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Just a few minutes of your time…

What happened to the days where you had to earn the right to complain? You could have a miserable trip on United, come home whining about the terrible flight, the food, the delays and the general attitude of the airline and when you’d have finally calmed down enough, you would then spend many hours and many phone calls trying to find who to complain to and finally—FINALLY—you’d find the address and send off a pithy and disgruntled letter. Few highs were as satisfying as when you would get an answer back, a form-style apology and a couple of thousand Frequent flyer miles for good measure.

Now, complaining isn’t satisfying, it’s a nuisance! You can barely go to the bathroom at the airport without being asked to fill out of survey asking you: “How was the service? Toilet clean enough? Toilet paper soft enough? Did you love the new scented soap? How about the automated hand drier? Take our survey. It will only take a few minutes of your time.”

Hotels, restaurants, gyms, bars, museums, everyone wants to know what you think. It all hit me when I recently went on a business trip. I began to notice a pattern. A survey at every locale.

Airplane survey? Check.

Hotel survey? Check.

Convention survey? Check.

AIA National Office survey? Boat ride survey? Farnsworth house visit survey? Check, check and check.

And when something is extremely good (or bad), I have no qualms in sharing my opinion but you frequently find that the companies who ask for the most surveys are kind of the worst ones. “How was your experience?” Broken airline seats, hotels with furniture falling apart, chipped paint at a museum.

And before you defend surveys, remember that the one of the greatest product innovator in the late 20th century Steve Jobs never conducted a single survey. He never ran a consumer test and never bothered to worry about what people wanted because he wanted to give people more than they even knew was possible.

A survey didn’t event an iPhone, an iPad or the MacBook I’m typing this on.

This is what Steve hobs said in an interview for Business Week in May 1998:

Q: Did you do consumer research on the iMac when you were developing it?
A: No. We have a lot of customers, and we have a lot of research into our installed base. We also watch industry trends pretty carefully. But in the end, for something this complicated, it’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.

 Then again, I guess it can be hard keeping up with technology when they are too busy writing up surveys


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