The tide of surveys gets worse -- "would you please rate our survey?"

Five years ago, I posted a rant about the excess of customer service surveys we're all being exposed to. You can't do any transaction these days, it seems, without being asked to do a survey on how you liked it. We get so many surveys that we now just reject these requests unless we have some particular problem we want to complain about -- in other words, we're back to what we had with self-selected complaints. The value of surveys is now largely destroyed, and perversely, as the response rates drop and the utility diminishes, that just pushes some companies to push even harder on getting feedback, creating a death spiral.

A great example of this death spiral came a few weeks ago when I rode in an Uber and the driver had a number of problems. So this time I filled out the form to rate the driver and leave comments. Uber's service department is diligent, and actually read it, and wrote me back to ask for more details and suggestions, which I gave.

That was followed up with:

Hi Brad Templeton,

We'd love to hear what you think of our customer service. It will only take a second, we promise. This feedback will allow us to make sure you always receive the best possible customer service experience in future.

If you were satisfied in how we handled your query, simply click this link.

If you weren't satisfied in how we handled your ticket, simply click this link.

A survey on my satisfaction with the survey process! Ok, to give Uber some kudos, I will note:

  • They really did try to make this one simple, just click a link. Though one wonders, had I clicked I was unsatisfied, would there have been more inquiry? Of course I was unsatisfied -- because they sent yet another survey. The service was actually fine.
  • At least they addressed me as "Hi Brad Templeton." That's way better than "Dear Brad" like the computer sending the message pretending it's on a first-name basis with me. Though the correct salutation should be "Dear Customer" to let me know that it is not a personally written message for me. The ability to fill in people's names in form letters stopped being impressive or looking personal in the 1970s.

This survey-on-a-survey is nice and short, but many of the surveys I get are astoundingly long. They must be designed, one imagines, to make sure nobody who values their time ever fully responds.

Why does this happen? Because we've become so thrilled at the ability to get high-volume feedback from customers that people feel it is a primary job function to get that feedback. If that's your job, then you focus on measuring everything you can, without thinking about how the measurement (and over-measurement) affects the market, the customers and the very things you are try to measure. Heisenberg could teach these folks a lesson.

To work, surveys must be done on a small sample of the population, chosen in a manner to eliminate bias. Once chosen, major efforts should be made to assure people who are chosen do complete the surveys, which means you have to be able to truthfully tell them they are part of a small sample. Problem is, nobody is going to believe that when your colleagues are sending a dozen other surveys a day. It's like over-use of antibiotics. All the other doctors are over-prescribing and so they stop working for you, even if you're good.

The only way to stop this is to bring the hammer down from above. People higher up, with a focus on the whole customer experience, must limit the feedback efforts, and marketing professionals need to be taught hard in school and continuing education just why there are only so many they can do.


I think the problem of over-surveying has gotten worse in the past five years, but getting a survey about your satisfaction with a survey is a new one for me. This used to be an industry joke, apparently someone didn't get the humor.

My own experience (which I ranted about last month: ) was getting asked to answer hundreds of irrelevant and sometimes incoherent questions about a very short business trip. Ironically, I was attending a conference of customer experience professionals.

The good news for me professionally is that when these surveys don't deliver useful results, companies like mine are called in to clean up the mess. Customer feedback is an important business process, and there are often consequences for getting it wrong.

Pedantic note: Heisenberg's uncertainty principle is, I recently learned, different from the observer effect, which is what you are talking about.

Very much agree with your rant; I have long ago adopted a policy of saying no to all surveys on principle.

Though they are related enough that even Heisenberg conflated the two at times, and the uncertainty principle has become the poster child for the observer effect.

I stopped submitting to just about all surveys after I bought my first new car. About a week after the purchase I got a survey in the mail, to which I responded with what I thought were good comments and scores. Turns out this was one of those surveys where anything but the top score is a "failing grade". I received calls from both my salesperson and the manager of the dealership, pressuring me to give them all top marks. I don't recall the details anymore, but I did hang up and vow to never waste my time on satisfaction surveys again.

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