I recently shopped for paint at one of the mega-hardware stores. Enough to cover a plank for a gate falling off the hinges. A pint would do it.
While the clerk mixed the paint, I noticed a sign taped to the plexiglass. You know, the plexiglass barriers now standard in most retail stores. They help protect the workers from COVID.
The sign asked you to take a survey about your experience. On your phone, I think. You could win $500.
The sign added: If your shopping experience wasn’t a 10, see the management.
Nothing less than a 10? That’s a pretty high bar.
What if my experience was a mere eight or nine? Would I get a refund? Would the paint-mixing clerk lose her employee-of-the-month parking? Would they put the work gloves out where I could find them?
I passed on the survey.
But there’ll be others. There’s no escaping them. They’re known as feedback surveys and they’re everywhere. Wherever you shop. Whenever you visit a doctor or a veterinarian. Interact with government, all the way up to Amtrak.
I know about interacting with Amtrak. I interacted with Amtrak reservation agents a half-dozen times last year.
Every call began with a recording. Would I stay on the line, at the end of the call, for a survey about my experience?
OK, let’s see. The coronavirus kept pushing back my travel plans. I would book a trip, then cancel, rebook, then cancel again. The calls would often run a half-hour, poring over timetables and connections. I began to get the sense I couldn’t get there from here, especially after cuts to train service.
I never waited on the line for a survey. Why torture myself? I’m sure some people took it. Amtrak probably got an earful.
Last February, I had a colonoscopy. A day or two afterward, the doctor’s practice sent me a text. Would I take a survey of my experience? I didn’t really have anything to offer. I don’t recall my experience. That’s the beauty of anesthesia.
It wasn’t just the doctor’s practice. The surgery center also wanted me to rate my experience.
What would they ask? “On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the pillows?”
Answer: “A nine. Could be fluffier. No chocolate.”
A week or so later, I visited the dermatologist. It was an annual screening. Afterward, the practice messaged me. Would I take a survey?
Not much to say. The doctor gave me the once over and said I was good to go. I asked him about the rough spot above my forehead. He said it was just age.
“So I have barnacles,” I said. He kind of laughed. Feigning amusement at a lame joke. I’d give him a 10 for that. I didn’t take the survey, though. Enough is enough.
Professor Anne Karpf wrote about feedback surveys for The Guardian newspaper. Karpf is a British sociologist. Feedback surveys follow you everywhere you shop, she said.
It wasn’t a recent discovery on her part. The article ran in 2016.
She recalled standing at a supermarket checkout line. The cashier handed her a card. It read: “How did we do today?”
Now the question shows up on cash-register receipts.
Karpf wrote about emails piling up. Every time she shopped, she was asked: “How was your visit?”
She didn’t answer. Who has time?
A single survey can run 15 minutes. Responding to all of them would add up to a full-time job, without pay, she said.
Karpf did answer one question. Why all the surveys? Because, companies say, they’re used to improve customer service.
Like Amtrak is going to take my advice.
Feedback surveys, Karpf said, go back to the Second World War, when the German military asked how they were doing. Maybe they recorded your responses for quality purposes.
Anything less than a 10, you were probably shot.
Anyway, the feedback survey seeds were planted. University of Michigan researchers, Karpf writes, designed surveys in the 1940s and ‘50s “to help create less authoritarian styles of leadership.” Sounds ironic.
But it got me thinking. I could use a bit of feedback myself. I tend to think everything I do rates somewhere between a five and a seven. Maybe I’m better than that. I turned to Maggie, my dog.
“How am I doing with — WALKIES, WALKIES, Maggie!” Her feedback was amazing. Running around the house. Vigorous tail wagging. Excited barking. A definite 10.
Survey question No. 2. “Maggie, treats, Maggie! How am I doing with TREATS!” Another 10.
This after I arrived home from an errand: “Maggie, on a scale of one to 10, are you really glad to see me? You are? What a GOOD GIRL!” Another 10.
Thank goodness, perfect 10s. Maggie won’t report me to the management, AKA the wife. She offers a lot of feedback. I don’t even have to ask for it.