DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Seems like it's hard to avoid customer surveys; they're everywhere these days. Call the cable company and this automated voice wants you to talk about the experience. Buy a taco at a fast-food chain and on the receipt - a chance to win 500 bucks if you answer a few questions.
NPR's Jeff Brady takes a look at why surveys are popping up everywhere.
JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: One reason is because surveys are easier to deliver now. The Internet makes getting a survey to you as simple as a pop-up when you visit a company's website. And the information a business can get from a survey is valuable. While demographic and purchase data tell a company who, what when and where, surveys tell a business why.
ERIC BRADLOW: You're always going to want to understand the consumer psychology, why are people doing what they're doing?
BRADY: Eric Bradlow is a professor of marketing and statistics at The Wharton School. He says surveys - especially ones delivered electronically - also help companies identify mistakes quickly so they can correct them, say a defect in a new product or a particular cashier who is rude. And surveys can be a form of advertising. Bradlow says there's something called the mere measurement effect.
BRADLOW: If I ask you when's the last time you bought a taco at Taco Bell, let's say, you're more likely to buy a taco at Taco Bell after asking you the survey.
BRADY: And here's another thing businesses like about surveys - they're relatively cheap. Essentially, they're putting their customers to work, gathering information that they hope will boost profits. But what happens when the surveys become annoying?
Judith Martin recently addressed the proliferation of surveys in her "Miss Manners" column.
JUDITH MARTIN: It is a little bit like having someone around, whom you may really like but the person says, do you really like me? Do you like me? Are you sure you like me? Really? Do you like me? And after a while you want to say, no. Go away.
BRADY: Eric Bradlow at Wharton says that's a risk and something companies have to look out for. The solution? More data.
BRADLOW: There's a time at which you could get negative backlash. And that's exactly, through better data collection, that firms are able to measure today. Is it the fifth time? The sixth time? The seventh time? Does it differ by Jeff Brady versus Eric Bradlow?
BRADY: He says if I always click no on survey requests, that's something a business can measure and perhaps they'll stop asking me. But sometimes even those of us who prefer to click no will choose yes if something is important to us.
HEATHER WILLIAMS: Hi, my name is Heather Williams. I live in Penfield, New York, which is right outside of Rochester, New York.
BRADY: Williams says ordinarily she does not respond to surveys because she doesn't think companies are really listening to her. But recently, her daughter applied to Brigham Young University through the school's website. Afterward Williams received a survey request through email.
WILLIAMS: It was nice to have someone ask my opinion on the process, which can be very daunting. And, I will admit, it was nice to be able to get a free sweatshirt.
BRADY: Williams says she delivered praise for the online application process but also suggested the school offer more detailed information about the cost of attending BYU. In case you were wondering, yes, her daughter was accepted.
So, now we know a little more about why there are so many surveys out there these days. I'm wondering, did you find this story informative? Would you mind filling out a survey? Seriously. We have one up on npr.org.
Jeff Brady, NPR News.