Reviewed to death: Yelp me out already!


Do ya feel lucky? Well do ya, punk?

This survey will just take 60 seconds of your time! Please let us know how you enjoyed your recent stay at our hotel/your oil change (oil change!)/your meal at a restaurant/your appointment with a physician/your customer service experience. And remember, some schlub’s job depends on the number of four or five-star ratings customers like you give!

It used to be that the only people whose job performance was rated and reviewed two, three, or four times a year were college professors–but at least universities only ask students to fill out course evaluations at the end of each semester or quarter. Now every time we buy something or request a service, we’re bombarded by follow-up phone calls, emails, and texts asking us to rate our experience, because they care about their customers now that people can say bad things about them on the internet. My husband–a board-certified pediatrician for 18 years–is now rated on a five-star scale by his patients and their parents!

Is anyone else exasperated by the endless requests asking us to rate and rank every single consumer experience of our lives? It’s so stupid and cynical–they’re doing this to pre-empt a poor notice on social media or a bad review on Yelp, by convincing us that *they care*.  But it’s really just harassment.  The faster I delete these ridiculous emails, the faster they pile up.  I probably should let them know that nagging me to offer a pointless opinion is the fastest way to lose me as a customer.

16 thoughts on “Reviewed to death: Yelp me out already!

  1. I enjoy filling out surveys but even I’ve hit my limit lately. As you say, every transaction generates one or more requests. And if you give anything other than top marks across the board, some poor front-line person gets victimized by their corporate employers.

    My partner once worked a telephone support for a major US cable company *coughTWCcough* and the management punished these call centre staff for anything less than perfect ratings. How often do you think that badgered customers were inspired to highly esteem the poor folks who apologized for the tech who’d been booked but hadn’t showed up or to explain that all of Rockaway Beach was without signal due to the storm or whatever. . . .


  2. It is ridiculous. I just hit delete. I guess the good opinion of humankind has just slipped the bonds of salutary indifference. It used to be that the market itself was held out as the mechanism to provide this kind of feedback to offerers and providers. But then when people began putting their feelings into things like yelping, rather than withholding custom and currency, this level of as you describe it “preemption” came into play. Maybe we can figure out ways to rate the tone and tact of requests for feedback.


    • Or maybe we should email them mock surveys asking them to rate us as customers?

      I’ve probably spent way more time on this than I should have. I’m just exhausted and exasperated by it all, and I wonder if the course evals our students have recently filled out feel like yet another exhausting customer satisfaction survey. That is, when everyone’s performance on the job is rated constantly, then no one’s is.


  3. I feel a bit guilty for *not* filling them out, since I’m aware that, as J Liedl points out, people’s jobs can depend on them. But yes, there are just too many (and don’t get me started on Amazon/eBay sellers, who also badger their customers for perfect reviews, while demanding that we contact them immediately about any problems that would keep us from giving a five-star review). At least in the world of service provider/seller reviews, not only is the “gentleman’s C” (or B) dead; even an A-/B+ is anathema. Everything is either perfect or terrible (which mirrors, probably not coincidentally, our political discourse).

    One possible upside: survey fatigue seems to extend to our students (well, at least, my students) who are less and less willing to fill out course evaluations, at least the online versions thereof. If administrators are in any way honest about relying only on sets of evaluations that are large enough to be in some way representative of the class (not at all a foregone conclusion), then the practice may eventually die out due to lack of student participation.

    The other, more alarming, possibility, of course, is that students will treat course evaluations with the same degree of seriousness as the survey they received from Taco Bell along with the receipt for the Gordita they bought in the student center, or the email they received from Jiffy Lube after their last oil change, and administrators will nevertheless treat the results as real measures of instructor quality. That makes about as much sense as the patient surveys to which you allude, and is likely to have similar tail-wagging-dog effects on actual quality of pedagogy/care.

    I say we don’t fill customer-service surveys out, and make sure our students understand the basics of sample size and statistical significance and related concepts, the better to hasten the day when the practice collapses of its own weight (one can dream).


  4. The email survey/ Yelp thingy is an interesting development. The Achilles heal of the American economy is customer service. Every company knows that customer service is an important aspect of maintaining and running a business in a service economy. You not only want to find new customers, you need to hold onto the current ones. _But_ customer service is not a profit center, it is a cost in terms of accounting. In the era of “excellence for no money” you hire the cheapest staff you can get, automate their actions as much as possible through scripts, robo dialing, constant electronic surveillance etc to keep costs down and service consistent. The email survey is one of those tools to “measure” or assess customer service performance.

