Can we have self-regulation of customer satisfaction surveys?

I've ranted a few times about the flood of customer satisfaction surveys we get. It seems you can't buy a tube of toothpaste without being pushed to fill out a survey on it.

This is driven both by how easy it is in the e-world to implement such a survey, and by the need of marketing people to feel they are doing something. They are told they must measure, so they do, without thinking. Without realizing that doing too much surveying makes the survey useless. I, and probably most people, now delete surveys on sight unless I am angry. All the validity is gone. When people send me reminders to leave feedback on eBay or other sites, that's the surest way to get negative feedback.

It's a tragedy of the commons, too. Even a company that follows better procedure, only surveying randomly to a small subset of the population, and pushing to increase participation within only that small subset -- they will find themselves lost in a sea of surveys from bad companies that mail everybody.

So the marketing industry needs to set up some sort of industry body. That body needs to lay out some rules on how to do surveying. The rules would enforce proper statistical procedure, and they would also make sure that people get the right number of surveys in their whole life -- an amount that gathers enough data for those who need it, but gathers no more data than that. An amount that doesn't flood people and encourages them to participate in the rare instances where they are selected.

Certification seal

The industry group would generate a certification that a surveying followed the principles. Surveys that follow the principles would bear this trademarked seal. Companies would promise to never do any other kind of survey.

In addition, non-conformant surveys would get dissed as a form of spam. People would be encouraged not to respond, or to respond negatively to surveys that don't have the seal, or a similar seal from a competing group with the same goals. Eventually these surveys might get treated as spam, at the request of the recipient, and filtered out of the mail feed or blocked by ad-blockers. Of course if we get to that stage it is important that joining the group and using the seal are free, with punishment only for misuse.

I realize that efforts of that sort have failed in the past, so I am interested in other suggestions on how to wake people up to the realities of statistical measurement and keeping e-commerce pleasant.


It's not just marketing. Surveys are being used as a lazy and capricious method to judge performance of a wide variety of employees from call centers to auto mechanics to doctors. I like my doctor but I am loathe to fill out a survey for every visit, email, lab test, and prescription refill. And the mindset is anything less than a perfect score is a failure. I don't think yet another ratings agency can solve the problem. Ratings agencies seem to just add another layer of corruption and manipulation (e.g. Yelp, BBB, S&P). My tactic is to refuse the surveys and hope the more enlightened organizations will figure out it doesn't work and try something else.

" an amount that gathers enough data for those who need it, but gathers no more data than that. An amount that doesn't flood people"
Any reason to think that "enough" data is below the flood threshold? The current system sort of figures out that equilibrium by driving you to only give feedback when you're angry. You're still providing signal, both about which experiences went badly for you and about how you're in survey-overload. Maybe it's easier to A) stop thinking that the average point score (that got submitted) is the same as the average of the user experience than to B) coordinate all feedback surveys in the world from the sender side.

I'm in favor of much smarter user - side agents that cull and simplify all my mail, not just surveys. Recruiter mail, requests for donations, new product announcements, etc could all be made better.

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