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I Can't Get No Satisfaction From Satisfaction Surveys

Fed up with relentless customer questionnaires and calls, our consumer blogger offers her own unsolicited feedback

By Caroline Mayer

As some of you faithful readers may remember, I recently bought a clothes washer. The buying process was aggravating — I discovered all sorts of added fees on top of the advertised price—but the aftermath was even worse. 
Less than 24 hours after the washer was installed, the phone started ringing. The store, the installer and the manufacturer each called to ask me to complete a customer satisfaction survey regarding my purchase. I hadn’t even had time to read the directions and start my first load!
Of course, these calls were automated, which meant I had to follow their scripts, leaving me frustrated that I couldn’t bring up the chief concerns about my experience. For instance, I had to give the store my landline and cell numbers, even though I didn’t want to provide the latter. Guess which number the store and installer called — several times — to set up and confirm my appointment.
Six Surveys For One Car Purchase
Those three surveys were nothing compared to the six I’ve been asked to fill out for the Subaru Impreza wagon I bought six months ago — from the dealer, the manufacturer and consumer-research groups such as J.D. Power and Consumer Reports. Aside from the sheer number of car surveys, here's what got me steamed:
Even before I drove the car off the lot, the salesman begged me to give him a perfect score on the dealer's survey, suggesting his job would be in jeopardy if I did anything less.
The manufacturer's mail-in survey also proved frustrating, asking all sorts of questions about the performance of a car that I had barely driven. Some questions I simply couldn't answer. For example, it was winter, so there was no way I could judge the performance of the air conditioning. 
Quadrupling of Customer Surveys
Almost every place I shop I'm asked to complete a customer satisfaction survey. I bet you are, too. "The number of surveys has probably more than quadrupled" in recent years, estimates Gina Pingitore, chief research officer at J.D. Power and Associates.
When I shop online, the retailer routinely asks if I want to complete a survey about the transaction — even before I make a purchase! I review a healthcare claim at my insurer's Web site and immediately get asked to review the site. As I check out of a store I’m instructed to visit the company’s site and rate my shopping experience. Enough!
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What's Behind the Survey Surplus
I decided to find out what's behind the surplus of surveys and whether filling them out is worthwhile.
I learned there are two big drivers behind these surveys: a marketer's growing eagerness to get return customers and technology.
"Most businesses have finally figured out that it's pretty important to satisfy customers or they won't come back," says Claes Fornell, a professor at the University of Michigan and founder of the American Customer Satisfaction Index, which calls 100,000 people a year to collect rankings on more than 225 companies.

Tech advancements have also made it cheap, easy and quick for a business to collect data on the Internet or through phone interviews.
What's Wrong With the Surveys
Customer service blogger Kimberly Nasief of Louisville, Ky., aka “The Service Witch,” says businesses insult their customers with exhaustive and exhausting surveys. As she notes in one blog post: “We are busy people. We have lots of things going on in our lives, like families, cooking, filling up on gas, working, checking email…Asking me to take 5+ minutes out of my day to tell a brand how they did via phone or web …shows absolutely no respect for my life or me as a customer.”
If you can bear it, watch Nasief's almost painful video of her completing Walmart's online survey (which the retailer warns will take 15 minutes).
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Not only are these surveys ubiquitous and often excrutiating, most are "inept, unfocused and convey the business really is going through the motions," says John Goodman, vice chairman of TARP, a customer-service research firm in Arlington, Va. In many cases, there is no promise of a response, action or improvement.
Adds Fornell: “Sometimes the questions are so dumb and idiotic, it makes me question whether I really want to do business with the company.”
The Revolt Against Customer Surveys
Consumers have begun revolting. Survey analysts say response rates have been falling by one or two percentage points a year. “Back in the '70s and '80s, we were getting a response rate of 30 to 50 percent, sometimes higher,” Pingitore says. Today, “it’s between 17 and 25 percent.”
The drop in response rates, however, means companies are likely to survey consumers even more. That's the only way they'll be able to reach enough customers to get valid results.
How to Respond to Surveys
What should you do when you're asked to complete a customer-service questionnaire or answer a few questions on the phone?
If the survey will take awhile, Goodman says, just answer the questions concerning improvements you'd like to see in the product, the shopping experience or the website.
But if you have a serious concern, email or call the customer-relations department rather than answering the survey. "These types of comments and complaints often get a stronger hearing," says Goodman.
If complaining privately to the company doesn't resolve your problem, try going public on Facebook and Twitter to get action, as Ben Popken recommended in "Six Ways to Get Your Money Back."
Personally, I've become more selective in the surveys I answer.
I now ignore most online surveys from websites (especially if I receive them before making a purchase).

I find myself often hanging up on phone surveys, particularly if they're automated and I hear a few questions that are so poorly crafted they're impossible to answer.

And I'm done filling out car surveys! I'd rather be driving.
Do you have a customer-satisfaction survey horror story? Please share it by posting a comment below or emailing me at [email protected]

Caroline Mayer is a consumer reporter who spent 25 years working for The Washington Post, covering such issues as product safety, scams, and credit cards. Mayer has received several awards, including the Betty Furness Consumer Media Service Award. She has written for Consumer Reports, CBS MoneyWatch, Ladies Home Journal, Kaiser Health News and others. Follow her on Twitter @consumermayer Read More
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