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Bill Kalmar

Health Care

Oh No! Not Another Column About Surveys

I'd love to take your survey... what do I get?

Published: Monday, October 12, 2009 - 07:53

Regular readers of my column know that I abhor surveys that don’t provide some type of incentive or discount on a future purchase for completing the survey. I realize that I may have discussed this subject ad nauseam, but have you noticed that every store, restaurant, gas station, doctor’s office, car wash, and video store have jumped on the survey bandwagon?

As the former director of the Michigan Quality Council from 1993 through 2003, I understand the value of surveys. During those years, we encouraged organizations to conduct surveys to gather information on the needs, wants, and expectations of their customers. We provided feedback reports to various organizations in the state about their level of quality and customer service and then we solicited their feedback on the value of our reports. So as you can see, I understand the value of surveys.

But it seems we have reached a point in our culture where surveys are almost out of control. Every receipt we receive now comes with a survey. And if your receipt does not contain a survey, more than likely you will receive a phone call from the merchant.

Here is an example of just how absurd surveys have become. Just the other day we received an e-mail from CVS, the drug store, surveying us about our recent flu shots. That seems a bit of a stretch. Among the survey questions were those about the courtesy extended to us by the nurses. But what could we possibly say about a flu shot that would make the experience better for others in the future? She was sticking a needle in my arm. What am I supposed to say? How about “it didn’t hurt” or “we enjoyed the band aid with a picture of Tweety Bird.

Many establishments tempt us to complete the survey by stating on the receipt that if we complete the questions, we will be entered into a drawing for cash, anywhere from $100 to $1,000, and as a further inducement, we are told that drawings are held every day. My take on this? Bogus! I have yet to revisit an establishment where I have completed a survey and found a list of winners. And most employees of these establishments have never heard of anyone winning either. This has more to do with marketing and good public relations than it does with using my brilliant insights to help them improve service quality. I think what they are aiming for is a kind of placebo effect: If I take a survey I will feel better about you because I think you value my opinion... even if you ignore everything I've told you.

If you want me to feel good about your company, give me something in exchange for taking the survey (that you are probably going to ignore). The only surveys that I complete are those that offer me instant gratification, such as $5 off on my next purchase or a free beverage of my choice at a coffee shop. Kohl’s Department Store always hands out surveys with no offers. Evidently store management feels that out of the goodness of our hearts we will complete the survey with no offer of a prize or a discount on our next purchase. And every time a clerk at Kohl’s hands me a receipt along with the survey I hand it back and inform them of my stance on surveys. It’s my way of securing a minor victory for myself and it makes me feel exuberant. Is that too strong a word? No. At my age, small victories are priceless. If they want my thoughts on their service and their store, I want some payback.

Today we dined at Uno’s Chicago Grill, which has locations in more than 20 states, most in the Midwest and Northeast United States. I would like to think that the management read one of my rants on surveys, but that would be too presumptuous. In any event, the receipt provided a web site for a survey. The incentive was a $5 coupon for a future purchase at the restaurant. Now that’s a survey I can participate in and will. They have the best deep-dish pizza in the state as far as I am concerned.

So there you have it. If you want my opinion on something give me a decaf vanilla latte from Starbucks and I will complete your survey and wax eloquently about your company. And, message to Kohl’s: providing free survey responses without getting something in return does not induce me to complete your survey.  And message readers: the next time you frequent a store and you are handed a survey without an incentive, respond by saying: “I respectively decline to answer your survey until Bill Kalmar receives his decaf vanilla latte.” I will keep you apprised of developments.

And here’s my vow to you: if in the next year I discuss surveys again, I will provide each of you with a survey to ascertain your thoughts on surveys. I will probably ignore them, but I will have a drawing for an Uno’s Deep Dish Pizza.


About The Author

Bill Kalmar’s picture

Bill Kalmar

William J. Kalmar has extensive business experience, including service with a Fortune 500 bank and the Michigan Quality Council, of which he served as director from 1993 through 2003. He served on the Board of Overseers of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program and has been a Baldrige examiner. He was also named quality professional of the year by the ASQ Detroit chapter. Now semiretired, Kalmar does freelance writing for several publications. He is a member of the USA Today Vacation Panel, a mystery shopper for several companies, and a frequent presenter and lecturer.


Another thing that might induce me to complete a survey

Right on, Bill. I too feel inundated these days with "Tell us how we're doing" surveys and the like. But I have yet to see any accompanying text that tells me what they will do with the information I give them. So why should I toss my valuable opinions into a black hole?
Now, supposing I saw something like this on my next receipt:
"Please complete these questions and give us a suggestion on how we can improve. Your suggestion will be posted on our website (http://www.neverneverland.com) and will be answered personally by one of our managers with the authority to do something about it, not some $7.25 per hour clueless customer service rep. In addition, we have posted a chart that tracks and trends the previous 12 months of customer service data, and since our executive bonuses are tied to customer satisfaction, you can be sure we're very interested in providing you the best possible experience when you visit us."
That would give me a lot more incentive to invest my time. (A coupon would be nice, too.)


Working On Your Decaf Vanilla Latte

I'll make sure to offer you a decaf vanilla latte if I ever get the urge to conduct a survey...in the mean time I'll keep responding to store/restaurant employees that approach me about surveys that I've been instructed to not participate until Bill gets his decaf vanilla latte!

Sandra Gauvin