Business
12:02 am
Tue March 11, 2014

Customer Surveys Are Here To Stay. Suggestions For Improvement?

Originally published on Tue March 11, 2014 1:58 pm

Call the cable company, and an automated voice wants to ask you about the experience. Buy a taco at a fast-food chain, and the receipt says there's a chance to win $500 if you answer a few questions.

Customer surveys seem to be everywhere — something Judith Martin addressed in her Miss Manners column in January: "They are violating the first rule of business: Don't annoy the customer."

"It is a little bit like having someone around whom you may really like, but the person says, 'Do you really like me? Do you like me? Are you sure you like me? Really? Do you like me?' " Martin says. "And after a while you want to say, 'No! Go away!' "

But sometimes even customers who prefer to click "no" will choose "yes" if something is important to them.

You can count Heather Williams of Penfield, N.Y., in this crowd. Williams says ordinarily she does not respond to surveys because she doesn't think companies are really listening to her. But her daughter recently applied to Brigham Young University through the school's website, and they received a survey request through email afterward.

"It was nice to have someone ask my opinion on the process, which can be very daunting," Williams says. "And I will admit, it was nice to be able to get a free sweatshirt."

Businesses have a powerful incentive to keep the customer surveys popping up. While demographic and purchase data tell a company who, what, when and where, surveys can tell a business "why" — and that's valuable information.

"You're always going to want to understand the consumer psychology: why are people doing what they're doing," says Eric Bradlow, professor of marketing, statistics and education at the Wharton School.

He says surveys, especially those delivered electronically, also help companies identify mistakes quickly so they can correct them. A survey could help a business identify a defect in a new product or a particular cashier who is rude.

They can even be a form of advertising because of a psychological phenomenon called the mere-measurement effect. "If I ask you, 'When's the last time you bought a taco at Taco Bell?'... you're more likely to buy a taco at Taco Bell after asking you the survey," Bradlow says.

And for all of these potential benefits, surveys are relatively cheap. The Internet makes getting a survey to customers as simple as a pop-up when you visit a company's website, and essentially, firms are putting their customers to work gathering information that could help the company's bottom line.

So even if the surveys are annoying enough to actually turn customers away, they may be worth the risk, Bradlow says.

The solution he suggests? More data. If someone always click "no" on survey requests, a business could measure that and stop asking.

Now that you know why there are so many surveys out there these days, we want to know whether you found this story informative. Would you mind filling out a survey?

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Seems like it's hard to avoid customer surveys; they're everywhere these days. Call the cable company and this automated voice wants you to talk about the experience. Buy a taco at a fast-food chain and on the receipt - a chance to win 500 bucks if you answer a few questions.

NPR's Jeff Brady takes a look at why surveys are popping up everywhere.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: One reason is because surveys are easier to deliver now. The Internet makes getting a survey to you as simple as a pop-up when you visit a company's website. And the information a business can get from a survey is valuable. While demographic and purchase data tell a company who, what when and where, surveys tell a business why.

ERIC BRADLOW: You're always going to want to understand the consumer psychology, why are people doing what they're doing?

BRADY: Eric Bradlow is a professor of marketing and statistics at The Wharton School. He says surveys - especially ones delivered electronically - also help companies identify mistakes quickly so they can correct them, say a defect in a new product or a particular cashier who is rude. And surveys can be a form of advertising. Bradlow says there's something called the mere measurement effect.

BRADLOW: If I ask you when's the last time you bought a taco at Taco Bell, let's say, you're more likely to buy a taco at Taco Bell after asking you the survey.

BRADY: And here's another thing businesses like about surveys - they're relatively cheap. Essentially, they're putting their customers to work, gathering information that they hope will boost profits. But what happens when the surveys become annoying?

Judith Martin recently addressed the proliferation of surveys in her "Miss Manners" column.

JUDITH MARTIN: It is a little bit like having someone around, whom you may really like but the person says, do you really like me? Do you like me? Are you sure you like me? Really? Do you like me? And after a while you want to say, no. Go away.

(LAUGHTER)

BRADY: Eric Bradlow at Wharton says that's a risk and something companies have to look out for. The solution? More data.

BRADLOW: There's a time at which you could get negative backlash. And that's exactly, through better data collection, that firms are able to measure today. Is it the fifth time? The sixth time? The seventh time? Does it differ by Jeff Brady versus Eric Bradlow?

BRADY: He says if I always click no on survey requests, that's something a business can measure and perhaps they'll stop asking me. But sometimes even those of us who prefer to click no will choose yes if something is important to us.

HEATHER WILLIAMS: Hi, my name is Heather Williams. I live in Penfield, New York, which is right outside of Rochester, New York.

BRADY: Williams says ordinarily she does not respond to surveys because she doesn't think companies are really listening to her. But recently, her daughter applied to Brigham Young University through the school's website. Afterward Williams received a survey request through email.

WILLIAMS: It was nice to have someone ask my opinion on the process, which can be very daunting. And, I will admit, it was nice to be able to get a free sweatshirt.

(LAUGHTER)

BRADY: Williams says she delivered praise for the online application process but also suggested the school offer more detailed information about the cost of attending BYU. In case you were wondering, yes, her daughter was accepted.

So, now we know a little more about why there are so many surveys out there these days. I'm wondering, did you find this story informative? Would you mind filling out a survey? Seriously. We have one up on npr.org.

Jeff Brady, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.