Robert BoguskiWe came. We saw. We conquered. And we completed the questionnaire.

Returning exhausted from the latest trade show. Barely had the flight’s wheels hit the ground before I switch on my phone to see what I’ve missed in the past four hours. Some people work on airplane flights. For me, the time spent airborne is a welcome oasis of calm. Work can wait. It will always be there.

Back to reality. It is indeed waiting, in the form of 58 new emails, and it has questions.

“Do you have a few minutes to complete a short survey about your recent experience with our hotel?”

Just departed, fresh in memory. Sheets were fine.

A second email, urgently imploring me:

“Please take a few moments to complete the attached survey about your recent flight with us.”

Recent? Haven’t even taxied to the gate and they’re already dying to know my innermost thoughts about turbulence and pretzels.

A third.

“To better manage future programs, we ask that you complete a brief questionnaire describing what you liked and disliked about our recent trade show. We value your feedback. This survey will take approximately 10 minutes to complete.”

This association thrives on surveys. Wouldn’t be their event without one, or 10. And why are questionnaires always described as “brief?”

No, I think. Leave me alone.

But the airline survey is only five questions. How harmless can it be?

Some employ bribes. Completing the hotel survey yields me points. I can use them to upgrade to that suite with a view the next time I’m in downtown Kansas City. Fill out enough of these and I might land an all-expenses paid junket to Costa Rica. In 10 years.

Some apply guilt. I’m made to feel that to be a team player and complete the trade show survey is my duty. After all, my opinion is really important to them. Honest. Maybe that explains the scores of tan survey forms placed on every chair in the hall. Hint taken.


Airline survey first. I’m still breathing and in command of my other senses following the flight, which took off and landed as designed, so I suppose the basic objective has been accomplished. The rest is icing.

I answer the five questions. Yes, I would recommend your airline to another. Yes, I would consider flying with you again, should business travel call. Like I have a choice.

Likewise, back in the office, I complete the trade show survey. Yes, you did an excellent job of separating our company’s money from our company. We look forward to having you do it again next year. Why are rubber trash cans so expensive? Perhaps one of these years you will actually contribute to us landing an actual customer. One can dream.

I go to our company’s bank twice a year, usually when our business manager is away, and I need to make the deposit of the day’s mailed receivables. Yes, we have a remote check scanner at work (we aren’t cave-dwellers; we work in Silicon Valley, after all), but it has our business manager’s password. Further, the scanner dislikes me. It has that embedded spy chip designed specifically to mess with my mind, inevitably in time-constrained situations. Yes, that chip. It knows.

So, I make the deposit the old-fashioned way. It gives me an excuse for fresh air and a welcome break from drudgery.

Our bank is dying to know about my “deposit experience” each time I do it. Within 24 hours of each manual deposit I make, I receive an email from the bank asking me to submit to a three-minute survey.

“Did our bank consistently exceed your expectations during your visit?”

Since my expectations were zero, I suppose the fair answer would be “yes.”

“Does our bank make it easy to do business?”

The door was unlocked, and you willingly took my money without argument or complaint, so yes, it was relatively easy, considering the alternatives.

“How satisfied were you with your recent transaction experience?”

Transaction experience?

“How satisfied were you with the courtesy and knowledge of our associates during your recent transaction experience?”

Associates? We used to call them bank tellers.

“Anything else you would like to share with us about your recent bank experience?”

I came. I deposited. I went. I lived to tell the tale. And, naturally, complete your survey.

Until next time. As I said, I get the same survey request after every deposit.

Makes you wonder if they really want to know. And what do they actually do with all this precious feedback? Maybe, out of sight, it is deposited into a shredder.

Have we cheapened the notion of customer evaluations? Does the act suffice to overcome the lack of substance?

The imagination goes wild wondering what they did back in the days when “scrolling” meant something different.

