Ask The Consumerist: Is There Any Point To All These Stupid Surveys?


((Courtesy of Rachel))

Rachel is sick of surveys and writes in to ask if we think they serve any purpose.

Rachel writes:

Here’s what Saturday was like for me: Go to IHOP with my husband; please fill out our survey. Get medication at Walgreen; please fill out our survey. Grab a coffee at Caribou; please fill out our survey. Get a call from my mortgage company; survey. Buy some closes from Old Navy; survey. Take car for an oil change… I think you know what happens next.

When did this happen? And why? I don’t want to fill out a survey. I don’t think they’re helpful.

Do they really help a company to make changes? Or does it just get some poor guy making a barely livable wage yelled at?

Most importantly, what can I do as a consumer not to contribute to this in any way? I want to give an amazing employee props and I want to bring egregious practices to managements attention, but I don’t like these surveys. Not one bit.

Well, Rachel… The thing is with surveys is that they are only as good as the company you’re dealing with.  A lot of unintended consequences and weird  policies can be traced back to them. You would probably be sort of horrified to see the sheer number of decisions that companies make based on these survey results.

But let’s take your questions one by one: Do they really help a company make changes? Again, it depends on the company, but let’s assume we’re talking about your average soulless, faceless corporation. If someone at Soulless Enterprises has a theory that “xyz improved policy” could lead to better customer satisfaction, they’re going to need to demonstrate that to their bosses somehow. One way is to test it and then take a bunch of surveys.

Will some poor guy yelled at? Again, it depends on the company. Soulless Enterprises probably has some customer satisfaction metric that it assigns goals around and, at the end of the quarter, poor guy’s team might get a smackdown if they don’t meet it. Will he personally get yelled at? We certainly hope not, but anything is possible.

What can you do as a customer?  Companies do pay attention to survey results, but it’s all about who is interpreting the data and what they have in mind. You’re providing them with supporting material for their internal arguments. If you like a company and want to help them out, providing them with honest data is a nice thing to do, but there’s no guarantee that it won’t be interpreted by complete jackasses. Jackasses need jobs, too.

If you’re really more interested in commending an individual employee who did a spectacular job, we’ve always thought that writing a letter to the CEO or corporate office was a great thing to do.  We recommend one or two paragraphs of effusive praise that is rather light on details. If someone bent a rule for you the last thing you want to do is rat them out. And, of course, you can always write us and tell us about your experience. People don’t send us enough good news.

And now we have to post a poll to see if you are sick of surveys. Because we’re jackasses, too.


Edit Your Comment

  1. Marlin says:

    “I purposefully %@#% with any attempt to understand me”

    Ahhh… you put that one in just for me… didn’t ya.

    68 year old asian woman that buys a lot of pizza and other mid age white guy stuff… weird.

    • Ragman says:

      All I can say is that some marketer is wondering who the hell is this 18 year old Elbonian male pregnant with his 3rd kid and makes $500k a year.

      Named “Frank’) DROP TABLES mailinglist;”

  2. Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

    Where is the, “I wouldn’t mind taking a survey but please don’t make my receipt taller than me.” option?

  3. who? says:

    People fill those out?

    I do have to say, though, that three of the handful of times that I filled out one of those surveys were when I rented cars and had some sort of problem. Two of the three times, after filling out the survey, someone from the company contacted me and made it right.

    • bluline says:

      That happened to me too, just last month. I completed a survey about a place I stayed at during vacation and made some very specific comments about a couple of things I thought could be done a lot better. Less than an hour later I got a reply from the general manager thanking me for bringing those things to his attention and promising to look into them. And it was no form letter, either.

      I have no idea if the GM actually followed through on his promise to investigate, however.

    • bluline says:

      Also, a company I used to work for surveyed its employees about everything. Every meeting ended with a survey sent to participants. Every department had annual or semi-annual performance surveys sent to their in-house customers. It wasn’t unusual to get three or four survey requests per week. They used Survey Monkey so much I thought they might take down the site. And the worst part was that most of the people designing and writing the surveys had no clue what they really wanted to know or how they were going to use the results.

