Magazine article The Spectator

The Tyranny of the Feedback Form

Magazine article The Spectator

The Tyranny of the Feedback Form

Article excerpt

Against the customer service Q&A

Not long ago, I woke up in hospital, in pain, with a damaged back, but grateful for the sleep that a couple of doses of morphine had secured. 'Morning,' said a sixtysomething man who appeared by the side of the bed. 'I'm Derek, I'm a volunteer here.'

'Hello Derek.'

'I've bought you some cornflakes.'

I wanted to hug him.

'Also...' He produced a sheet of paper. Oh no. 'There are a few questions here about how you've found your stay with us. I can fill them in for you if you want...'

Luckily I was too weak to get angry. 'Could you just leave it there, Derek? I might look at it later.'

You can't go anywhere these days without being hit by a feedback form. Restaurants, shops, hotels, dentists, hospitals -- no matter what service you've paid for, the company involved wants you to answer a series of questions on how well they provided it and how they might provide it more efficiently in the future. Even galleries ambush you with forms as you walk out. Can you measure the value of seeing a Titian on a strongly agree/strongly disagree scale?

Often, as if to acknowledge what a faff this is, the firm adds the offer of a free meal/train journey/Hawaiian massage to a winner drawn at random from all those completing the form. Well, businesses of Britain, here's the only bit of feedback you need: if it takes an A4 sheet of moronic multiple-choice questions -- or an interminable click-box online survey -- for you to decide whether your customers are happy, you're doomed.

It was very simple in the old days. A company knew if it wasn't doing a good job -- the till was empty. And for any decent outfit this is still the case. You don't get corner shops issuing feedback forms. Or family-run restaurants, independent plumbers or local cab firms. They assess how happy their customers are by -- radical concept, this -- talking to them. If a newsagent gets three people asking for a particular magazine, he thinks, 'Hang on, might be worth my while stocking this.' If the owner of a sandwich shop notices that a regular has stopped having the coronation chicken, she might revert to her original recipe. If a boiler engineer gets a dozen calls starting 'a friend recommended you', he knows he's on the right track.

Corporate Britain, however, doesn't work that way. …

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