Saturday, June 18, 2011

Survey Says

Lots of people want to know what I think.

Well, maybe not lots. My kids don't really care. My wife asks, but it's just to be polite. And most others I know are only interested if the observation is embarrassing, funny or catty. But that's only because they know me. It's those that don't that are most interested in what I have to say... interested, that is, as long as I have bought their products, can give them money, or agree with their views.

Or that's the takeaway from the number of surveys I've gotten in the past week, at least a dozen by my count. As the cost to run them has gone down, the number has gone up. If you buy anything or sign up for something, your phone number and/or email is likely to make its way to some organization or business which feels no compunction about reaching out and touching you. And yes, that's what got Anthony Weiner into trouble, though it usually doesn't get that far.

The reason is simple. By taking the pulse of their clientele, the hope is to build a relationship and customer loyalty, or to solicit you for a similar product. It's not that this is a new phenomenon.  It's just that this targeted communication is the most effective kind. After all, you've given them your contact info, which is the holy grail of marketing. No bought or trolled lists here: you've practically begged them to come in the front door, put their feet up on the coffee table and tell you about what you are missing.

Take last night. We went to a movie at a local playhouse, and used a discount card that we have that's a perk of our cable company, which also owns the theatre. So this morning, when I turned on my computer and opened up my email, front and center was a survey asking me to rate them on any number of criteria. They wanted to know my thoughts on the friendliness of the staff (they were fine), the cleanliness of the theatre (no real complaints) and the smell of the popcorn (as always it was tempting, but at $37.50 for a medium cup packing 3000 calories, I'll pass).

Similar inquiries came this week from a charity to whom I had given a donation, a vendor in China from which I had bought a two dollar cable for my computer, and even our garbage service after I checked their web site to see if this Friday was mixed recyclables or paper day. Each peppered me with questions as to how the experience was for me, if I would come back, and what they could do better. For the record, my responses were fine, yes and nothing, except to pick up newspapers and bottles on the same day.

The real question is this: do they really care, or are they just seeing if I will respond and am therefore fodder for more approaches? More likely the latter. Studies show that interested and engaged consumers are more likely to be repeat clients. And it saves the trouble of reaching the wrong audience, like the survey I got by phone from what was obviously a conservative group. Generally I don't pick up blind 800 calls, but when it rang all our lines in quick succession, I was curious. The recorded voice said it was a non-partisan public opinion survey, and proceeded to ask if I believed in the sanctity of marriage as defined between one man and one woman. When I said "No," I heard the voice recognition software click and whirr, followed by a quick "Goodbye" and the line went dead. Guess they'll save the dime next time.

It pays to remember that surveys don't always work. In perhaps the most famous example, The Chicago Tribune, relying on responses of voters, printed its famous "Dewey Defeats Truman" headline on election night in 1948, only to wake up and find out how wrong it was. And lest you think that was a long time ago and the science has become foolproof, there were surely surveys supporting the introduction of Edsel, New Coke and the TV series "Cavemen." In the words of Sarah Palin, how's that workin' out for ya?

Still, I guess it's nice to be asked. At least I get the impression someone cares. So in that spirit, let me ask you: Did you find this of interest? Can we do anything to make your day better? And would you recommend us to a friend? But please only write back if you can give me a five out of five... you don't want to hurt my feelings.


Marc Wollin of Bedford responds to 100% of the feedback he gets. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, the Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

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