  4. You Can Call Me Al(isa) says:

    I love the surveys. Especially like at BWW when you get 6 free wings for taking it, or at Old Chicago when you get a free appetizer.

    I will take all your surveys!!!!!

  5. jayphat says:

    Are you sick of taking surveys? Taking our survey and tell us!

  6. RandomHookup says:

    As long as I get something out of it, I’ll fill it out, but don’t ask me to fill out a survey for the chance to win $250. Just give me a free order of fries next time I’m in and we’ll be even.

  7. josephbloseph says:

    With negative experience, I’ll often fill a survey out. If there is some non-drawing incentive (discount code or something) I’ll often fill a survey out.

  8. scoosdad says:

    My latest pet peeve is a website that has a request to take a survey pop up immediately after landing there. Some of them say, ‘please tell us, after you’ve finished your business here’ but a lot of them are asking immediately ‘TELL US HOW WE DID!’. Buh-bye.

    • Looseneck says:

      Or, stay on hold after the call and take our survey. No, I’ve wasted enough time on your phone tree, the computer voice, and finally the tech. I have better things to do.

    • George4478 says:

      That’s a pet peeve of mine too. I’ve been on the website for 10 secs and BOOM! Survey time.

      How about you leave me alone and let me place my order?

    • Scooter McGee says:

      I hate these as much as anybody else. Though once I finally decided to take the survey and it then said to go about your business as normal. After logging out, the survey will appear. It also took about 20 minutes to complete. Way to long in my opinion.

  9. kranky says:

    Case by case basis for me.

    I’m getting a lot of calls with computerized surveys about the upcoming election. Knowing that the only point to the survey is to help guide a particular party or candidate’s advertising to sway people, I am happy to complete the survey.

    I answer as if I am one of the stereotypical core supporters of the candidate I DON’T like – my educational level, ethnicity, income, and opinions on hot topics would absolutely describe a hardcore supporter. Then I answer that I am likely to vote for the candidate I DO like. Not “absolutely sure” because then I would be seen as a lost cause. Just “likely”.

    If that helps push them to waste even a dollar on developing ads to bring people “like me” back to their fold, well, I feel like I have done a public service.

    And that public service is to hopefully get them to realize these phone surveys are annoying as hell and people just like to mess with them, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll stop doing them.

    • TuxthePenguin says:

      Ah, me and you are fellow brothers in disinformation.

      My other favorite thing to do is to be a elderly half-black, half-Hispanic gay doctor that does not support gay marriage but does support single payer. Sometimes its funny to just hear the person’s “o…kay.” comments when recording my answers.

  10. TheMansfieldMauler says:

    Surveys should have legislative regulation, and a Federal Bureau of Surveys and Questionnaires should be established to provide oversight and make sure all of them are worded correctly with no bias of any kind.

  11. Trireme32 says:

    In the hotel industry, or at least the hotels for which I have worked, surveys are a very important tool. It comes down to “if we don’t know about it, we can’t fix it.” Typically, guests are asked to score elements on a scale, usually from 1-5 or 1-3, and asked to provide written comments, especially for low scores. The scores are averaged (or, for one company that I worked for, only 5-out-of-5 scores counted, and they used the percentage of these “top-box” scores) and these averages are used as the overall “score” for each week, month, etc.

    While these are important, and let us see what departments are trending up or down (and therefore where we need to improve), I, as a manager, care even more about the written comments. Did you feel that a specific employee was rude to you? I need to know so I can address it with that employee. Did someone do something that especially amazed you? Let me know so I can give that person the kudos they deserve.

    And, yes, we have used survey responses to bring about change. In fact, survey responses have led to significant changes in policies and practices.

    As a side-note… please don’t screw around by marking arbitrary numbers or delibrately being untrue. This can truly mess with people’s employment.

