Would You Take Our Survey About Surveys?

Rate your survey! Would you mind staying on the line and answering a few questions about your recent survey?

Would You Take Our Survey About Surveys?
Photo by Celpax on Unsplash

Hi there. Will you take a moment and fill out our survey? If you participate, you may win a chance to win an Amazon Gift Card!* Your participation will help us continue to provide the outstanding service that Texas Outlaw Writers wishes to provide to you, our valued customer.

Once you’ve finished our survey, can we send you a questionnaire on how you felt about our survey? This second survey will allow us to understand how you feel about the survey to provide outstanding service, and design future surveys to enhance your customer experience. If you choose to fill out the survey about the survey, you have a chance to be entered into a contest to win a new iPad!** Designing better surveys by way of surveying you, our cherished, gullible customer, will result in many, many more surveys to determine just how far we can take this.

Do you get a lot of these? Like a constant barrage of surveys asking you to fix their company? I just bought a new computer a week or so ago, (my diesel-powered Mac was finally down to its last dead battery after a decade of loyal service. I’ll want the new solar-powered laptop with the attached wind turbine.) I was pretty sure of the model I wanted, and I headed for the stylish retail experience that is the Apple Store. A busy day, as folks were spending their Christmas gift certificates and closing out their 2022 business purchases… so I signed in with the Apple concierge at the door. No beeper or number to call… the Apple cult member must have scribbled down a physical description of me so the “next available associate” would find me. (What I would give to see THAT description!) But it worked, a guy in the Apple polo shirt came up to me within minutes and explained that I was next after he finished with his current customer.

Ken was helpful. I relayed to him what I needed, he looked it up on his handheld communicator and said he had it in stock, what else did I need? Did I have any questions? (We were standing in Laptop Land, and he pointed out a couple of new features.) The notoriously well-packaged and bagged computer was brought out promptly, and Ken processed my payment. Thanks, anything else I can help you with? No thanks, but thanks. No problem, call if you have any problems setting it up, blah blah blah.

I wasn’t out of the shopping center when my phone dinged with a new email. From the Apple Store. They were looking to audit/survey Ken.

Ken, if you're reading this... You were the best, man. The best.

This initial poll led, of course, to a tree of other, more specific survey questions. “Please share your feedback with Ken. What did they do well and what could they improve?” “How likely are you to recommend the Apple Store to a friend or colleague?” (required.) “In addition to the feedback you already shared about Ken, is there anything else you would like to tell us about your overall experience at the Apple Store?” “Do you have time for more questions related to your experience at the Apple Store?”  Arrrrgggghhhhhhhh!

It could have been worse. Ken didn’t warn me about or ask me to complete a survey if one was sent. But have you been to restaurants where the waitstaff asks you to fill out a survey using details that are on your check? “I’d love it if you could do me a favor. If you can, go to the website on the receipt and fill out a survey about your service today. It would really help me out.” This is usually said with a slight air of desperation mixed in with gratitude. So, now you’re afraid that if you don’t give the lady who brought your burger out a good review and 5 stars, she will get fired, docked, or lose a shift. Or if I’m the vindictive sort, what a fun way to harass an employee even more than they’re already being harassed.

BTW, how would you rate this story so far? 1= What a fantastic piece that I’m reading!! > 10= This is the finest piece of literature ever put before me!

How was the torture being surveyed?

I’ve only mentioned retail-type surveys. Open Corporate America’s doors and take a look at all the polling going on there… and no one likes to work the poll, really. At work, you get those opaque surveys about your “experience working here.” This is only one step up from the pre-internet, physical “suggestion box.” Which, more often than not, was filled with a bunch of index cards that read “fuck this place,” (or some version of that.)

Nowadays, a nice, traceable email can be sent out to "stakeholders" about various corporate practices… safety, scheduling, operations, culture, and “things we can work on together.” With emails being replied to and returned to the HR dept., it’s much harder to toss the F-bomb up to the C-suite. And honestly? Has there ever been a change in management style or substance as a result of a survey? Sure, maybe some kid on the factory floor gets a twenty-dollar bonus for suggesting that the blade guard be taken off so “we can run 30% faster and get about 200 more board feet cut per hour.” Who can argue with that? One-Hand-Harry? Not if he wants to keep his job unloading the timber trucks.

Employment is more unstable than ever. This makes customer surveys, management rankings, and the so-called “self-evaluations” scarier than ever. After a post-pandemic hiring frenzy, things are slowing down. Management is finding footing against the power surge that labor held, if only briefly. Even the near untouchable “tech bros” are finding themselves back on Linked-In. Don’t think so? Talk to the Musk’s former Twitter employees… 75% of his staff were cut recently. The other tech companies noticed. It's expected that the tech sector will slice deeply into their own workforce.

Tell us how you like our robots. 

You know who never seems to be affected by internal corporate surveys? The executive suite. Crazy, right? Even with all those internal surveys, management consultants that “audit” hundreds of employees to determine company concerns, opportunities, shortcomings, etc. If they were promised anonymity and half of the (honest, courageous) staff said something along the lines of, “Boss don’t know squat.” “Has no clue.” “This guy is taking this company down”... You know that survey will later conclude that “While there is always room for improvement, we can report that overall the Happy Corp. is on track to have the best year ever and remains one of the best workplaces in Texas!”

How many surveys could you count on to be even semi-accurate? Even with that “promised anonymity,” are you willing to call the boss out? When you get an annoying email survey, do you answer thoughtfully and with any real honesty? Or do you react in the moment… furious because of a price increase, you take it out on the phone rep. You give the waitress an excellent rating, scared that they’ll fire her if you communicate some honest criticism about the food quality. You just spent an hour filling out insurance forms, what other answer can you give an insurance summary other than “this sucks so hard!”

