Monday, May 09, 2016

I can’t get no satisfaction survey

The other day, I saw an article on a restaurant owner who’s going after Trip Advisor, trying to get the company to take his restaurant off of their advice forum. He’s not doing so because his place is getting bad reviews – it’s pretty much a 5-star venue. He just doesn’t want to have to pay attention to what someone might be saying on Trip Advisor, which he finds a drag on his time. I wish him well in his quest, but it seems unlikely that, even if he can get himself removed from Trip Advisor, he’ll be able to stop people from yapping about him online. Keeping up with what’s being said on social media is pretty much part of the cost of doing business these days. And if it weren’t Trip Advisor, it would be Tweeters doing 140 character reviews  - or character assassinations. Someone wants to rant, someone’s going to rant. Admittedly, it’s easier for the consumer to find all the reviews in one consolidated place. And I’m sure ranters (and more benevolent reviewers) like the fact that they get a big audience on Trip Advisor. But it’s also easier for the restaurant, hotel, or roadside attraction being reviewed to have one place to go and see what’s up with vox populi, and counter things (or apologize) if they have to.

Me, I take those ratings with something of a grain of salt. I’ve seen places I go to regularly (i.e., places I consider pretty good) get trashed. Sometimes people have a bad experience. Sometimes people are just plain nasty and snotty. But if I read a review that says a hotel has bed bugs, or that someone found a rat foot floating in their bisque, well, I would take the review quite heartily to heart.

There are also, of course, Trip Advisor-style review sites for physicians. When my husband was ill, I looked at those to see what was being said by his MD’s. Jim’s surgeon got the great reviews I would have expected. He was just phenomenal, and kept up with us well after he had any active involvement in Jim’s care, dropping in to Five stars, all the way.

On the other hand, the reviews for Jim’s first oncologist were mixed. Although we recognized that he was a bit on the eccentric side, not to mention disorganized, we very much liked and trusted this guy. Some folks, however, had a poor experience with him. One of the reviews was written by a completely distraught woman whose husband had just died. She sounded totally unhinged. Did I trust the terrible things she said about the doctor? Not in the least.

My bottom line with respect to online reviews is, as I’d said, grain of salt. (Or in the case of physician reviews, take two grains of salt and call me in the morning.)

In the opposite corner, there are customer surveys, where an organization solicits its customers for their feedback. These have gotten entirely out of hand. I’m sure I’ve gone decades during m life without being asked to fill out a survey on my experience. Now, it seems, after pretty much every transaction, someone wants to know your opinion.

Just how much of the big data being culled from all these surveys is actually useful? How much of it really helps anyone actually figure out how they can get better at what they do, whether it’s making an omelet or figuring out the chemo regimen? 

I like Open Table. It’s quite convenient when it comes to making restaurant reservations. But I really don’t want to answer the post-meal survey that inevitably gets shot off via email before I’ve even had the chance to put the doggy bag in the fridge, thank you.

Sometimes a restaurant will hand you a survey at the end of your meal. Mostly I fill these out, mostly because I suspect there’s some pressure on the servers to get people to fill them out. But what good do they really do? If I have a complaint, I’ll either say something to the waiter or the floor manager. Or just go home and grumble about it.

Those restaurant surveys are one thing. There are also the doctors and hospitals who want our opinion after each and every appointment. These I really can’t stand. I really like my primary care physician. She’s just great. But after every visit, I get some follow up survey from the practice she’s part of. (Remind me on my next visit to ask Erica whether she cares one way or another about these surveys.)

The annual visit surveys are a minor irritant. Each time my husband was hospitalized during his long final illness – or so it seemed - we got a phone call from some place in Ohio doing a quality survey. All well and good. I’m quite happy that MGH wants to get better. But, frankly we felt hounded. I think that Jim answered one survey, and found it rather formulaic. (On a scale of one to ten…) This is the same thing I’ve found with the ones I get after a PCP appointment. Mostly, we would have been interested in giving qualitative. open-ended feedback. And yes, there’s always some sort of open-ended question at the tail end of a survey, but I always wonder whether anyone does more than glance at them. After all, it’s harder (but not impossible) to turn those word answers into data points. Asking questions that have real answers is just not the quantitative approach that our metric-mad world demands.

Nothing wrong with wanting to see the numbers.One of my concentrations in B-school was quantitative marketing.But as a marketer, I think there’s a lot of gold in the hills of the qualitative stuff.

Anyway, I was interested in an article I recently saw on Bloomberg that named names with respect to who might be responsible for all this “survey says” pressure: 

Fourteen years ago, an executive at Bain & Co had a suggestion  create a short consumer survey to test brand loyalty. The idea took off, so much so that the executive, Fred Reichheld, has watched it morph into a Frankenstein: the endless loop of “brief” satisfaction surveys following a dental appointment, car rental or salad at a corner restaurant.

Not only are the requests inescapable, but employees increasingly pressure, even bribe, customers to offer only the highest marks, raising real questions about the results.

Reichheld came face to face with the monster he unwittingly helped spawn when he recently entered a hotel lobby where a sign read, “If there’s any reason you can’t give us a 10, stop by the front desk. We’ll make it worth your while.” (Source: Bloomberg)

Depending on how worth your while they make it, might this not tempt some folks to head to the front desk and see what they’d get in return for a 7, a 3, a 1?

But I do like the idea of making it worth your while to take a survey – especially the long ones. I wouldn’t be looking for any freebies from the medical world – free blood sample draw? But if Open Table offered me a little something or other to fill out their surveys, I might be inclined to answer one.

Meanwhile, if you’re suffering from survey fatigue, and looking for someone to blame, Fred Reichheld would be a good place to start.

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