  12. CosmosHuman says:

    Call me silly but when I can remember where I put the receipt; I do the survey online in hopes of winning cash. Yea, I know it’s a long shot but a co-worker won 3k doing one of these surveys and I could use the cash.

    At a visit to Panera a few weeks ago scored them a really bad rating. Their French Onion soup was extremely salty. The tables were filthy, and the bathroom just plain nasty. This was at noon.

  13. raydeebug says:

    I’ve been told that in many cases, if you don’t give a business a 10/10 (or 5/5) then corporate will Have Words with them, and in the case of rating individual employees, a 9/10 is equivalent to a 1/10.

    • spartan says:

      My brother, a former area manager at KFC told me the same thing, They would roll the numbers into a single score.

      One of his stores was in a downtown location and he had to fight to get bonuses to one store that suffered because they had limited parking.

    • humphrmi says:

      Usually, I hate even more the people who ask for 10/10 or 5/5… but in one case last year when I was refinancing my mortgage, the mortgage processor’s email signature said something along the lines of “If my service does not warrant a 10, please tell me how I can serve you better” so I sent her an email every week telling her what was going wrong that she hadn’t done anything about last week. So it should have been no surprise to her when she got a 3/10.

  14. GOInsanity says:

    If she buys her closes from Old Navy, where does she get the opens?

    Sorry, couldn’t help it.

    Also, it seems something is up with the comment log-in. I clicked to comment on this article, put in my login and pw, then found myself looking at an article about starbucks and milk. Something is a little screwy…

  15. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    I think we’ve gone into survey overload. I even got one from the mammogram clinic after my last exam. I mean, really? And no, there was no place for me to say “the technician nearly squeezed the life out of me and I had to take Advil for 2 days afterward”.

    I filled out a survey for my local WalMart after a particualarly aggrevating shopping trip, around 9 PM, just needed an item I couldn’t pick up elsewhere…gave them really bad ratings, but no one called, or emailed. Nothing. I thought at least I’d get a call from an assistant to the assistant manager.

    • elangomatt says:

      The call back thing must vary from store to store. I complained one time about the water fountain at the front of my local Walmart being down for at least 2 or 3 months and requested that they follow up with me ONLY via email if they had to. The next day I had some silly manager calling me on the phone and hemming and hawing about things like that take time. Amazingly though, it was fixed the next time I went to the store later in the week. Come to think of it though, I can’t remember now if that was a complaint on the survey or if I just filed an actual complaint through the website. I don’t seem to remember there actually being any comment type fields on the Walmart survey last time I took it.

    • Not Given says:

      Take 3 advil or 2 aleve an hour before you go.

  16. RandomHookup says:

    Where is the pop up survey for this article?

    • raydeebug says:


      Based on our metrics, you are likely to have read or commented on an article on The Consumerist. If you have a moment, would you please answer the following questions?

      1: What do you make your own of at home?
      2: When is it OK to blame the OP?
      3: When were Consumerist’s good ole days?
      4: In before you finish the survey… how important is it for the first post to be funny?
      5: Do you feel that Consumerist is the best place to spread your political, religious, or brand-loyalty beliefs?

      Thank you for your time. You will be entered into a drawing to win your very own response to your survey response. Winners may not be notified in any way whatsoever.

  17. elangomatt says:

    Why do surveys exist? So that the management of a company thinks they have some way to quantify how good of a job they are doing. It is pretty hard to justify their jobs unless they have something they can put on a bar graph or pie chart in a meeting to show that their initiative to change something is making a difference. It seems like a lot of the initiatives are just to make their robot employees spew off half a dozen or more things at the checkout that annoy the crap out of most customers.

    Of course the surveys don’t do a whole lot of good when many companies consider anything less than 10 a failure on a 1 to 10 scale. I’ve actually had cashiers ask me to make sure to rate everything the highest score since they don’t get credit for a 9 out of 10.

