Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Support NHPR with a year-end gift today for 2 chances to win a trip to Aruba!

Everyone's A Critic: The Constant Quest For Customer Feedback

Staying in a hotel, eating in a restaurant, buying goods online; just about every transaction these days is followed by a request to rate your experience.
Staying in a hotel, eating in a restaurant, buying goods online; just about every transaction these days is followed by a request to rate your experience.

Did you have a good summer? I spent much of mine being a critic. Perhaps you did, too.

Take a flight, you get an email: "Tell us about your flight to Cleveland." Stay at a hotel, you get another survey: "Rate your stay!"

Go to a movie, have dinner, buy a garden hose, gym shoes, or a car, get your teeth cleaned, your cat cremated, buy a movie ticket, send flowers, or have an MRI, and often you're asked to rate the experience, like a Broadway opening. Five stars? Only two?

Buy a book online, and you're asked to rate the book, the author, and the bookseller. Call a Customer Service department, and they ask you to rate ... customer service.

I don't think Roger Ebert had to write as many reviews.

Many Americans may have developed survey fatigue over the years. Richard Oliver, a professor of management at Vanderbilt, told the New York Times, "The frequent requests to fill out these surveys, especially with no incentives, have been so annoying that people just stop doing it."

And do you think company presidents, airline chiefs, and the heads of hotel corporations tremble in their suites as they wait to read your review? "Oh, I hope they had a good time!" The only way to "read" — there are quotes around that — reviews from the thousands of people who file off a 747, spend the night in a hotel, or order bags of kitty litter, is to run them through text recognition software, not people.

So do all the reviews and ratings we're asked to make lead to anything? Or do they just offer an illusion of solicitousness, and add more names to a company's email base?

Donna Fluss, the president of DMG Consulting, once told readers in Customer Relationship Management Magazine -- which seems to be a good place, by the way, to find out how companies really see customers — that "asking for feedback is great, but only if the information is going to be used to fix or change something."

For many customers, it's not just fatigue, but a feeling of futility; even foolishness. Survey results are closely held. But I'd be very surprised if a top complaint from the passengers of most any airline flight these days isn't, "The seats are too small! We're packed in here like dill pickle spears!"

But airline seats and space still shrink. The bottom line of profits for the airline, and low price for fliers, is more important than website grumbles and reviews. These days there seems to be so much feedback — so little impact.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.