They're everywhere you look now, the ubiquitous customer feedback survey.
You get a haircut and Number 9 Salon emails to ask if it's working. Call Frontier to complain and a voice begs you to take a survey about your interaction. An oil change at the Nissan dealership prompts a plea for a review.
If it seems like you're inundated by surveys lately, it's because you are. Businesses of all kinds want your immediate feedback on how they're doing.
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Southwest Airlines values your opinion. Amazon wants to know how many stars you'd give the luggage. Publix has selected you to answer a few questions.
The pitch is even infringing on our beloved pastime.
"GIVE US YOUR FEEDBACK," says the email from the Tampa Bay Rays. "Did you enjoy your time at the game? Is there anything you'd like to tell us about your game-day experience at Tropicana Field?"
Of course, they've long wanted to know. And we've seen customer comment forms and pen-and-paper surveys for decades on restaurant tabletops and hotel night stands.
But this feels different.
Suspecting there was something afoot, we, um, surveyed two men who spend a lot of time thinking about surveys.
Turns out there are a few forces at work that have given rise to business' seemingly sudden school-boy curiosity about how much you like them.
First, there's been a transition in marketing from the one-off transaction to a more long-term relationship, said Richard Lutz, chairman of the marketing department at the University of Florida's Warrington College of Business.
The business doesn't want your money just once. It wants your money for the rest of your life.
In fact, businesses assign you a CLT – a Customer Lifetime Value. But seeing that pay off means getting you back in the door. And that means building and maintaining a relationship.
"The whole underlying philosophy is, 'We want a customer for life,' " Lutz said. "And if we're doing a good job of managing our relationship with customers, we need to know how they feel."
That's where the second factor comes in: technology.
The credit card you use at the coffee shop might betray your email, giving the shop a way to reach you directly, automatically, and to personalize it by using your first name. And your phone is in your pocket, so you see the email before you even taste your coffee.
And if you can answer a few quick questions immediately, while the interaction is fresh in mind, the company is getting "the latest up-to-date feedback, perceptions and opinions from customers," said Moez Limayem, dean of the Muma College of Business at the University of South Florida.
"If you leverage on that data, and apply analytics, you can convert it to insights to help your company," he said.
Throw in intense competition in a globalizing market, empowered customers (who, by the way, self publish on social media, swaying friends' opinions), and surveys seem natural.
And, said Lutz, there has been research that shows that "a customer will be positive about a company if the company simply says, 'Hey, how are we doing?' "
So just asking the question — even seeming interested in performance — can make a customer feel positive.
Said Limayem: "The message you're sending with these surveys is that you really do care about your customers, and that's really important."
But there are downsides.
Pretending to care and not acting to fix faulty business practices can rub customers wrong.
And immediate surveys tend to draw responses from the extremes — happy or disgruntled customers — not from the vast swath of ambivalent folks in the middle.
They also reflect the experiences of those demographics who actually have time to respond to surveys.
"People are time stressed and generally not interested in spending their time doing something they're not interested in," said Lutz. "I think, in general, people are put off by requests for their time."
And that's basically what made us ask.
"I've been to some places where they keep calling you and calling you until you take the survey," said Limayen. "They can be harmful if they're overdone."
So what's the end game? Will there come a day when we all walk through life, phones in hand, rating every interaction?
"At some point it reaches a saturation point," said Lutz. "As a customer, you'll be spending all your time rating every single thing.
"And that," he said, "is not really living life."
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Ben Montgomery can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8650. Follow @gangrey.