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Shocking Incompetence by a Major Brand

How can we have confidence in the future of our industry when a major research vendor has so little basic research competence?




Ron Sellers

This post will be short and incredulous.

There’s a lot of discussion about the lack of respondent engagement, the lack of respect for respondents’ time, the lack of survey relevance, and other issues which many people feel are harming the research industry.  Experts and wanna-be experts debate, discuss, blog, tweet, and give speeches about how to improve the industry.

Yet how much hope is there, really, when one of the major brands in the industry acts like a first-year research intern – and not a particularly bright one at that?

I just took a call from a research vendor to which I have subcontracted quantitative fieldwork in the past.  They wanted to talk to me about my satisfaction with our most recent project.  I recognized the brand immediately – you would too – but I couldn’t for the life of me remember what project I had done with them recently.

Then they told me the survey was about my satisfaction with my most recent project with them:  in January 2013.  The first question was how satisfied I was with the overall experience on a five-point scale.

I assume the survey would have gone on from there to other standard customer satisfaction questions, but I stopped the interviewer and told her there is no possible way I could remember the details of a project nearly three years old.  I had no idea who my client was, what the sample frame was, whether it was B2B or B2C – nothing.  She didn’t have the information in front of her to tell me any of the details to jog my memory.  As I’ve created and managed dozens of projects in the 31 months since the project ran, I was dumbfounded that they would expect me to remember a single thing about that particular project.

I won’t divulge the brand, although I am sorely tempted to just for the purposes of shaming them.  It is inexcusable that a major research firm – really, that a research firm of any size – would actually expect me to remember details from a project nearly three years old.  It’s bad enough when I see research companies fielding bad surveys from clients that don’t have a clue, but with the research company itself creating this project, the lack of basic research competence is beyond mind-boggling.

Companies need to understand how mistakes like this impact their brand.  This particular company (like many others) has spent a lot of money trying to position their brand as one with industry-leading expertise, through white papers, webinars, advertising, conference appearances, research-on-research, etc.  In my mind, all of that has been undone by one personal demonstration of a shocking lack of basic competence and common sense.

Do they truly know so little about research that they expect me to remember details this far back, or do they just not really care about response quality?  Is my business so unimportant to them that they can wait 31 months to find out how satisfied I was?  Is executive management this incompetent to design and approve a project such as this, or this incompetent that they don’t even know about a survey effort being done by someone lower down the food chain in their own company?

Forget industry expertise – they just flunked Research 101, Business 101, and Brand Development 101.  At least they got the trifecta.

This also represents opportunity lost.  Had they contacted me right after the project, I would have been happy to spend time telling them the good and the bad, which they could use to a) be more likely to satisfy me as a client on the next project, and b) help evaluate their overall process so as to improve client satisfaction in general.

Had they called about my perceptions of their brand, their competence, their business model, or anything else in general about the company, I and others could have given them feedback that would have helped them understand how they are perceived by current, former, and potential clients.

Had they called with a survey about why I haven’t given them any business in a long time, I would have been happy to have that conversation with them.  Depending on the direction of the conversation and on the aftermath, they might have even re-engaged me as a client.

Instead, they did this.

I weep for our industry.


Editor’s Note: After Ron sent this, he emailed me to say the company in question contacted him AGAIN with the same survey for the same project, adding further proof to the incompetence claim here. Pretty sad.

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9 responses to “Shocking Incompetence by a Major Brand

  1. A colleague of mine recently sent me a can-you-believe-this note about her recent experience receiving a CSAT survey call from a “major research brand”–again, a well-known firm in the industry–asking her about a project from December 2013. The coincidence is too strong and the behavior too bizarre for it not to be the same firm.

    Amidst the sadness of this, it is fun to speculate as to what the possible root causes of this bone-headed move are. My charitable self thinks they just pulled a project list (out of accounting, probably) and no one bothered to filter on the dates, and they shipped it off to the call center (inexcusable sloppiness). My cynical self thinks no one at this firm has a clue about how to do customer sat research and they actually thought this would work (incomprehensible naivete for a firm in our industry).

  2. Incredible sad and stupid. Agree with Rick, hopefully Ron or someone has spoken to them. But still inexcusable.

  3. Good post, Ron. It’s sad how bad things have gotten. When I was on the client side Total Research Corporation was one of our suppliers and I distinctly remember receiving a CS survey from their phone center about one month after the job was closed. It was about 5 mins in length, very well designed and even included a brief tradeoff exercise to get at importance. This was in the 80s and TRC is now long gone, bought by Harris about 20 years ago if I recall correctly.

  4. Not defending the company in question and I have no connection with them, but in the total scheme of things, this isn’t the worst thing I’ve heard of and, as Brian suggests, it was likely an unfortunate mistake in which someone pulled the wrong list. People make mistakes. For example, the Homer Simpson image at the beginning of the post – is it copyrighted? No attribution?

  5. Seth: it wasn’t a “checking-in” call because the person with whom I spoke did not attempt to engage me on anything other than the survey. At the same time, it wasn’t a phone room call (I’ve monitored enough of those to recognize them), as the caller was not just reading a prepared script. It was an ‘executive interviewer” (not a particularly good one) trying to do a survey about a very, very old project.

    Lisa: No, this isn’t the worst thing, but to me, it’s indicative of a company’s overall competence. If I get a letter full of typos, that’s just a mistake, but it’s evidence to me that the writer doesn’t focus much on detail or quality. Is it proof of that? No, but most people have enough vendor options out there that they don’t need proof – just evidence. And BTW, if there’s a copyright violation, blame Lenny – I don’t choose the images for the blog posts. 😉

  6. Thanks for the posting, Ron. Agree, it sounds like someone (new?) wanted to “shake the bushes” on inactive accounts, and printed out “all”. Then they handed it off to a non-researcher, and gave them no backup. Good indication of what would happen to any subsequent research projects? They’d hand them down the chain til they got to someone with task competence but no overall idea?

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