    • who? says:

      You hit the nail on the head. In this standardized testing, metrics driven world, the only thing that counts is numbers. Even if a number isn’t the correct way to score something.

  18. BigDragon says:

    I generally complete a survey when something really bad happened or something really good. I’ll generally follow up with another survey a couple weeks later. I really hate the companies that ask a million questions in their surveys. I don’t care if I could get a $500+ gift card. Stop asking me more than 20 questions.

    My biggest pet peeve are stores that make me wait forever to checkout. There’s a grocery store location near me that had been getting progressively worse so I flamed them on a survey the night it took me around 25 minutes to checkout. 2 lanes were open, but the one cashier was too busy chit chatting, re-bagging stuff, and randomly day dreaming to actually check out one person with an average-sized order. Since then there seems to always be 3 lanes open at least and nobody standing around doing nothing when the lines get long. It’s an improvement. We’ll see how long they keep this up. The survey apparently worked. Even neighbors took notice of the checkout improvements.

  19. jumbojeepman says:

    My biggest problem with the surveys is the ‘highest grade’ bias they exhibit. You can tell which companies put a huge emphasis on only getting top marks (normally 5 star.) The salesman will give you a spiel about how not giving all top marks is the same as giving the lowest score possible. Or there will be a note on the survey about contacting the manager is there is any problem that would prevent you from giving top marks before you actually give said ‘lower marks.’

    This system tends to polarize the responses, with you only receiving great or terrible responses. A lot of times, an average mark is nothing to be ashamed of. For instance, I walk into your store, select an item, and purchase it. I received no help from your staff, but I really didn’t need any. So you didn’t really do anything to deserve an ‘excellent’ mark, but you try to guilt me into giving one anyway. Well, I’m not going to ‘inflate’ your scores.

    As to the contact the manager if there is any problem….(normally at a hotel) if I have to call you up and tell you the mirror in the bathroom is broken, well you don’t deserve top marks. The maid should have noticed that mirror when she was cleaning the bathroom.

    In short, rather than punishing employees for average or satisfactory service, reward those who give excellent service.

  20. Sarek says:

    Surveys measure only what they set out to survey. It seems to me that they often aren’t asking the right questions. Not sure if that’s because they don’t know how to write a survey, or because they don’t want to know the answers to the omitted questions.

    That said, I almost always fill them out. (a) because I’m sure *I*’ll be the one to win, and (b) because how else will the vendor know what’s working and what isn’t (within the confines of the above paragraph, anyway.)

  21. jacknval says:

    I actually took the time to fill out a survey for Frontpoint security because I was pretty pleased with their service. In the section where they asked for any additional comments, I mentioned something I wish I knew before ordering. That a touchscreen base unit was required for controlling home lighting. A day later I got an email back explaining that it was NOT required and exactly how to set up the lighting without the touch screen element. I was blown away!

  22. Abradax says:

    I think surveys are a convienient way for telemarketers and businesses to get around laws banning their phone calls.

  23. kranky says:

    When I bought a car recently the salesguy spent almost as much time talking about the survey as he did about the car.

    He had a copy of a filled-out survey to show me, so I could see what scores I was supposed to give. He spent 5 minutes telling me how just three surveys in the same year that doesn’t give top scores across the board will cost him thousands of dollars in bonuses. Told me about his co-worker who lost $6,000 in bonuses last year because he didn’t spend enough time stressing to customers how gosh-darn life-or-death critical those surveys were to his ability to feed his family. If there was ANYTHING that would keep me from rating him all 5’s he begged me to call him first so he could correct it, no matter what it was.

    He told me how survey scores are used to allocate hours to the sales staff and the best scorers get the most hours. Scores are also used to see who gets the axe if they need to cut back.

    Frankly, it was clear to me that those stupid little surveys are given far more influence than they merit. Is there really any difference between “very satisfied” and “completely satisfied”?
    What if, in my mind, the only way to be “completely satisfied” with a car deal is to have the dealer accept my initial offer and get me out of there in 15 minutes? That’s just not ever going to happen.

