Online Survey: Don’t Ask Me a Question, If You Don’t Want an Ethical Answer

If you’re ever feeling a little bored while waiting for your number to be called at the Department of Motor Vehicles, you might want to get online and go to one of those rating websites such as Do an online survey – it’s great fun. Go to a restaurant or carpet cleaning service or chiropractor and look at the reviews. Most of the reviews will tend to be “very good” or “excellent.” Every so often, there is a rating of “poor” or “average,” and invariably, there is an angry response in response to the response!

Now, I am the first to admit that some customers are “trolls” who are always mean or always angry, and never satisfied. However, most people who take the time to respond – especially those with suggestions for improvement, have legitimate complaints. It is hilarious to read the angry comments coming back from the company’s and their management suggesting the customers never darken their doors again.

This leads me to telling you about (and this is a guaranteed true story) a good friend who has been a member of a health club for about the past six years.

The health club, while sprucing up some areas of the huge facility, has fallen down on the job in terms of locker room cleanliness, staff friendliness and equipment maintenance. They have raised their rates virtually every year and over time, they seem to introduce more ways to separate the members from their money by offering many new services but only for a price.

The  Online Survey

As the internet and interactions between users and services have expanded, we have swiftly entered the age of the online survey. Use most any kind of service, and there is bound to be an online survey coming your way a few days later.

Last week, my friend received a survey from his health club. The first question was: “How likely are you to recommend The ___ Athletic Club to a friend?” He gave them a rating of 7 out of 10, barely passing. There was a space provided for comments. He made his comments in a thoughtful and constructive manner in the online survey.

Within the day, he received an email from the Membership Services Director. The email was curt, angry and suggested that he was being a complainer. As he has friends at the health club, he did not react to her comments but he has decided that should another online survey arrive and conditions not improve, he will leave the facility.

It was apparent the health club only wanted to receive high ratings to make itself feel good. It got me to wondering about good ethics, an online survey and how organizations are viewing themselves. Let me approach this issue with three questions, though I am sure we can think of many more.

The first question that comes to mind: Why are you sending out a survey if you don’t want an honest response? The answer that comes to mind: It really isn’t a survey at all, but a tool the company intends to use to impress future customers with their high satisfaction ratings. It is an advertisement, not really a true survey.

The second question: Why get upset at the customer for truthfully answering the survey? If a restaurant patron respectfully complained about the baked chicken having the same mouth feel as an NBA basketball, why not explore the possibility with the chef? If the dentist’s hygienist has a mean attitude and the client is asked for a truthful evaluation, why not mention it?

Why do organizations confuse online surveys with the social media? It seems that Facebook and Twitter and other sites are often places where people go to feel good about themselves; e.g. “I have 800 close friends on Facebook!” If one of those “friends” sharply disagrees all heck breaks loose. When posting a survey, why is it that some organizations only want to be liked? Is it because they confuse surveys with “Likes, friends and followers?”

Virtually every ethical issue is brought to light by those who are whistleblowers, dissent, or have themselves experienced unethical behavior. Instead of trying to quash comments that suggest the need for improvement, why are they not being celebrated? It is an ethical argument well worth bringing to light.


Posted by Chuck Gallagher in business ethics and tagged , .

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