When ques­tion­naires be­come a schlep

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

Many and great are the pluses of liv­ing in our time.

Take the mind-blow­ing mir­a­cle that for most of my life was unimag­in­able and is now mother’s milk to ever-grow­ing mil­lions – walk­ing Earth with all its knowl­edge in one pocket and all its lit­er­a­ture in another.

Take the deeper truth that (de­spite hor­ri­ble jagged ex­cep­tions) a con­stantly higher pro­por­tion of the planet lives in re­spect and ac­cep­tance from and for other peo­ple. Take trans­port, entertainment, medicine, com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Take ac­cess. Damn, we’re priv­i­leged! But things are sent to try us. I think I see an up­com­ing ma­jor pub­lic en­emy: re­sponse ques­tion­naires.

This week I had four – Net­care, Telkom and two Ubers.

Part of Uber’s beauty is no tip­ping – no ag­o­nis­ing over how much is due, no wal­let-scour­ing, money-han­dling, oopssorry-haven’t-got-change.

But you must rate your driver, know­ing that less than a five is a stab in the heart. He was okay, and pleas­ant, so you over­look things.

While Mandla didn’t break the speedlimit, it was against his re­li­gion to ever go be­low it, traf­fic and bends re­gard­less. John, con­versely, thought he was in a fu­neral pro­ces­sion.

You en­ter 5, feel­ing un­com­fort­ably over-char­i­ta­ble. Uber in­stantly sup­plies sev­eral com­pli­men­tary ep­i­thets that you “might want” to give the driver. No, Uber, too much. Please go away. Next is Net­care’s ques­tion­naire, say­ing it’ll take less than five min­utes. Who can be­grudge five min­utes? It opens op­ti­misti­cally upon two sim­ple ques­tions. Work of a mo­ment.

But then Next Page is called for, and another Next Page and another. By around Page 5 or 6 that go-away feel­ing is strongly in mind.

As is “what?” Ex­am­ple: Net­care wants to know how fre­quently its staff ad­min­is­tered medicines ex­cel­lently. Did they do that Never, Some­times, Usu­ally, or Al­ways? If one medicine was ad­min­is­tered, all an­swers feel stupid. If no medicine was ad­min­is­tered, all an­swers are ab­surd.

To avoid ab­sur­dity you give no an­swer. Your screen shouts at you in red let­ters and pro­hibits you from mov­ing on.

Then to Telkom, who speak to us by SMS.

To some of us, SMS is for friends and family – “I’m wait­ing at the mall”, “Don’t for­get the onions”.

We don’t re­ally want the plumber’s ad­ver­tise­ment vi­brat­ing in our pocket. Nor do we want Telkom’s ques­tion­naire. Though we ad­mit, to be fair, that there’s an up­side. SMS gives us con­trol of our re­ply, and gives us a copy of our re­ply. The web­sites mainly give us boxes to tick, and they eat what we’ve said – ban­ish­ing it from us when we press Sub­mit.

Telkom has fixed my wi-fi, and want to know how well they did it. On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely am I to rec­om­mend them to friends or family. (Hmm, the very peo­ple whose chan­nel they’re gate­crash­ing.)

Strictly, this is also unan­swer­able. It’s their wi-fi that they fixed, I can’t tell Aunty Elsie to call Vo­da­com. But the spirit of the ques­tion is legit: Did their peo­ple get things right?

The an­swer has a thou­sand parts. The orig­i­nal de­tec­tive, Sipho, scored 100% on all fronts. The long sub­se­quent router con­fig­ur­ing in their shop – some­thing called my TIN num­ber, yes, with a T, had ev­i­dently caught a freak dis­ease – was a kalei­do­scope of ex­pe­ri­ences rang­ing from the ex­tremely im­pres­sive to the dis­tinctly off-putting. How do you com­press that into one nu­meral?

I bat­tle with that, as­sess­ing and re­cal­cu­lat­ing. Fi­nally, I make it 8.

Telkom texts a quick ri­poste: “What is your main rea­son for your rat­ing of 8?”

Ag man, no man, Telkom man. The job was okay. The cross-ex­am­i­na­tion brings us right back to that go-away feel­ing.

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