People have never disliked institutions more than they do now. No matter the slick branding, the clever ads, or the celebrity spokespeople. And politicians? Yikes! When political consultants take their surveys and polls, they might as well be flipping coins. Political polls usually rely on phone calls to collect their data. Would you answer an Anonymous phone call during the dinner hour? No one does… maybe a bored or lonely senior. Or maybe someone who wants to muddle up some poll results. Phone responders are down below 6% of those called. So some tiny sample collected from a massive population (dependent on a given type of person that wants to bother with a survey) will serve as a given predictor on a given issue/candidate. Right.

In 2016, pollsters were pretty confident that Hillary Clinton would be president. When the pollsters did their post-mortem (spoiler alert - they got that one wrong,) they knew that non-participation in surveys was increasing. They failed to weight results for certain demographic/partisan divides that were becoming more and more consequential. (Several of the sub-demographics hadn't even been identified.) Some survey respondents were also looking to sabotage polls themselves. After Trump assumed office, he made it a point to further cripple political surveys by calling them out as “fake” and “rigged.”

It's tough enough to keep survey questions bias-free. Political communications guru Rachel Bitecoffer showed that she could move acceptance for a given policy by 40 points just by changing who endorsed it.

As much as Trump weaponized polls and research (and further degraded their worth,) the whole survey-industrial complex is whistling past the graveyard. Not to worry, they're taking surveys there, too.

A few years ago, comedian Tig Notaro did a set at a club in L.A. where she revealed, among other things, that she had just been diagnosed the day before with stage two cancer. Funny stuff, right? Oh wait. There's more. (This performance, btw, is now legendary... she really HAD just been diagnosed with cancer.) She was basically winging it on stage. Tig had not scripted or had any chance to rehearse or "work" her set. And folks were on the edge of their seats. She revealed that this diagnosis had come after a bad breakup. After a bout of pneumonia. To then be hospitalized with another devasting illness (C-diff, for those of you keeping score.)

Her mother died after a slip and fall where she struck her head. She was hospitalized briefly and buried a week after Tig was released from her own hospital stay. And guess what was waiting for her? Oh yeah, you know what was in the mailbox...

"...the hospital sent my mother a questionnaire to see how her stay at the hospital went."
[Audience laughs]
"Hm-- not great. Did not go great. The questionnaire asked things such as, number one, during this hospital stay, did nurses explain things in a way you could understand? I mean, considering you had zero brain activity.
Number two, was the area around your room quiet at night? Or could you hear the 12 hours of your daughter alone at your bedside sobbing and telling you things she wished she was brave enough to tell you when you were conscious?
"... Number four: ‘Suggestions for improvements.’ Such as: should we stop sending questionnaires to dead people? Hospital … it’s really simple. Make two lists … Number one would just be dead people. Number two would be alive people. Send questionnaires to alive people. Don’t send questionnaires to dead people.”"

It would be funny if... well, to hear this routine, it IS pretty funny. You can hear bits of the set and a good interview with Notaro on the popular podcast "This American Life."

The not-so-funny part? The how-was-your-recent-death survey was not exactly an aberration. It wasn't hard to find a medical communications group that "has a long history of fostering professional development through award-winning healthcare and clinically relevant content." Try their article: "Measuring satisfaction of terminally ill and families."

"Surveying dying patients is really awkward to address," admits Sarah Mulkey, director of patient relations at Hendrick Medical Center in Abilene, TX. She says that right or wrong, people seem to step back from a dying patient and don’t offer the typical customer service.
"... (he) uses a standard mail survey instrument, which, of course, cannot be used to survey patients who die before their hospital stay ends. "We feel it would be very insensitive to the family to mail a survey to their home after they have lost a loved one. The closest we come to measuring this type of information is if a patient goes home, completes a survey, and then dies shortly after," Mulkey says."

Like comedy, timing is everything in the world of surveys.

Those terminally ill surveys must be worded carefully. 

Can you imagine? A couple of your most cherished loved ones gathered around your bedside as you lay dying. Holding your hands, saying goodbye, whispering final I-love-yous, their faces slowly losing focus to you, the room slowly seems to become brighter. There's a super-white light in front of you... are those spirits in that light? Do they beckon you? Voices! You hear their voices! They're trying to say something to you as the light grows brighter...

"Hello, before you go, would you mind answering a couple of questions? Good...
"Did your last meal meet your expectations? Choose a number between 1 and 10, with 1 being "bland and flavorless intravenous glop," to  10 being, "it was heavenly."
"Are you extremely satisfied, somewhat satisfied, or not at all satisfied with your mortality?"
"Has your final decline been A.) Fun B.) Enriching C.) Spiritual D.) Confusing E.) IDONTWANTTODIE! (check all that apply.)
"Based on your current dying experience, how likely are you to recommend death to your friends and family?"

Thank you for your participation. Your evaluation will help make for a better death experience for future customers. We know you have a choice and hope you'll die with us again soon.

*The Amazon gift card has a retail value of $1.00. This does not include shipping and handling, third-party fees, or federal taxes on these winnings.

** The chance of you winning an iPad are about the same as you winning that gazillion dollar lottery: virtually zero. However, to keep legal, Ed in sales HAS bought one of those lottery tickets, and he says that if he wins that, he agrees to find last year’s iPad on eBay and send it to a random survey filler-outer. But if we know Ed, he’s most likely going to give that iPad to his daughter, who he had design this survey in the first place.

Chris Newlin worked around Tee-Vee stations before he went out on his own and continued to work in the world of video and multi-media production. Then came iPhones and YouTube accounts, so now he sits around full of self-pity and too many Keystone Lights. He still enjoys sunsets, long walks on the beach, and a good bowel movement, at least every now and then.