Saturday, February 22, 2014

Why Surveys are a Waste of Time

Your opinion really doesn't matter.  But if you'd like to tell us more intimate information about yourself, please do so!

I recently received two "surveys" from J.D. Power and Maritz surveys about a cheap Japanese pickup truck I bought.   The Power survey was at least short, but so abstracted that you really can't tell them much other than rating things on a scale from 1 to 5.   And of course, they wanted to know how much money I made, my marital status, and what color my skin was - among other things.

Maritz sent a nine page survey with well over 100 questions (they are numbered 1-48, but some questions have over a dozen sub-questions).  And of course, they wanted personal questions about me, my age, number of people in the household, their relationship to me, my income, my educational experience, occupation, primary language, whether I donate to charity (!!), hobbies, and my e-mail address daytime phone and cell phone numbers.

You know, basic information, nothing personal or anything.

Needless to say, I threw the survey in the trash.  I have better things to do than to spend over an hour completing a survey.

And this makes me wonder a number of things.   While they claim to keep "my name and address" completely confidential, they did not extend this to my phone number or other data.   The demographic data harvested is a gold mine, and some of the questions ("How often do you donate to charity?  Sometimes, Often, Never") seem tailor-made for resale to a charity telemarketer.

Their privacy statement is interesting:
"If you provide us with your e-mail address, we may send you e-mail offers. We may use information you have given to us, for example, to measure your interest in various services or special offers, and inform you about new products and services. These offers may be based on information you provide in your initial visit with us, through surveys, or through information we collect about the pages you visit."
In other words, you just consented to receive SPAM.  How they track your online page visits, I do not know.

It gets worse, though:
"Maritz collects personal data from and about individuals for use generally in connection with the operation of its business. Such personal data may be used by Maritz to provide incentive, performance improvement, loyalty marketing, learning, travel, market research, or other goods and services to its clients. In addition, Maritz may use personal data in order to properly manage the employment or contractor relationship with the individual that is the subject of such data.  Maritz may disclose personal data to third parties when such disclosure is necessary or appropriate for Maritz' provision of such services to its clients or otherwise for Maritz' operation of its business. Maritz may also disclose personal data to third parties in circumstances described in the "Onward Transfer to Third Parties" section below."
While they keep your personal data "confidential", this confidentiality includes sending it to third parties.  But under what circumstances will they disclose this?
"Additionally, Maritz may disclose personal data to a third party if the disclosure is to a Maritz affiliate or to persons or entities providing services on behalf of Maritz, a Maritz client, or the individual (each a "transferee"), consistent with the purpose for which the information was obtained, if the transferee, with respect to the data in question (a) is subject to law providing an adequate level of privacy protection including, without limitation, transferees that are located within Switzerland, the EU or Canada or transferees that are otherwise subject to an "adequacy" finding, (b) has agreed in writing to provide an adequate level of privacy protection, and/or (c) subscribes to the Principles."
 So, in other words, (translating from legalese), they agree to keep your information to themselves, unless they decide not to, but they will only send it to other people who agree to keep it secret.   This is what I call a disclosure/non-disclosure agreement.   "We agree.... unless we decide not to."

So it appears from these statements in their "Privacy" agreement that they can sell your data to clients and affiliates, and hence the question about whether I donate to charity - which has nothing to do with cars.  Charities, on the other hand, particularly the odious ones, love to get mailing lists and contact information like this, and I suspect if I filled out this survey and said I "frequently" donate to charity, the folks at "Smile Train" or the "Central Asia Institute" will be sending me even more junk mail - after buying my name as part of a mailing list, from Maritz.

The second thing that hit me, was "what idiot would spend an hour answering questions like, 'do you like the wind in your hair while driving?'"   The "data" from such a "survey" is utterly worthless, as the self-selection by the respondents narrows the group to "lonely losers with lots of time on their hands."

Moreover, I am half-tempted to just fill out the survey with random answers and send it in, just to piss them off.  Or better yet, put my name down as "Robert Maritz Bell" and see how much junk mail I get addressed to that name.   And I wonder how many people "spoof" these surveys - and further pollute the resultant data.

And then it hit me, that maybe all the data in the survey is bogus.  What they really wanted was the last page - with the important demographic data, e-mail address and phone number.   And why would someone provide that information?  Well, if you want to win the contest and get $10,000 you better put it in!   So they dangle a "freebie" out there to get you to supply personal information.

In other words, it is a type of phishing scheme, and the eight other pages of "do you like the wind in your hair?" and "what is your favorite color" are just window dressing to get you to the penultimate deal - who you are, who you sleep with, how much you make, and what is your e-mail address.

Surveys are a waste of time.   Your opinion really doesn't matter.   And the data from surveys is meaningless.   Only sad and lonely people fill out these things.  Busy folks who have a life, do not.   So the resultant "data" is skewed into what depressed people think.

And maybe that is why Maritz uses this nine-page survey - as a filtering mechanism.   As someone with half a brain and other things to do, I throw it in the trash - knowing full well that Nissan doesn't care if I "like to feel the wind in my hair" or "donate to charity often".

But the person who has the dedication to fill out all nine pages?   They are a Grade-A Patsy, Prime Chump Meat, USDA certified SUCKERS.  And their demographic and contact information is priceless, as you can sell them anything

Why not? After all, they are dumb enough to think that major Corporations are hanging on their every word.  They already think that "their opinion matters" and that they are entered in a contest - and that Maritz is going to "respect their privacy".

