate goods and services.,

As my readers will know, I’m often puzzled by certain aspects of contemporary life. Being of a questioning nature, eventually I usually find an explanation that satisfies at least my own sense of rationality. The current onslaught of survey requests and invitations to rate something or other, however, has me beat.

My Internet and Cable TV Provider takes the biscuit. Seconds after putting the phone down after making a call to resolve some problem, large or small, the phone rings and I’m asked a score of irrelevant, automated questions about “My Experience.” Since it’s often impossible to speak to a human being at this company, the task of responding appropriately is made much more difficult.

The other day I had called because I was unable to access some of my TV channels. Three times I was walked through their automated trouble shooting menu, and when that failed to resolve the problem, the female HAL (See 2001 Odyssey) said I would be transferred to a customer service technician. Three times the line went dead, and three times I received the survey call seconds later.

The survey questions included such queries as “Was the problem solved to your satisfaction?” Since the survey is automated, and all you are allowed to do is rate each question by pressing buttons on your phone, it’s kinda hard to express all the anger and frustration you feel, and I have yet to find on my phone pad the expletives I want to use.

One such experience is bad enough, but when it’s repeated three times in an hour, you’re in heart attack mode. To make matters worse, in the pauses during the call, you’re assailed by more, velvety, automated voices telling you how valuable you are as a customer and how the company is working hard to make you happy. They’ve got a long way to go.

When I take my car in for servicing, almost immediately the visit is followed by an email asking me to rate the experience. For each question I’m offered a selection of responses to click on: “Completely Unsatisfactory” at one end of the spectrum, and “Excellent” at the other. The questions are mundane: “Was the technician polite?” “Did he completely understand your needs?”

Well, this last time the technician was polite, on time, and seemed to understand my needs. The service was completed to my satisfaction, and my car was waxed and vacuumed, as is their policy. But clicking on “Excellent” hardly seemed appropriate to any of the questions, and none of the other ratings comfortably fit my feelings. How could being on time, or completing the service to my satisfaction be considered excellent? Isn’t that what they’re supposed to do?

There was a category “Average” which seemed closer, but the average of what – all my experiences with this company, or with every company that has serviced all my cars? Trying to be fair was making my brain hurt. My antipathy towards such questionnaires is only increased by the knowledge that they come, not from the car company, but from some survey sub-contractor.

Surveys are one thing, but Product Ratings are a whole other world to wonder at. Recently, before buying anything of significant cost I have been checking buyers’ ratings, and then wondering why. What do you make of 10 devastating ratings and one glowing one for the same product? The commentators aren’t mincing their words either.

“This product should never have left the factory!” “This manufacturer clearly has problems!” etc, etc. Then, “Great product! Does everything they claim and more. A breeze to install and operate.” Is this guy living in the same world as the others?

If one’s faith in the reviewer’s critical thinking ability could be any more shaken, the abysmal illiteracy that characterizes many of the reviewers will do the trick. Here they are, purchasing technologically complex equipment, and hardly able to string a phrase together properly, let alone a paragraph; or to spell a simple word correctly.

At the end of the day, I guess I’m puzzled as to why the manufacturers feel that ratings and surveys are necessary. Some manufacturers offer fairly significant incentives to complete them, though I have yet to hear of anyone actually receiving a reward.

Rubbing salt into the wound, some offer big money prizes for completing the survey that are hard to ignore. But then you find that the survey is just the beginning, with several other surveys piggy backed on to it. I have yet to have enough time and patience to reach the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, if indeed there is one.

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