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Post-hospitalization phone survey

March 17, 2007

A few weeks ago I was in the hospital for a kidney stone.  They warned me that I might receive a telephone survey from an independent company about my stay.  “Sure” I replied, under the influence of dilaudid, “that would be fine.”  And they called me this morning, reading very slowly, clearly, and professionally from a script:

“Good morning Mr. Wiman, we’re calling to ask you about your outpatient visit to BroMenn Regional Medical Center on or about blah-blah something-something-something.  Would you rate the registration process at the hospital as excellent, good, fair, or poor?”

Uh, I really wasn’t part of the registration process.

“All right Mr. Wiman.  Would you rate the staff professionalism at the hospital as excellent, good, fair, or poor?”

Um, just say ‘excellent’ – in my experience if I say anything else it only leads to a lot more annoying questions.

“Not really, Mr. Wiman.  Now would you rate the care you received there as excellent, good, fair or poor?”

Look, I’m not going to stand here saying “Excellent” over and over again.  I just hate that word “excellent” for various reasons. Everyone did a fine job, I have no complaints

“All right Mr. Wiman, we won’t bother you again.  Thank you and have a nice day.”

“Excellence” is 21st-century Taylorism for the service industry.  Once the word “Excellent” infected corporate speech, nothing was ever not-annoying again.  Everything has to be “Excellent”.  If you say anything else, they come in with “What can we do to make sure your experience with our company is Excellent?  Please explain?”  So what if you thought the service was as good as could reasonably be expected from obviously tired people who were doing the best they could?  How can we push them harder?

The purpose of such multiple-choice adjective surveys is to boil a large pot full of data down to a nice mash of statistics for a PowerPoint presentation to be given at board meetings: ”…and 84.567 percent of our patients said staff professionalism was Excellent…”  Folks, it doesn’t mean a damn thing.  When a survey-taker has you on the phone, your one goal in life is to get off the phone. 

Surveys could be used to extract confessions from suspected terrorists; “Mr. Muhommed, would you say America is unjust, evil, terrible, or the Great Satan?”

“Aaaaugh!  I confess!  I did it, whatever it is!  Just let me hang up the phone!!!”

There is a large minority of the population from whom no usable data can be collected by surveys.  Some of us will play along, just giving the one answer that we know will result in the fewest number of clarifications and follow-up questions: “Excellent”.  A few will just say; “I don’t want to take a survey”. There are a lot of reasons for this; mine is that I simply hate giving simplistic answers to complicated questions. The result is that the final mash you pour into your PowerPoint presentation is basically meaningless because it omits a lot of reality.

It is an inconvenient truth of commercial life that really good satisfaction data on complicated services isn’t a linear quantity.  If you want to know how my hospital stay was, just ask me, and try to get the sense of my reply.  This means you’ll need very experienced people making the calls or reading the letters, and yes, Virginia, experienced people cost money.  But the multiple-choice survey is dehumanizing to me, and even more so, to your long-suffering employees. 

And for what it’s worth, BroMenn Regional Medical Center, everyone did a fine job; I have no complaints.  The next time I’m in agonizing pain, I will definitely consider going to BroMenn Regional Medical Center for my mortal-agony abatement needs.

Categories: business
  1. March 17, 2007 at 22:49 | #1

    What really terrible about these surveys is what happens when you don’t say “Excellent”. 

    My GF was a waitress at a popular restaurant that sounds like “bappletrees”.  And the company did the same exact survey and gave something like $5 off a meal to those that participated.  Anyways, the janky part is that if anyone that took that survey answered anything but excellent, all the employees heard about for the next week.

    Which to me defeats the purpose of collecting that data in the first place.

  2. March 18, 2007 at 03:59 | #2

    “But sir, on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being “Very Dissatisfied” and 5 being “Very Satisfied”, how do you really feel about the survey experience?

    As an IT professional, I can’t buy a bag of tie wraps without someone attempting to survey me over the experience. When did we become so desperate to garner useless information? 4 out of 5 Dentists who can walk and chew gum at the same time say it started in the 1970’s.

  3. March 18, 2007 at 04:18 | #3

    I just caught your teaser about the “perfect shovel”. Now I really am laughing out loud.

    Next time someone calls me with a poor-excellent survey, I plan to answer, “Splunge!” Chances are it will be a kid who never saw the Python bit, and I will patiently explain that “splunge” means, “not quite excellent, but very very good.” I will then patiently listen as surveyor tells me that an answer that is actually on the scale is needed, and then answer, “Splunge!” to the next question.

  4. March 18, 2007 at 07:55 | #4

    As a Quality Manager who deals closely with the pharmaceutical industry, I can explain why we are forced to conduct these useless surveys.  And yes, I hate them as much as you do and agree that they’re useless. 

    Quick background: I work in a metrology lab.  Our raison d’etre is to service and calibrate weighing devices.  As I’m sure you realize, accurate measurements are critical in the pharma industry.  Therefore, the FDA requires that the instruments they use be calibrated on a pre-determined schedule by a company that is accredited by ISO to perform calibrations.  This is why I have a job. 

    I was hired to obtain, and now to maintain, our accreditation.  One of the things that we have to do to maintain our accreditation is to quantitatively demonstrate to our auditors that we are seeking “continuous improvement” of our quality system.  The simplest way to do this is to conduct surveys of our customers regarding the quality of the service we provide, and to respond with some measureable corrective action to any less than stellar response. 

    I have found that the best way to get usable data is to specifically interview the Quality Managers employed by our customers.  They understand best the purpose of the survey, and will give the most usable answers.  The guy on the line who actually USES the instrument doesn’t give a flying rat’s patootie about my survey.

  5. March 19, 2007 at 11:27 | #5

    It’s like those old anthropology studies in the 60s, when they came up with all these daft conclusions about small isolated communities (such as: they don’t have rape, or crime, or war and so on). Basically the natives lied to them during the survey because they thought it was funny to make fun of the strange foreigners. And you know, it WAS pretty funny.

  6. Lucas
    March 19, 2007 at 11:50 | #6

    Remember when Homer got “The first annual award for achievement in the field of excellence.”

  7. Abhilasha
    March 19, 2007 at 14:57 | #7

    Well the funniest experience I had answering a survey was when I had to call Dell about some problem in the server and they sent me new parts …

    This girl called me up and among a 100 other questions asked me if there was a dell technician who came to install the components..I said no..and the very next question was ..Was the technician polite …

    HELLOOO..no one came…i guess no one was polite then…

    I guess am just rambling…

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