21 Feb Want to Take a Survey?

How many times have you been asked to fill in a survey after you have done something on a company website? Since I spend a fair bit of time arranging plane tickets, hotel rooms, and rental cars for myself, I get these surveys frequently, and I am appalled at how badly constructed they are. The questions never seem to allow me to really say what I want, or to actually address the problem that prompted the survey in the first place. And even when I had a great experience, there is usually no way to say what would have made things even better. Oh sure, I can rate items from 0 to 10 and so on, but many of these things are not relevant to what I actually experienced.
But the reason companies send out surveys is that they really do want to know how to improve their business. This is especially true for transactions that occur exclusively online, without speaking a human being. So I acknowledge that getting feedback from your customer is a great thing to do, and any business that even tries to do this (however badly) really does have their customers’ interests at heart.
But this could all be done much, much better. We are ignoring basic data in our pursuit of what I will call “classical merchandizing”. When I get to the box at the end of the survey that says “Other Comments”, I am left with the feeling that all this effort is after-the-fact, and if there had been some way to capture what was happening when I was actually online and using the website, both I and the company would be much better off.
One can find blogs that address what was once called the “machine/human” interface. These seem now to be about facial and speech recognition with applications ranging from security screening, to high-quality (and unforgettable) identity proof, to customer tracking. All good stuff, but let’s get back to that customer and what happened when they were on a website trying to buy something.
But what about the things that happen when you actually “interact with the machine”? No, I don’t mean what websites you surf, the cookies that follow you around or privacy settings you employ, but what actually happens when you click, scroll, type or swipe? Is it useful?
Think about going to a store to buy something, and that store is owned by a very experienced and savvy shopkeeper. You walk into the store and the first thing you do is gather information; you look around, find any signs that are close by, and read the signs to find where the shelves are that have the merchandize you want. Then you look at the selection of items on that shelf, compare prices of similar items, and so on.
Meanwhile, the shopkeeper is watching you. He can see the expression on your face, the amount of time you spend looking at one item or another, if you are comparing prices, if you drift off onto another part of the store with related – or completely unrelated merchandize. He can see the way you walk around, if you are in a hurry or if you are just browsing, if you are anxious, relaxed, in a good mood or not. And from all of this, the shopkeeper will be able to decide if you are just stepping in to get out of the rain, with no real desire to purchase anything (in which case he will not spend time on you, but will be friendly to maximize the chance of your return in the future), if you are comparison-shopping (in which case he will spend time with you, providing specific information targeting just what you need as this maximizes the chance of a sale in the shortest time), if you are someone who just likes shopping (in which case he will point out all the great deals in the shop to induce you to buy more, regardless of your need, as this maximizes the amount of the total transaction). In all these cases, that savvy shopkeeper will be taking actions based on your immediate, individual experience that are designed not only to maximize his immediate business, but to increase customer satisfaction with the payoff being future customer loyalty regardless of whether he makes an immediate sale. And the shopkeeper looks for other information as well, and can recognize if you are intent on pilfering or present some other risk, in which case the shopkeeper may take different actions.
This all seems obvious and very reasonable. We are all aware that we throw off signs of our intentions and interests in all our actions, large and small. And the shopkeeper uses his experience to maximize his business opportunity (or reduce his security risk) specifically with you, either immediately or in the future. For that savvy shopkeeper, the data you provided simply through your personal behavior was extremely valuable and was put to good use – maximizing the probability of a successful targeted sale with minimal use of resources, maximizing the size of your overall spending, and in all cases, maximizing the probability of a return visit and word-of-mouth advertising. The shopkeeper will also know what improvements he needs to make – for example, were you confused by the information on the signs, was the merchandize badly displayed, and overall, did you enjoy being in his shop? From this, he can change signs, merchandize displays and other features of the shop to increase the probability of a customer entering the shop, and completing a transaction.
But now, we buy online with generally no human interaction at all. The shopkeeper has been replaced with a website, so all that customer/shopkeeper interaction – and the valuable data that was part of it and let the shopkeeper improve his business – is gone. In the general effort to improve merchandizing massive amounts of data are being collected, but the personal, individual data I have just mentioned is being overlooked, although it should be easy to collect. Worse, it is being lost in the aggregated data collected by surveys and other methods that try to model the entire population of consumers strictly from a valuation of previous purchase behavior. Individual customer experience, now the customer digital experience, has been lost as it defies easy measurement and is difficult to quantify.
If some numerical value could be assigned to a customer’s digital experience that was not based on the financial value of a purchase, and if this could be done in a convenient and standardized manner, then that exchange of customer/shopkeeper information would again be available, and regain its importance and utility in digital commerce.
This is the problem that led us to start SriyaDXI (www.sriyamlxi.com), and develop our Digital eXperience index – DXi.
(Dr.David Dodds is the co-founder and CSO of SriyaDXI LLC)
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