I am generally getting fed up to be asked to feed back. Almost every time you spend a night in a hotel, you get an email form shortly after asking you to rank various aspects that you weren't very concerned about anyway ('convenience of elevators? please rank on scale of 1 to 10, in which 1 indicates very dissatisfied and 10 indicates very satisfied'); and more often than not they will include a link to Tripadvisor for good measure. Much the same happens when we have taken the car in for a service, had an encounter in the building society, or bought a mobile phone. Sometimes it is even more irrritating than an email; it's a phone call at some particularly inconvenient moment ('I just wanted to ask you a few questions about your experience with . . . yesterday').
Everyone knows this is the score, and in fact the more desperate victims of it actually ask you as you leave the establishment concerned to say nice things about them in the inevitable feedback request (could be counter-productive I'd say). To be honest, I can't imagine that the results are particularly reliable or helpful. Just to take a simple example, I always give my garage ten out of ten, whatever has happened. That's because I have used them for years, want the people who have looked after my car to feel happy -- and if anything has gone wrong, I would have it out face to face with them, not dob them in to Big Brother.
But the irony is that when you do have a complaint that you actually want to make, in a way that doesn't quite fit in with the 'on a scale of 1 to 10' format, they tend to be much less interested.
Now, credit where credit is due . I had a run in with Balfour Beatty recently, whose lighting schemes are currently detracting from the Cambridge cityscape. But the man charged with the public relations role answered promptly, frankly but courteously, and to the point. Likewise (another one for Cambridge folk), if I have ever had a problem with Panther Taxis (hasn't been often), I've always had a full and quick reply, that wasnt just a cover up.
In fact it is the very organisations that are most eager to send you a feedback form which tend to be the worst in answering your spontaneous comments in any constructive way. I am, in general, a loyal customer of British Airways (not perfect, but a hell of a lot better than most of the competition), but they are one of the worst culprits in the bland style of customer relations ('Dear Professor Beard, I am sorry that on this occasion you were disappointed with our usually high quality of service; but we thank you for your custom and look forward to welcoming you on board again soon'). It is possible to break through this ('I wasnt talking about being 'disappointed', I was complaining that my flight was cancelled; could you tell me why...'), but it takes perseverance. The same is true of Abebooks, whom I use a lot, maybe a lot more than I should (they are owned by Amazon, I should remind you). They are not quite so eager as Amazon itself in finding out your view of their packaging, but when I pointed out recently that my order with a seller had been delayed for weeks as they were on holiday, I was basically told I was wrong ('Typically this situation is the result of the book being sold to another customer in the seller's walk-in store or on another website, or the seller may have experienced technical or logistic issues in warehouses or storage centers'), and it took a bit of a fight to prove my point.
So the moral? Well it's a bit like the 'questionnaire fatigue' that some of our students now suffer from (always being asked if the lecture was at the right level, if the power points were up to scratch, and if they could find the books in the library). We long suffering customers have had quite enough forms and tick-boxes -- and many of us would rather that these firms diverted some of the vast amount of money they now spend on mass feedback forms to hiring people who would answer properly, independently, promptly and honestly the queries and complaints we do want to raise, when we want to raise them.