For instance:

Please take a few moments to fill out the attached parchment questionnaire. We’d like to know your feedback concerning your “visit” to our dungeon. We are particularly interested in ways of making future stays with the Spanish Inquisition more productive and our enhanced interrogation methods more effective. Your comments will help us achieve this goal. Our “associates” strive to give the most efficient and impactful service possible, while addressing the needs of each individual. We welcome your suggestions and feedback to help improve the overall torture experience for future, or returning, inmates.


The Government of His Britannic Majesty George III invites you to join a select number of distinguished participants who are humbly importuned to be so kind as to complete the attached circular soliciting opinion concerning the revenue-generating policies of His Majesty’s Exchequer. A special emphasis is placed on opinion from the 13 North American colonies concerning tea levies. Your prompt response to this solicitation is most welcome and gratifying.

What about us?

Section 9.1.2 of the AS9100D standard says this about customer satisfaction and feedback:

The organization shall monitor customers’ perceptions of the degree to which their needs and expectations have been fulfilled. The organization shall determine the methods for obtaining, monitoring, and reviewing this information.

NOTE: Examples of monitoring customer perceptions can include customer surveys, customer feedback on delivered products and services, meetings with customers, market-share analysis, compliments, warranty claims, and dealer reports.

Note the standard does not specify one approved method of obtaining reliable evidence of customer satisfaction. That is left to the individual company. However, in practice and in our experience, most organizations seem to resort to the path of least resistance and almost always employ surveys, with some high-tech variation of the bank questions above, hoping for the best, but with mixed results. The standard seems to ask for more creativity. Most companies miss the question or lack the creativity. Hence the mixed results.

As a test engineering organization, our company, like many, has found it difficult to obtain useful feedback using surveys. Customers are reluctant to answer. They’re busy. They get bombarded by surveys. The questions are canned, often repetitive to the point of being meaningless. Like checking a box. No honest opportunities for genuine constructive criticism are available, short of essay questions, which nobody has the time and energy to complete anyway. Many times, overwhelmed customers simply won’t answer, no matter how many times one pesters them.

Call it survey fatigue.

What to do?

To gain opinions that carry weight, we get creative.

We ask new customers how they found us. This metric is tracked annually. New customers who are referred by old customers and colleagues are uniquely valuable. What better evidence of a favorable opinion of our company can you find? Their presence speaks for itself.

Repeat orders are another leading indicator. New accounts are celebrated. Second and third orders are a triumph. They confirm, more than any survey form, that we are doing something right, providing a much-needed and welcomed service, and compliments about us are circulating within that customer’s organization. They want to do business with us because we provide a service they need. We somehow fill a gap. Perhaps we found that elusive head-in-pillow defect causing a process engineer’s board to fail. She tells a colleague, who has a second, similar problem. Networking effects do the rest.

We monitor new accounts and whether they become repeat accounts. If, after a time, say one year, they do not repeat, we follow up and ask why.

Award applications are themselves effective as sources of feedback, especially those that require the submission of actual customer evaluations, asking hard questions. What did we do right? What did we do wrong? How did we recover from a bad situation and make it right? Did we own up to our mistakes? Are we clear and do we provide sufficient detail in test reports, quotations, descriptions of services provided, alternative options available, etc.? Do we tell the truth, however uncomfortable? Were we instrumental in helping solve a significant problem? Do we provide essential value in our services, for the money spent, compared with the competition? Are we difficult to do business with? Despite our idiosyncrasies, are we worth doing business with? Are we transparent in our business dealings? Do we exude the feeling of integrity in the professional manner in which we conduct ourselves? How can we be a more valuable supplier?

People are naturally judgmental, survey fatigue notwithstanding. They want to offer opinions. Sometimes stealth is required to cut past the politeness, extract those judgments, and interpret their meaning. Sometimes those customers have no idea their opinions are being solicited. Which is exactly the idea.

A little more time, effort and resourcefulness is needed for qualitatively better feedback. In our case, it has been worth the effort.

Ours is a better company for it.

Robert Boguski is president of Datest Corp. (; His column runs bimonthly.

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