Saturday, April 30, 2016

Survey Says

In this world of big data every little opinion counts. That's because by itself, your view on the crunchiness of some fried chicken or the squishiness of an airplane seat means almost nothing. But when combined with critiques of other like-minded diners or flyers, smart companies see patterns, and can make small changes that add up to a noticeable difference in their product or service. It's like dumping all that change in your pockets into a jar, and eventually realizing that it adds up to a dinner out. Or as said more succinctly by the late Senator Everett Dirksen, a billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money.

Of course, the currency here isn't dollars, but check marks. The more opinions a company can collect, the more detailed the analysis, and the more targeted the actions they can take. As such, gone are the days when all you are asked to do is to rate a service good or bad. Questionnaires routinely run past five questions, past ten questions, on up to short story and almost novel length. You can either spend the evening doing your taxes, or answer a few questions about your recent experience at Trust me: your taxes will take less time.

That's the experience I had after a recent hotel stay. I had a project that looked to run late and start early, and so found a Holiday Inn Express nearby. It's not that I don't like the Ritz or the Four Seasons. It's just that I'm always conscious of the money being spent, be it mine or the client's. And if the bed is clean and the shower hot, I'm basically good to go.

And the experience didn't disappoint. Not that there was anything spectacular about the property. But they had my room as promised, a nice enough guy at the front desk and a reasonably outfitted fitness center. Most importantly, it was 10 minutes from where I had to be. I checked in late, caught up on some paperwork, and went to bed. The next day I was out the door before 8AM. All in all, for $120, it worked out perfectly.

So when they sent me a questionnaire on my stay, I was happy to fill it out. Ten questions or so, with a ten-point scale from poor to excellent. As a matter of principle, I usually give nines on these things, especially when the question is "Number and location of electrical outlets". Responding "10" implies they were somehow magical, charging my phone from across the room. Not the case.

When I got to the last question and clicked, a "thank you" popped up, with yet another request. If I had some extra time, would I mind answering a few more questions? Since I was just waiting for a train I said yes. And up came a whole new slate of one-to-tens, running from "Not at all important to me" up to "extremely important." But these went deeper. Much, much deeper. They forced me to confront things I don't think I've ever considered. At least in terms of a hotel.

To be fair, there were some directly related to picking a place to crash for the night. "Paying less than similar hotels in the area." A legitimate question. "Has healthy food and beverage choices." Well, OK. "My children will feel welcomed." Our boys are 26 and 29, but I get it. But then it started to get weird. "The simplicity of the hotel makes me feel sensible." Uh, I guess, but a little overreaching. "My choice will help me on my path to success." Are we talking Jungian or Lacanian psycho-babble? "I can escape from everyday life." Hey, all I want is free Wi-Fi! Is that too much to ask?

In a series of commercials for the chain called "Stay Smart," they show regular people doing extraordinary things, giving the reason for their above-average performance as "Well, I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night." It's a good campaign, and their questionnaire might reflect that hype. Speaking for myself, I'm not looking to change the world, just get a good night's sleep. It might not make me capable of performing surgery, but it'll make me tolerable. And truth be told, to some, that might just be extraordinary.


Marc Wollin of Bedford travels a fair bit for business. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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