    But here is the thing. That is not the way to customer satisfaction and engagement. Its just a race to the bottom. If you want excellent customer service you have to pay people well, give them the autonomy to make decisions, and training so that they know what the hell they are selling and how to help the customer. CostCo is doing something like this with their employees and customers. But running customer service like this is more expensive on a quarter by quarter basis. So even if you are getting better results, and holding onto more customers, it might not be worth it. The accounting says you have raised cost in customer support, which translates into better revenue in Sales or some other part of the business. Its that other unit that books the growth in revenue because there is no way to assign a number to revenue generated by superior customer service. As a manager, you want to cut costs because it makes you look good.

    Therefore you spend money badgering the employees to give better service. The email survey is just one more step in that perpetual harassment.


    • How would the world look if once again companies invested money in their staff instead of buying software to regulate and monitor them?

      The world may never know.


      • One wonders. The software itself is not necessarily bad, workers could actually use it to develop their own plan for improving the customer experience. Part of the problem lies with the cost cutting and “excellence with no money” mentality. The other problem is the assumption behind compensation under real existing American capitalism.

        The assumption is that CEO’s and other members of upper management need huge compensation packages, Golden Parachutes, and performance bonuses otherwise they won’t be able to lead with leadership and make the tough decisions that deliver higher quarterly profits. But the drone in Sector 7G needs the complete opposite set of incentives to increase productivity: hire/fire at will, low pay, and constant supervision by middle management. Both executives and entry level workers are employees. Why doesn’t the same logic of compensation apply across the whole company or sector of the economy? The answer, of course, has nothing to do with economics and everything to do with power.

        Even if better pay for the customer service staff resulted in higher profits, it would have to be rejected. Compensation under real existing capitalism is about keeping people in their place, it is not about economic rationality.


  5. Here’s the other problem with Amazon surveys. I sometimes buy foreign-language books from obscure sellers and would be happy to give them a quick star rating. But Amazon is set up so that my rating will not be accepted unless I make a comment as well. (So I just go in, try to give them five stars, and then get out.)

    Yelp was a lifesaver when I needed to get urgent tire repairs done in an unfamiliar city, so I’m all for it.


  6. It is not only the ubiquitous nature of the surveys I find annoying, but their flawed data. The only people who take the time to rate and review a product, service, or the providers of said products and services are people who loved it or hated it. People with an average experience don’t normally take the time to write a review.


    • Right on. Sadly, this is what many of America’s great universities have done with their course evals: make them entirely voluntary, so only those most motivated to preach their disgust or their appreciation will be recorded. I wouldn’t mind so much if people’s teaching careers weren’t at stake; who knows–maybe they’re not.

      I can’t figure out what’s more cynical: universities who see their students as “customers,” or universities that really don’t give a fig what the students think.


  7. I read this post, and not five minutes later got a survey request from my university’s special collections library. I had to laugh! That said, it’s a library that I use a great deal, and I participated in a focus group for this same initiative back in the spring. I was, and am, happy to do it. The difference though is that they are evaluating their systems, not their staff. When surveys like this measure something like functionality & convenience (as in this case where the goal is to make the system more researcher-friendly), rather than when they are used as a way to discipline staff, then I think they serve a useful purpose.


  8. Starbucks does it right. They give you a reward star for filling out the survey, and it’s only a few questions that takes less than 30 seconds. What I really have trouble with is their use of “exceeds expectations” as a metric. I have very high expectations for my Starbucks experiences, so if they are met, but not exceeded, I should give a middle-range ranking? Or if I think Starbucks is a shithole, and so long as I don’t get poisoned, then they have exceeded my expectations?


    • Yeah–I guess we all live in Lake Woebegone now & so are all “above average.” “Exceeds expectations” is such a crappy metric. Why not grade on a Pass/Fail scale? Easy & clear.

      As for Starbucks: their staff have always been great–it’s the other customers who are boobs or malign individuals. That’s why I avoid them when I can!


  9. I am so with you on this. I do fewer and fewer of these. And every website I visit want my brain to contribute to their improvement. I close that pop up immediately.
    I am trying to imagine a toddlers rating of her peduatrician: lousy shot, but great band aids? I almost never give perfect ratings for places like hotels. And I say, it was fine. The bed was good, everyone did their job. At Starbucks, I got a coffee, just as I like it. Fine. Let’s not get excited. And I try to rate people with the 10s. When I bought a car, the salesman asked me for a perfect rating, and I felt harassed.

    I just used air bnb for the first time, and I gather the mutual ratings process is important. So I’ll give my host 5 stars, but my comments may suggest that it was less than perfect.


    • Resistance may be futile. Maybe if we make a world in which everyone is reviewed, all of the time in real time, then in a sense NONE of us will be reviewed. It’s kind of like the arguments about online privacy and assy photos people post to Facebook or Instagram when they’re teenagers or college students: soon enough, everyone will have all of this garbage in their pasts so it won’t be a big deal to employers, etc. any longer.

      Those of us who resist are just old fuddy-duddies! (And no one wants to see any nekkid or drunk photos of us anyway, because EEEEEWwwwww.)


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