Living in a market-based economy, we tend to think in terms of customer satisfaction. The utilitarian calculation about maximizing the greatest pleasure for the most people drives the economic engine of capitalism. Businesses become successful in a capitalist economy by figuring out what people want, then giving it to them.
There are any number of ways to do that, not least of which is the “customer survey.” I get untold number of solicitations to take surveys–via email, over the phones, walking in the mall, at the cash register in the restaurant.
Sometimes I’m even offered a premium in return (money, gift cards, to be put into a drawing for a chance at a new _____), so badly do companies want to know what I think.
Now, many of these surveys are merely trying to find out how I think the business is doing. Are they providing the service or product they advertise? Do I like the look, taste, texture, durability, hospitality for which I’ve paid?
I understand this kind of market research, and I think it’s probably in my best interest that businesses are trying to figure out how better to do what they do. If I consistently find toenails in my pot pie, the offending eatery presumably has a stake in possessing that information.
Being the kind of establishment that wants this information is a good thing for a business.
There are other kinds of market surveys, though, that seem to want me to tell the company who I think they should be. What should they be concentrating on? If I could pick from a list of core principles, which one do I think is most important?
This kind of market research I find troubling. My first thought is: “If you don’t know who you should be, why should I help you figure it out?”
Don’t get me wrong. Knowing who you are is important information to have. All I’m saying is that asking other people to give it to you is dangerous, and a possible signal that you should be doing something else.
The first kind of survey is designed to improve service, and is therefore almost always a good thing.
The second kind of survey is designed to provide identity, and, I would like to suggest, is a sign of organizational flailing.