Customer Surveys: Are You Joking?

It’s a fact: marketing agency life = road warriordom. No worries. Got it down. Eyes closed. Tumi zipped.

But as an inveterate observer of my life while simultaneously living it, I’m fascinated by the alienating misuse of customer surveys in the hospitality industry that is so much a part of this daily battle.

Screaming kids on air planes? NP; Noise cancelling headphones. First time airport security line explorers? (“Oh, I didn’t realize when I was getting dressed this morning I’d have to take it all off at the airport!" Where have you been since 9/11 Sparky?) NP; frequent flyer status fast lane. Etc. Still there’s lots of little annoyances, but of all the frustrating aspects of road warriordom, the single most ridiculous one – in a near violently heavy competition for this honor – is the over use of the customer service survey.

As a marketing guy, I’m hot for customer data like Lohan is for self-destruction. But I’m just as big on brand experience. And for the life of me, I can’t figure out how it is that brands that in many other ways at least profess to care about customer experience, fail to understand that asking people to fill out a survey is part of the brand experience itself. And since brand experience is all about the value of the interaction, I am equally amazed at the lack of attention to the timing, construct, and most of all, the quality of intention behind this practice in far too many cases.

On the road you literally can’t turn around without being offered the chance to participate in some kind of customer service survey. If you’re not careful, instead of actually getting work done, you could spend all your time filling out the damn happy sheets.

How does this color the brand experience? Example: I walk into the hotel room and all the wires to the nightstand lamp and clock are sitting on the floor in front of the furniture, ripped from the wall in a spaghetti mess instead of neatly snugged into their sockets, effectively disabling two of the most critical functions of the room. I crawl on my hands and knees to sort it all out. The need to do this already puts this particular brand on the edge of the brand damage zone, as if standing precariously on one foot in the open doorway of a single engine plane with a freshly packed chute strapped to its back and the wind increasingly threatening the resolve to hold on.

Then I find that the nearest outlets have no power. We’ve now slipped out of the doorway of the plane and into a full on brand damage free fall. And then the dreaded call to the “customer service/service-in-a-flash/service-first, service-with-a smile/pleased-to-serve-you/service whatever, phone line”. I punch up the speakerphone button as if pulling the rip chord to stop the fall. It doesn’t work. We’re now headed for a double chute malfunction in which the brand plants itself face first into the unforgiving expectations that come with a room rate well past the couple hundred-dollar mark. So I pick up the desk phone handset, asking the disembodied voice for help, only to hear a cheerful promise of a quick resolution. It never comes. Splat!

And then on the way out the next morning, a “won’t you take a few minutes to fill out our customer survey and gain the chance to win a free night” offer? No thanks Sparky. If a few minutes were enough to explain how incredibly bad the service is and how little I want a free night in this Bermuda Triangle of bad brand experience, I just might do it. But when I realize that the intention behind this particular use of a customer service survey is to substitute true brand management (like paying the housekeeping department based on how many rooms are in perfect condition when guests move in) for a feigned interest in my experience, I’d rather, and quite happily, watch your brand splatter into the Rothko like Rorschach brain blot that so indelibly impresses on my subconscious that the next time my assistant says “I’ve booked you into X hotel,” I remember to tell her to call the travel desk and suggest they never book anyone into that brand.

Why? I never stay at hotels that ask me to work harder than they do at maintaining their brand experience quotient. Customer survey? Are you joking?

1 comment:

  1. oooo you've got me riled up here. I had a similar experience at a brand new 5 star hotel in Vegas recently. My check in experience was really bad and really unnecessary. When I mentioned it to a "host" who could see how unhappy I was, he told me there was nothing he could do about it and if I wanted to I could fill out a survey. Are you kidding me?
    I said no thanks, I realized it wasn't his fault but he might want to pass on my feedback to someone who could do something about it. He assured me nothing would in fact be done to fix their system.