Sunday, November 3, 2013

Hearing from the consumer - and getting it WRONG

I received another electronic customer satisfaction survey yesterday.  Perhaps some of you received it as well.  It was from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).  I suspect I received it because about four months ago (maybe 5!) I purchased a standard from their on-line book store.  The experienced reinforced much that I have come to know and understand about ISO.  

Their survey presented a perfect picture of what happens when polar opposites try to come together; the outcome was not pretty. 
ISO is a unique organization.  On the one side it is a formal international body governed by formal rules of protocol and diplomacy.  With regard to bringing countries to the table, they are excellent.  

While some may complain about their propensity to spend a lot of other people’s money by having meetings in very expensive locations (some think ISO stands for International Sightseeing Organization), I understand the pressures they are under to be seen to be geographically fair.  Personally I think the UN model of having one or two identified fixed locations would be significantly more effective, but then again I am not privy to the cost analyses that they must have undergone.  

When it comes to writing documents, ISO has to be sensitive to nuances of language and culture, and at the same time create documents that meet the intent of the committee and all the countries represented that created the intended standard.  This takes a true mastery of editorial skills and talents.

On the other side ISO is an organization that tries to generate revenue from the sale of their documents, and this requires a whole different set of skills and talents.  From what I have seen over the last 20 years, ISO is tragically inept on consumer interest and marketing.  And they never seem to get better.

The survey that they sent me was a perfect case-in-point.   It reminded me of a reference in the bible that refers to four sons, one wise, one wicked, one simple and one who does not know how to ask a question. ISO has a lot in common with that last son.  

 It was clear that the people that wrote they survey had little concept about customer service or customer time.  They certainly have no idea about how to generate an effective customer satisfaction survey.  The questions were obtuse, difficult to mark, and there were far too many.  Worse upon worse, when one got bored with the questions, it was not allowed to pass by hyper-repetitive sections;  every question required an answer, or you could not move on.  

 So the outcome was inevitable; either they will get many people giving up and quitting in the middle, or they will get people who filled in the survey with gibberish.  Either way they lose.  

I wrote on this subject a couple years ago.  [see: ], and it comes up regularly.  I used to think that organizations that send out waste-of-time surveys were just old and clunky.  I no longer think that is the case.  

I suspect these are arrogant behemoths that are so involved in their own value and importance, they are oblivious they waste consumer time and value.  Sad commentary about an organization that hosts COPOLCO, ISO’s Committee on Consumer Policy which it says is responsible for promoting consumer interests in standardization.    From where I am sitting, there is little evidence that ISO remotely cares about their consumers.  And that is a real shame.

In recent experience I can say I get many surveys from companies that have cottoned-on to the better approach; the send out succinct surveys without mandatory answers.  These are companies that understand the things that ISO writes about, continual improvement, quality management, and consumer interest.

With regret this is that is NOT what is happening with ISO itself.  The word dinosaur comes to mind

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