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How Am I Doing? I Really, Really Want To Know

How do you like this commentary so far? Is it exceeding your expectations?

Granted, it might be a bit soon to say. But judging from my email inbox, the question isn’t unusual.

In the past few weeks, I’ve received: an invitation to complete a guest satisfaction survey about a recent hotel stay; a request to take a survey from the board of directors at my condo, asking about amenities and services there; both a request for feedback and a reminder about the request for feedback from GEICO, regarding a recent claim; and, though not a survey, a welcome to the Toys R Us “family,” which we were required to join when sending a present to a friend who registered at Babies R Us. (I guess that means we now are obligated to RSVP whenever we get a survey, or maybe, instead of inviting us to a special sale, they’re going to invite us to a family reunion.)

I remember when a hotel would simply offer an unobtrusive feedback card, which guests could fill out and leave behind if they chose. Now hotels, airlines, rental car agencies and coffee shops all want you to fill out online surveys, letting them know how well you liked your experience. I recently used OpenTable to make a dinner reservation for my wedding anniversary. Not only did the restaurant want my feedback, but OpenTable wanted to know how the restaurant was, too.

Amy Laburda, who books travel for our firm, also gets an array of feedback surveys. These usually entail at least one follow-up, often asking if the first email was received and if the traveler has had time yet to answer a few questions about their delayed flight or their upgraded rental car.

All this reminds me of Ed Koch. The former New York City mayor was famous for going around the city, asking anyone and everyone: “How am I doing?” To my knowledge, he did not stalk those who declined to answer.

I do appreciate the focus on customer service. When I was younger, I often heard lamentations that customer service was dying or dead. Now, however, we have over-compensated. And it’s important to remember that customer service is not precisely the same as customer satisfaction.

I question whether the statistics gathered by these customer satisfaction surveys are sound. The people who take these surveys will generally be the people who are angry about something and the people who enjoy taking surveys. Besides, customers who do feel a burning desire to share their reactions to a product or service have more choice than ever in doing so. They can leave reviews on vendor websites like Amazon or review-centric websites like TripAdvisor or Yelp. They can call or email the establishment. They can leave Facebook comments. They can write blog posts. They can tweet.

But companies want know what we think more than most of us want to spend time telling them. Customer opinions matter. On services like Hulu, you can instantly say whether or not a commercial is relevant to you by clicking yes or no. You aren’t even required to have experienced what is being advertised.

Though an occasional experience, good or (more likely) bad, will get average customers roused enough to voice their opinion, many of us just want to get on with our travel, our meal or our purchase.

Even given the limited pool of survey participants, the data-gathering serves a purpose. It is helpful to managers, who want to know every time there is a problem so that it can be corrected quickly. But all this survey-taking could leave some customers, who had been perfectly satisfied, retroactively disgruntled by multiple emails asking for their time and attention.

Some companies offer something in exchange for completing their surveys, such as a discount code, coupon, or entry in a drawing. But more and more, feedback surveys are becoming an expectation rather than an occasional occurrence.

As a business owner, I want to know how I’m doing too, and I’m happy to hear from anyone who feels moved to tell me. That’s one reason, among others, for the “Contact Us” form on our website. But I’m not going to track you down after you visit our offices, and I won’t just keep asking.

I’m too busy ducking “How am I doing?” as it comes at me from every side.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s recently updated book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Looking Ahead When Youth Is Behind Us,” and Chapter 4, “The Family Business.” Larry was also among the authors of the firm’s book The High Achiever’s Guide To Wealth.

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