Tag Archives: organizational behavior

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The Scourge of Closed Option Questionnaires

Most organizations are disinclined to invest in the labor to directly address a consumer question or complaint. Their pattern of not wanting to authentically listen mirrors our modern malady of wanting to be heard more than we want hear.

Organizations now operate with the perceived need to survey customers about the quality of the service they received. The impulse is fine.  They want satisfied consumers.  And they would welcome high ratings that can be part of their advertising and marketing campaigns.  Then, too, many consumers now understand a thing or two about the logic of consumer behavior. They know that a failing business may only see a customer once, especially if competitors are just a click away.

Savvy customers and attentive businesses are all good.  But the instruments for measuring customer satisfaction are often facile. The best tool for learning about a customer’s experience is a live representative ready to trouble-shoot a problem.  But person to person contact is increasingly rare.  Most organizations are not inclined to invest in the staff that would require. Their pattern of not wanting to authentically listen mirrors our modern malady of wanting to frame a conversation before the other can respond. I have noticed that even at auto service departments, agents are often too busy keying in routine data about my car, such as mileage, to ask what kind of service it may need. Most don’t even ask why I made the appointment.

But the worst offender in the measurement of customer satisfaction is the online, phone or mail questionnaire.  Most are written to be tallied and converted into a number for each item. You know the drill:

“How would you rank your service experience?”

Very Good      Good        Fair          Poor

Would you recommend this product to others?       Yes         No

For obvious reasons these are called a “closed” option questions. Your attitude is to be gleaned from the adjective that you identify frequently from an outline questionnaire.

I recently completed a multi-page questionnaire for a newly purchased car.  And, incredibly, even with all the questions, the carmaker failed to set up a form that would let me clearly state my reason’s for the purchase.  (If you are interested, key controls were not on a fussy touch screen.)

Closed option questions appear to be good for the organization because they can be tabulated, hence, quantified, hence assumed “objective.” The bean counters among us love them. Even as a college teacher, I was required to give out these uniform questionnaires. But much of the feedback is coated in a thick fog of ambiguity.  For a student, useful feedback to a professor is not judging class lectures to be only “fair,” but their reasons for circling this term.

If any organization asks a really good question about their service (i.e., “What was most disappointing about your experience?”), the organization might learn something, but this kind of open-option question cannot be numerically tallied.  And A.I. technology is not that smart.  A person within the company would have to read the statement and engage in some active problem solving (especially if the same problem is mentioned by others). That’s an interpretive act: the kind of creative analysis we are squeezing out of routine consumer practices. To be sure, a car manufacturer will get a great deal of attention from a company representative who wants to sell them a zillion tires. The consumer looking for just a good set of four?  Not so much.

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The Software Shuffle

There’s an art to setting up online forms that are responsive and adaptable.

Anyone that works or does business with an organization—pretty much all of us—face an almost daily task that would have been unknown a generation ago. Not only do we use computers, and often depend on them for the payment of bills and the submission of forms and applications. We also no get the flip-side effects of messages we no longer control.  The requirement to use a group’s proprietary software in order to complete even the simplest transaction is so common we hardly notice. But sometimes the smaller the business, the more the software has you wandering into the weeds.

There’s an art to setting up online forms that are responsive and adaptable. Bad software is typically written to meet the needs of the makers rather than those on the receiving end.  Good software works on the principle of convenience.  Ever notice how easy it is to buy something on Amazon?

Software is the last to know when it’s stupid.

I am now regularly invited to meetings via an official looking Google form that lets me state my intention with a “Yes,” “No”, or “Maybe.” You probably get them as well.  My frustration is that there’s no space to communicate anything more meaningful.  Just this morning I was sent such a form announcing the cancellation of a meeting, but still inviting me to respond “Yes,” “No,” or “Maybe.”  I pushed the green “Yes” button, but didn’t know what I was actually “saying.” Was it: “Yes! do cancel the damn meeting for sure; I’m glad to have the time back?” Or: “Yes, thank God someone came to their senses.” But what would a “No” mean?  Perhaps “I’m going anyway, just to soak up the silence in the otherwise empty room?”  Or, “No, and that was a career-busting mistake to call it off?”  Then there’s the middle option: “‘Maybe’ I’ll think about not going to the cancelled meeting.”  These responses pose quandaries inside of quandaries worthy of a diagram that looks like a ballpark pretzel.

Software “for interfacing with consumers” is designed with closed-ended options. Most of it converts the human experience into a set of comparative numbers, making all of us less aware and savvy. This is the result of a general overreach for quantification. Results of a questionnaire or an application for services seem to require simple responses so that the organizational chain never has to deal with the natural variability of human understanding.  Put simply, open ended questions don’t “code well.”  They require a listener/reader on the other end: a bigger stretch than some organizations want to make.