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Why do purchases and customer feedback requests go hand in glove?

Opinion

You can barely buy anything these days without someone emailing you for feedback. On a scale from one to ten, it can be really annoying, writes Robert MacDonald

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How much feedback can one person give?

I had day surgery a while back and later the hospital emailed, asking me to rate my experience.

I’d just had a colonoscopy. What was I supposed to say?

“A pain in the backside, but it all turned out OK in the end?”

That would have been puerile. I replied instead with a couple of thoughts:

Why do medical waiting rooms always have daytime TV playing in the corner even if there’s only one patient in the place?

Do they think it’s soothing?

I can say definitively if you’ve spent the last 12 hours prepping for your procedure and you’re feeling hungry and miserable, Kochie’s not going to improve your mood.

My second observation was why can’t the front desk give you at least some vague idea of how long the whole procedure might take?

Especially if a general anaesthetic is involved and someone’s supposed to drive you home.

I suppose, as consumers, we should be thankful that the businesses taking our money are always so interested in our opinions.

But it’s just getting silly. Even the most casual interaction with a company  – say an online purchase, which you can barely remember – now produces a “How did we do?” follow-up email asking you to rate your experience from one to ten in half-a-dozen different categories.

Even if you take the time diligently deciding if the service was a two or a three or perhaps an eight, but not a nine or a ten, or deciding how enthusiastically you’d recommend the company to a friend, it’s easy to get the sense they’re not really interested in you as a “much-valued customer”.

Or that you’re not even responding to a human but a machine collecting data to fuel some algorithm.

Either that or you’re being asked to be a stool pigeon, helping a company keep an eye on its subcontractors and employees – did the package arrive on time? Was the counter-staff helpful?

From consumer to unpaid dobber, just like that.

Type the phrase “poor customer service” into Google and you get 5.7 million hits, which suggests there is indeed a demand for a customer feedback industry, which now appears to be a formally recognised thing.

Type the phrase “customer feedback industry” into Google and you get 51,600 hits and plenty of advice about the importance of good customer feedback, and how to collect it.

The internet is also full of lists of common mistakes, which most of us would have been exposed to by now – from surveys that are just too long, to detailed to questions that don’t let you give an honest answer or are just data mining.

Who in their right mind would think a customer is going to spend 10 minutes filling in a form explaining why they bought a mop online and their experience of doing so?  It’s just a mop for goodness’ sake.

On Friday last week, I spent half an hour on a car sales website and inquired about a vehicle that had caught my eye.

Yesterday, the obligatory follow-up survey arrived.

The first question was how quickly did the seller of the car respond to my inquiry?

I can perhaps understand why they might want to know this.

But then came questions about my age and which industry I worked in. What’s that got to do with buying and selling cars?

Why are they collecting this information?

I also suspect there is a business rule out there that says the better the company is at customer service the less time it spends bombarding its customers with pleading demands to be liked.

Like so many others during the past six months, I’ve rediscovered Bunnings, where I’ve never had bad service.

During the height of our self-isolation phase I ordered something online, which was out-of-stock at the time but due in a few days.

Those few days passed and Bunnings emailed me to apologise that because of “extremely high demand for our products” the delivery delay would now be about 10 weeks.

They gave me the choice of either waiting for delivery or claiming a full refund. Someone called from the local Bunnings to follow up and confirm my choice (the refund thanks).

It was only later I saw the note at the bottom of the email:

“We are always looking at ways to improve our service and we would love to hear about your recent experience using the link below …”

Pretty standard, I know but at least it was tacked on to the original email and not sent as one of those annoying begging-for-feedback follow-ups that normally arrive after such transactions.

To me at least, it gave the impression that Bunnings was more interested in meeting my needs than finding out what I thought about them, but if I did want to tell them, then here was the way to do it.

In the meantime, did the hospital take my suggestions on board?

I’ve got no idea, and, in this case, I’m more than happy to wait the five years for my next colonoscopy to find out.

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