    • lettucefactory says:

      The car dealership surveys are the WORST. Every car dealership I’ve interacted with, even just for service, calls me afterward to see if I’m going to give them top scores. The salesmen mention the survey. The receptionist mentions the survey. And it’s always in the vein of, “anything less than absolute perfection might as well be putting me directly out on street, jobless and homeless.” While I find this incredibly annoying, I blame the companies, not the staff. Those folks clearly have to live in terror of the freaking survey. What an effed up system.

  24. phalvorson says:

    I’m starting to suspect that it’s just corporate peer pressure. Lowe’s sees Home Depot putting surveys on every receipt, so Lowe’s thinks they need to do the same so customers will think they care too.

    And I’m beginning to suspect that many surveys are just the company’s way of making you THINK they’re “taking this very seriously” when in reality all of the survey responses just go straight into the trash. Remember, it’s the thought that counts!

  25. Hartwig says:

    My favorite are surveys for using a website that pop up in the middle of your browsing, in turn decreasing your enjoyment of the website. Also many companies are now sending reminders of not filling out surveys once or twice, complete waste of time.

    I have told my company this on employee surveys, if you want people feel like filling out a survey matters, occasionally post a list of improvements that have been made because of surveys received. At some point companies decided that just giving someone the option to complete a survey was a satisfaction booster, which it is not without action.

  26. donovanr says:

    A bank I deal with told me that the 1 to 5 on the survey was crap. It was 5 or fail and that bonuses rode on those 5’s.

    • Scooter McGee says:

      I’ve heard this several times too, not just banks. Sorry, there can always be room for improvement. Pushing me to give you all 5’s or 10’s only makes me more critical of you.

  27. lettucefactory says:

    They’re too long.

    I’m okay with taking 20 seconds to tell you how my experience was. Especially if I can easily do it on my phone (Apple Store surveys are a good example of this.) But the vast majority of transactions are uneventful, and I don’t have strong feelings about them. I don’t wish to discuss them in great detail. There is never an option for, “yeah, everything was fine, I’m sure I’ll be back!” Instead I’m peppered with 10 different gradients and I have to puzzle out if the cashier was “somewhat helpful” versus “mostly helpful.” And 99% of the time I am not going to be in the mood.

    In fact, I am only in that mood when the transaction was unpleasant, because then I want to vent. I hope these stores are considering that no news is sometimes good news when it comes to customer satisfaction.

  28. Banished to the Corner says:

    I don’t think most surveys are useful because they structure the questions to only get an answer they want.
    ie: What do you prefer Red Grocery carts or Green Grocery carts?
    O Red
    O Green
    my answer: I want a basket available at the front of the store, not have to hunt one down and take it from the endcap display of cookies from the infants isle.

    I think about 70% are useless – the other 30% are fine.

  29. hjc628 says:

    What i dont like about these store surveys is some of them make you make an account, sign in with facebook, yadda yadda yadda, i hate making accounts. Just ask me the damn questions and be done with it.

  30. dangermike says:

    I can’t be the only here who uses them to spread just a enough chaos and misinformation to feel good about myself when I lay down my head at night. Most recent example, one of my favorite online shooting supply stores offers entry into a daily drawing for a $25 gift certificate for filling out their survey. But the survey is through a third party that seems rather clueless in their application of pre-written questions. Like for instance, they ask what sort of items you’ve ordered and have about 20 check boxes of categories, the closest of which might be sporting goods. So naturally, my order of a bulk quantity of bore solvent and patches went under beauty/hygiene. Because I know the smell of Hoppe’s #9 on a man is absolutely irresistible to the fairer sex. And in the open comments, I might ask if their CEO (who has a prolific amateur gunsmithing how-to channel on the U-tubes) would like to be my honorary grandfather, since both of mine passed away when I was too young to really benefit from having known them.

