retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Los Angeles Times has a story about the "increasingly widespread corporate practice of hunting down customer thoughts and fixing them into a quantitative data set."  In other words, consumer surveys.

"Although some call it a valuable peephole into the thoughts of customers, others see customer service surveys as a breeding ground of bad data, awkward interactions, nervous employees and coached responses," the story says.  "Technology has only supercharged both the ubiquity of the surveys and the lingering questions about their effectiveness. What was once a plodding exercise involving handwritten documents and postage stamps has evolved into a juggernaut that administers real-time ratings via screen taps and interprets them through artificial intelligence."

You can read the story here.

KC's View:
  One of the recurring themes of this piece is something that over the years we have talked about a lot over the years here on MNB - consumer surveys that are only designed to reinforce the biases of the people giving them.

Michael Sansolo wrote a column about this a while back - being told by an auto dealership that he'd be getting a survey and that they would appreciate it if he'd only give them the highest marks … and if he couldn't give them a "5" on everything, they'd rather he not take the survey.

I've bumped into this same attitude several times in recent days, and it is mystifying (or maybe not so much).  A "4" out of "5" is a pretty good grade, and if you ask the right follow-up question, it gives you the ability to improve.  It also gives you the opportunity to figure out where the friction is - it might be personnel, but it might be infrastructural, or operational, or some random thing that you never might have considered.  But if management (I won't call it leadership, because they're not leading the company anywhere) creates a model in which it is "5" or nothing, then it is guilty of business malpractice.

And in a world where so many surveys are administered and evaluated algorithmically, it only gets worse.

It is, in my view, sheer stupidity.