In a way it is like the poorly worded Nigerian Scam e-mails.  Smart people don't fall for them, as they are such obvious scams, with the mis-spellings and poor grammar.   But dumb people believe them - and the poor grammar and bad spelling act as a filtering mechanism to filter out smart people.   Only an idiot would respond to a Nigerian Scam e-mail - but he is far more likely to be sucked into the scam.

Similarly, only an idiot would fill out these surveys, answer them online, or over the phone.  I've decided to stop being an idiot.

* * *

Of course, the interesting thing is, how did they know to send me the survey?   Well, someone must have sold my name and address to them.   Nice folks.  Thanks.

UPDATE:   This blog posting is very interesting.   It is now on the first page of Google if you search "Maritz Survey"  What is fascinating is the response from "Maritz CEO" whose rambling and incoherent responses are quite bizarre - perhaps it is a troll.  The grooming posts from "Maritz Recruiter" are also quite revealing - they apparently want to groom their image on the Internet by using a lot of credentialism to discredit the poster..

One poster said they apparently "won" the contest and received a form asking them for a Social Security Number and to sign a release form.

I would be hesitant to do either.  

UPDATE:   This BBB listing of complaints is interesting, and also illustrates why the BBB is worthless.  Several people complained of repeated unwanted calls at odd hours, despite their name being on the do-not-call registry.  The "response" by Maritz was that they are a legitimate survey company, blah, blah, blah, and the BBB "closed" the complaint as "resolved."   The BBB is pretty toothless, as I have noted before.

It gets weirder.   This site claims that Maritz uses "Work at Home" people to run their telephone surveys, as well as "Secret Shoppers".

Martiz does warn of phony secret shopper scams, which apparently invoke their name (the usual Western Union Scams).

A number of automotive discussion groups discuss this survey, too.  The common denominator is (a) the survey is too damn long and (b) it asks too much damn personal information.

I'd toss this "survey" in the trash - and hang up on their calls.

This Link has a number of complaints from a number of former employees, as well as what appears to be a grooming post (note how they were called on on using "WE" when the person posting claimed to be a "former employee".

Maritz research appears to be a legitimate company (although one with a storied history), but they way they behave on the internet - with grooming posts and the like, as well as their bizarre ultra-long survey, does give one pause....  I cannot fathom why anyone would design such a survey.  Even the Census Bureau has a shorter survey!  Hey Martiz - your Survey SUCKS!

They seem to have their fingers in a lot of pies.  Martiz Travel, for example, does employee incentive travel (one of my tenants was in this business).   Many companies will offer trips as incentives to employees (sales goals, etc.) and hire travel agencies who specialized in this area, to do group bookings.

I do not think Nissan "commissioned" this survey, so much as Maritz bought my name from a mailing list, and then sent out the survey.   The survey is very generic and broad, and has less to do with my satisfaction of the vehicle than a lot of esoteric things.   If this survey is legitimate (and I do not think it is), I believe the data is packaged and offered to automakers, not commissioned at the front-end.   But that is just a theory I have.

If they really wanted to know how I felt about the car, I'll tell them:  It is OK, but needed better springs in the back.  I already remedied that.

Surveys are worthless, as the sample base is self-filtering.   They are also worthless because people lie, to themselves, if no one else.

Women say they want a convertible ("Wind in the hair") but when they buy one, they never put the top down, as it musses their hair.  As a result, the next car they buy is a hardtop.

But if you asked them, in a survey, they'd say they want a ragtop...

UPDATE:  This Report from Atenga lists the "top 10 reasons" market research fails.   What is interesting about it, is that it is basically an ad for Atenga, and takes a dig at "amateur" survey data.   Since computers are part of every online ordering system, it is not hard to tack a survey onto an ordering form or follow up with a survey e-mail.   Atenga seems to be saying "leave this to the professionals."  But as I noted before, if the survey is a Bizrate survey, it may do more harm to your business than good.

I would add an 11th "reason" why market research fails - too damn much of it.   Not only are 200-question surveys offensive, but EVERYONE it seems, has a survey pop-up on their website these days - even the government.   "How are we doing?  Will you take this survey?" they say.  No, I'd just like do file a Patent, thank you.

And it is the same old problem:  I am too busy to take stupid surveys - most people are.  And as surveys proliferate, they become like a thick jungle we have to hack our way through, just to get across the Internet.  This creates survey fatigue in short order. As a result, the only people who respond are looney-tunes or folks angry with your site - an extreme filtering condition of your user database.

Throw in the fact that so many surveys are outright phishing expeditions or other scams, and, well, the safest thing to do is never answer a survey, ever, ever, ever!  There is nothing in it for you, other than possibly being ripped off, and even "legitimate" surveys are just making some survey company rich, not you.   Don't answer surveys - ever!

The best survey I've seen is on the Treasury Direct site.  Every time you log out, it asks you ONE QUESTION:  "How would you rate this site?   Excellent,  Good, Fair, Poor" and then displays to you the cumulative results of that one-question survey.   Not surprisingly, they get a pretty good response:

TreasuryDirect® Survey Results

Thank you for completing our survey. Your feedback is very important to us, as we work to improve our services. The results shown below are for the last 30 days and include your score. Due to rounding, the numbers below may not add to 100. Also, some of the numbers may be 0 because of either rounding or small sample size. If you'd like to provide more specific comments, please e-mail us.



Sometimes, simpler is better.

Stop surveying us to death!