Customer Research is a TWO way process

I have a very good friend who has a disability. He is not a wheelchair user, but his disability causes problems with his walking and he often gets aches and pains linked to his medical condition, which has required several major operations.

A few months ago my friend went to a concert at a large well-known concert hall and he booked his tickets online. He looked at the seating plan on the venue’s website to see what would be the most appropriate seat for him, bearing in mind that he would have to sit with legs outstretched for several hours, and after giving it careful consideration he chose a seat furthest to the left on the front row of the upper balcony.

This choice of seat was deliberate because it would allow him to stretch his left leg out into the aisle during the two-hour concert.

I should mention that my friend had never visited this concert hall before, and all he had to go on was the seating plan on the venue’s website.

On the night of the event, my friend excitedly handed his ticket at the entrance and went upstairs to his specially chosen seat. To his dismay he discovered that this seat was crammed against a wall, with very little leg-room, and it did not have aisle access as implied on the seating plan.

So although he had a good view of the concert, he was very uncomfortably crammed into his seat with little leg-room for several hours. 

What happened next?

This isn’t the end of the story. Several days later, my friend received an email from the venue’s marketing department requesting that he fill out a customer satisfaction survey. He happily took the time to fill out the survey and at the end of the survey, in the section marked ‘Any Other Comments’ he wrote: “There is something I would like to discuss with you regarding a disability issue. Here are my contact details...”

All he wanted to do was make the helpful suggestion that the seating plan on their website was slightly amended, so that disabled people could clearly see which seats to avoid when booking online.

Guess what? A week passed with no contact. Then another week. Then another week. It is now several months later, and nobody from the venue has bothered to contact him.

They were seemingly happy to request customer feedback from him, and he took the time to fill out their survey.

But you have to ask the question, what is the point of interacting with your customers and asking them to do online surveys, if you then totally ignore what they have written?

When you complete an online survey, there is usually a box at the end of the survey that asks for 'Any Other Comments.' It makes me wonder if the researchers actually bother to read the comments that their customers make on these forms. 

This is what market research people call 'qualitative' data - the actual words of the customer. Maybe they ignore these responses and just look at the 'quantitative' (tick box) data to create statistics, which they use to give a glowing analysis of how wonderful things are.

Remember the old phrase: "lies, damned lies, and statistics."

What is the point of asking a customer to complete a survey unless you are going to listen to what they are actually saying AND respond to it?

But sadly, as we all know, many of these customer surveys aren’t really intended to find out what the customer thinks. They are really just intended to collect statistics which can be twisted and manipulated to make the organisation sound good in future marketing campaigns. “In our survey, 90 per cent of visitors thought we were brilliant.” (Yeah, right).


My friend has told me that it is unlikely he will bother to visit this venue again in the future. After all, there are lots of other excellent venues closer to his home, and this negative incident has left a bad taste.

But the great irony is that, over the last few months, he has received numerous marketing emails from the venue and also several flashy brochures and leaflets sent to his home address advertising future concerts.

Their marketing department has gone into overdrive trying to get him to attend future concerts, but they can’t be bothered to make a quick phone call, or send a short email asking him what he wanted to discuss with them.

It’s really sad because the venue had been handed the opportunity to directly interact with a new customer who was trying to be genuinely helpful. They had been given the chance to communicate with him, and to turn him into a “raving fan” (to use the phrase of marketing guru Ken Blanchard).

And it seems that they just couldn't be arsed.