the fo­rum

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Deirdre Macken macken.deirdre@gmail.com (no feed­back form re­quired)

Not too long ago, com­pa­nies told you how valu­able you were by keep­ing you wait­ing on the end of the phone for an hour or so. Now they tell you how valu­able you are by ask­ing end­less ques­tions on email. It’s easy to get lured into pro­vid­ing cus­tomer feed­back. It makes you feel im­por­tant. It’s a way of get­ting frus­tra­tions out of your sys­tem that spares the cat’s bum. And there’s al­ways the vague hope that at the end of the 10 pages of ques­tions, a jack­pot will ring and you’ll be off to Europe on an all-ex­penses-paid hol­i­day.

But many of us are get­ting sur­vey fa­tigue. Yes, that’s an ex­pres­sion in mar­ket­ing cir­cles but it’s also how you feel when you get to the sec­ond page of a feed­back form and start think­ing: “This is not about me any more.”

I got to that point when I was half­way through feed­ing back to the maker of a stand­ing desk. The early ques­tions were OK — What made you con­sider buy­ing one? In what en­vi­ron­ment are you us­ing it? — but then they got more per­sonal: What media do you spend time with? Have you no­ticed a change in pro­duc­tiv­ity? How many peo­ple in your of­fice use one?

If you get to the sec­ond page of a feed­back form, chances are you’re be­ing asked to do the com­pany’s mar­ket re­search, pro­vide a per­for­mance rat­ing for cus­tomer staff, re­design a web­site, con­trib­ute a tes­ti­mo­nial to its advertising and, what’s worst, set your­self up for another selling op­por­tu­nity from the com­pany.

Frankly I’d need a big jack­pot to pro­vide all those cor­po­rate ser­vices for free.

But many of us do pro­vide this in­for­ma­tion for free, which is why more com­pa­nies are fol­low­ing cus­tomers around online like a whiny tod­dler ask­ing what you think of them.

If you’re cu­ri­ous why banks, tel­cos, air­lines and stand­ing-desk sup­pli­ers are so keen on feed­back, just browse the literature on sur­vey mar­ket­ing. First, it’s cheap mar­ket in­for­ma­tion. They don’t have to send peo­ple out on the street with clip­boards; they just au­to­mat­i­cally shoot sur­veys back to any­one who in­ter­acts online or on the phone. They get in­for­ma­tion about their staff, sites and sys­tems; they can use the in­for­ma­tion to rev up sales teams or dress them down, and they might get a free tes­ti­mo­nial.

The smarter com­pa­nies com­bine the in­for­ma­tion you give them with the data they have from your online in­ter­ac­tion with them. This will tell them why you stopped buy­ing the air­line ticket at the point where they asked for a char­ity do­na­tion. Or it might ex­plain why you signed up for some­thing but never used it. An­a­lyt­ics, it’s worth a lot more to them than to you.

But cus­tomer com­ments could also be gob­bled up by a data bot and used by the com­pany to sell them some­thing else; or passed on to another com­pany for a sales op­por­tu­nity; or end up in the hands of a law firm that’s lit­i­gat­ing on, say, stand­ing desks and bad backs.

If this sounds out­landish, con­sider the way some com­pa­nies have used feed­back to re­con­struct them­selves. One of the smartest re­ac­tions to poor feed­back was Hoot­suite’s re­sponse to neg­a­tive com­ments on the de­sign of its so­cial media man­age­ment app. It got its tech staff to read out the worst com­ments — “butt ugly”, “very Win­dows 95” and “looks like some­thing my kid slapped to­gether” — and made a YouTube video of it. By the end of the video, Hoot­suite was show­ing off its new de­sign.

It’s time to even the score and start an­swer­ing the ques­tions we’d like to see on sur­veys.

Here’s one. How would you rate the in­ter­est rate you are re­ceiv­ing on this back ac­count — too low, just right or too high? If you an­swered too low, what sort of rate would you like?

Or, how do you rate your online flight book­ing ex­pe­ri­ence? Did the fi­nal amount at the check­out sur­prise you? Would you like to see (1) lower fares, (2) free up­grades or (3) the fare that was orig­i­nally ad­ver­tised?

In the mean­time, I’d like to add one feed­back to the stand­ing-desk com­pany. I bought your desk be­cause I like to stand up when I’m throw­ing brick­bats.

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