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Adding insult to injury: the tyranny of satisfaction surveys

2009 July 9
by Francis Gouillart

I am in Paris, staying at a Novotel hotel, meeting with clients and teaching. The hotel is great. They all know me here and greet me by name. They even let me transform my room into an improvised meeting room with four of my colleagues, bringing me extra chairs and tailoring their cleaning schedule to my needs. It’s all peachy. Except for the fact that the Internet does not work properly. For €20 a night (gulp), it kicks me out every two minutes and forces me to reenter my access code every time. This is by now the only thing I care about. Forget about the friendly staff and the special service. This is a BAAAAD hotel. On the last day of my stay in the morning, I find a Novotel survey in my e-mail box asking me about my experience. The adrenaline starts flowing. I will get to vent. The cathartic effect is starting already. I will sleep in peace in the cab on the way to the airport.

But wait! It does not ask me about the Internet connection, except as a minor feature in a long list of “services”. It wants to know whether I think of this hotel more as “pleasant with some originality”, or “classic with a twist”. It wants to know whether I have enjoyed the two bathrobes and the slipper they have made available for me. Or whether the Nespresso coffee machine does anything for me. I don’t give a hoot. I want to talk about the Internet, in fact let them have it about their Internet. The survey is nearly over. I want to kill the market researcher who designed this questionnaire. At the end, there is a box where I can write whatever I want. I know the market researcher is already half-checked out. I still spill my guts. Just in case. The box is too small to contain my ire. The tyranny of quantitative market research has won once again. They will never know why I have woven this complex pattern of a final evaluation where I hate the hotel, yet love the people in it and most of its amenities. They will probably run regression models between my overall low grade and my favorable answers to most questions, and shake their head.

Maybe they should have just given me a blank piece of paper and let me tell my story.

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