Saturday, April 16, 2011

Phone Surveys

Surveys are an important part of our world. Their results can impact everything from political strategy to marketing campaigns by aggregating the opinions of an organization’s target demographic. I also find them quite annoying and go to great lengths to avoid them, which is ironic since I obviously have some intrinsic need to share my opinion with anyone who will listen. Last month, I made an exception for a home improvement store here in town and was reminded why I should never make exceptions.

My wife and I had recently purchased a new dishwasher, as the one that came with the house began to sound like a cement mixer and seemed to actually produce food particles rather than remove them, and we had decided to allow them to install it since the option was made rather affordable by a special they were running. I was told at the store that an employee would call me after the dishwasher was in place to ascertain my level of satisfaction with both the dishwasher and the “installation professional” they provided with it.

 Soon afterward, the appliance was installed and as promised I received a call from my local store and was politely asked if there had been any negative aspects to my Lowes experience. I replied that I was fully satisfied and praised the installer’s skill as well as his punctuality. The exchange was brief and to the point and my stance began to soften toward surveys.

Unfortunately, my answers were not critical enough and I was passed to the corporate survey team because a few days later a strange number appeared on my cell phone. When I answered, a young woman identified herself as a Lowes employee and requested that I complete a brief survey concerning the dishwasher. I reluctantly agreed.

The survey began as most do, with an unnecessarily-confusing numerical scale and deceptively worded questions like “One a scale of 1 – 13 with 1 meaning that you strongly disagree and 13 meaning that you do not strongly disagree, how well did the installation correlate to your pre-sales expectation of said installation?”  It took me so long to respond to the questions, I believe she suspected that I had taken the call in the midst of a bowel evacuation.

We continued in this manner for several minutes as she asked me to rate the installer’s courteousness, quality of work, and professionalism. All standard questions and I made sure and gave him high marks. Our next exchange, however, caught me off guard:

“Mr. Taylor, how would rate the installer’s appearance?”
“Are you asking me if I found dishwasher guy attractive?”
“You may interpret the question any way you wish, Mr. Taylor.”
“Well, the way I interpret it is that it sounds as if you asking me to rate the physical appearance of a complete stranger using only a numerical scale.”
“It’s just a question, nothing more.”
“Are there any criteria? Do I deduct points for an offensive odor or asymmetrical facial hair?”
Long sigh, followed by about 10 seconds of awkward silence
“He didn’t do much for me, but he had a good personality so I will give him a strong 6.”
“Great, let’s continue.”

I am still not sure what valuable data was to be mined from that particular question and to be honest, as long as the guy is wearing pants and the dishwasher doesn’t leak I would have been content with the provided service.

I reassured myself that we must be nearing the end of the survey but soon enough we wandered into more uncomfortable territory. For some reason Lowes was very keen on discovering which ethnicity purchases their dishwashers and how much that particular ethnicity brought home annually. I wonder if there is a home improvement think-tank somewhere reading over these survey results and discovering for the first time that white people who make less than $100,000 a year purchase dishwashers. I imagine they will utilize this new information to step up their advertising presence on the WB primetime lineup and during professional bowling tournaments on ESPN3.

When I worked at a music store in high school, we began screening new employees using a “morality phone survey” that asked them a series of multiple choice questions designed to ascertain an applicant’s level of trustworthiness. Most of the questions were in the following format:

If you were working the sales floor and discovered that your mother was in the store shoplifting, would you:
  1. Follow store procedure by alerting the manager and treat her like any other suspected violator.
  2. Pretend you didn’t see it and hope that she did not get caught.
  3. Assist her by turning off the anti-theft system at the door.

As you can imagine, such a rigorous filter insured that we would only hire individuals of the highest moral character. Of course, we still had some internal theft but the test made certain that the scofflaws working the inside were not complete morons and thus unlikely to be immediately caught.
Perhaps the music store test could be adapted for politicians…..

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