    I still haven’t won any certificates, though.

  31. nauip says:

    I think the only one I’ll go out of my way to fill out is the one on the back of a Panda Express receipt because I get a free “entree” or, as I call it – an extra helping of orange chicken or whatever I’m having.

    Free food reward is good incentive, IMHO.

    • ChuckECheese says:

      Outback was giving away free appetizers with a completed survey, but in recent weeks I haven’t seen any survey invites on my receipts.

  32. triana says:

    In the retail industry, these surveys are tied to bonuses and raises. If you have an exceptionally good or an exceptionally bad experience, take the survey. Higher-ups do see the numbers and people are praised or called out. The results are unlikely to change corporate policies, but they will call attention to issues at your local location that could be corrected, and you could help the minimum wage-earning associate get a relatively decent raise.

  33. misanthropic789 says:

    Two key concepts to remember: “Net Promoter Score” and “Selection Bias”

    Net promoter score is the number of 9-10 a place gets on the “I would recommend your store to my friends” MINUS the number of 1-5s. In theory, it should be positive. A LOT of execs have their bonuses tied to this question. Frankly, unless I am overwhelmingly pleased with a place AND it is the only place to get that thing, I never give more than a 7. That means you did adequately and I might tell someone else that. Unfortunately, those people who just choose 10 for everything tend to skew this one.

    Selection bias says that the people most likely to respond are the really happy and really upset ones; the middle will ignore the request. (This is often gotten around by offering you something for free; that gets a better spread.) Most places realize this is going on, but often the line managers who get the scores don’t and will use them to bludgeon the employees.

  34. RoguePisigit says:

    I work in healthcare, and not only do patient satisfaction surveys affect our bonuses, meeting requirements, and action plans, but in more and more states they’re actually being tied to how much insurance companies pay per procedure. Also, at least in my field, anything less than perfect is failing. To “meet benchmark,” we need to score in the 95th percentile, all the time. I’m guessing this is the same in many areas since every time I take my car in for service, the front of the bill has a sheet stapled on that says, “you may get a survey from Hyundai about today’s experience. 10 IS OUR ONLY PASSING GRADE.”

    • Necrogram says:

      VW is pretty on top of theirs as well. I scored the dealer low on one of them for a service visit, because they loaner car was wretched and the dealers attitude was “oh well.”

      The day after, i get a call from the dealer angry because he got torn a new one over something he though was beyond his control.

      • RoguePisigit says:

        Oh nice. When I bought my car, I got called by the sales guy to ask flat out if I’d give him all 10’s. I told him I’d have to see the questions first but was satisfied. The more he pushed, the less satisfied I got though.

  35. Not Given says:

    When I take a survey, I try to give them the real answers. I don’t take surveys unless I’m getting something out of it.

  36. Necrogram says:

    The ones I do with my vendors at work do carry a lot of weight. Cisco is huge on them, as in your bonus is tied to what your customers think. Every year they do their annual satisfaction survey, and part if it they pick products randomly from your purchases and support calls. One year they pull an an access point i ordered to eval, and I gave some lukewarm responses since it was a “gimmie one to play with”. Apparently caused the proverbial crap to the fan since a long stand customer was being to become dissatisfied with service, and i started getting calls left and right wanting me go into more detail, and i spent a few days with the new mantra “I love my account team, don’t change my account, changing them would make me angry”

  37. PaulR says:

    On the last survey I filled out, after checking off the boxes randomly, I got to the ‘comments’ section – the part I was waiting for – and typed in as long a screed as the box would accept telling them just how tired I was of surveys, surveys, surveys, surveys, surveys everywhere, for every gawd-dang thing I purchase.

    That stopped ’em.

    I realize that sometimes people’s bonuses and pay are tied to the surveys. I usually put in a live about how much I hope that the idjits who think surveys are the only yardstick to measure performance desperately need to get out from behind their desks, and actually talk to the customers and to the staff.