How did we do? Tell us, tell us, puhleeeze…

…or “The rise of the post-purchase survey”

It seems you can’t buy a product or service anymore without receiving a survey about some aspect of it.

I’ve recently done a fair amount of travel, and my email or SMS inbox has been cluttered with pleading survey invites from:

  • Holiday Inn
  • Mercure
  • Sofitel
  • Premier Inn
  • Eurostar
  • Virgin Trains

Usually within 24 hours of you having consumed the service, you get a mithering “Please tell us what you thought” email, which links to a survey.

These organisations must think we have all the time in the world to respond to a load of tedious questioning which, at the end of the day doesn’t capture our personal journey with them at all, despite what they promise.

They can’t read all the survey responses. The data is just rolled up into spreadsheets and charts that help them make (or miss) their “key performance indicators”.

Usually, each survey normally takes around 10 to 15 minutes to complete. That’s 90 minutes of my time that these companies are asking me to give them, for the privilege of buying a service from them.

Yes, I know I don’t have to fill them in, and I’ve largely stopped completing them.

With credit to Holiday Inn, Mercure and Sofitel, they all have a link to “unsubscribe” from receiving future survey invitations. Though I’ll have to see if these actually work. I remain sceptical.

However, this isn’t the case with the last three.

Premier Inn are one of the worst. They send email survey requests with no unsubscribe link. The surveys are long, too. Often 15-30 minutes.

Virgin Trains are slightly better, at least they usually only ask you one question, but I still don’t recall there ever being a way to unsubscribe from their surveys.

Eurostar was just downright baffling. On the way back from Paris, the moment my train left the Channel Tunnel I get this:file-10-02-2017-11-54-44

Followed by these questions, coming from a completely different number:

The first question, I’d have actually liked to score a “N/A” on, as I didn’t actually interact with any Eurostar staff Gare du Nord at all. There were a lot of them standing around with radios looking like they might be important, and occasionally “hustling” late arrivers through to their train, but that was it.

I already had my ticket. I just scanned it on the turnstile and went through the various border and immigration formalities. They did an okay job of marshalling the queues. One of them sort of stood in my way with his back to me at one point, but I didn’t otherwise talk to them nor really have any need to. That’s why I gave it a 5. Neither impressed nor unimpressed.

The second question is more baffling. They have sent me the question about whether I would recommend Eurostar before my journey is complete. I can’t actually answer it yet, because for all I know the train could yet be delayed, or even explode in an enormous fireball, though I think I’d probably only give them a 1 if the fireball happened.

The third question just confirms my suspicions that no-one really reads this stuff. It’s all just parcelled up into a dull spreadsheet. They must send thousands of these a day, and must at least get a few hundred responses.

They are asking this stuff “because they can”, not because they actually care about our individual experiences. These surveys are just providing a barometer of whether there is an upward or downward trend, whether things are meeting an arbitrary target or not, and at their most cynical, providing a means for fat-cat managers to receive bonuses.

The best way to judge how your business is running is to get out on the shop floor. Actually talk to your customers. Listen to your staff. They are your bell-weather.

Also encourage your customers to give direct feedback, then and there. Hilton have recently done this with a “Make it right” policy which lets customers know that they should make their feelings known then and there to the hotel in question, and give them a chance to deal with any shortcomings in service. It also empowers the hotel operators to take corrective action on the spot.

Compare that to a situation at Premier Inn a few years ago where the disenfranchised and under empowered staff member was “Meh, here’s your money back. Take it up with management if you like. Here’s the URL of the complaints form.”

Finally, what’s more annoying to me with these sorts of surveys is that at the point of purchase, while there is usually a means to opt-out of marketing email, there isn’t a means to opt-out of this sort of mithering, because it isn’t considered “marketing”.

So, here’s what I plan to do, should I respond to these:

Write something totally outrageous in the free form text boxes, along with an invite to contact me if someone has actually read what’s been written. That will at least I might get a feel for how many of these are seen by humans!

Post-script: While I was writing this, I got another survey mither from where I ate on Wednesday night, this time from OpenTable on behalf of @HawksmoorMCR. I’m really surprised by that because it’s so orthogonal to their non-corporate house-style when you go and eat there.



Premier Inn Wifi – If only it were consistent.

I recently heaped praise on Premier Inn for providing a good wifi service in one of their hotels.

Sadly, this is not consistent across all their properties. I’m currently staying in another Premier Inn just down the road from the one with the good wifi (which was already full for this evening).

The wifi performance here isn’t great at all…

This is as good as it got. Fail.
This is as good as it got. Fail.

It does have sensibly laid out 5GHz and 2.4GHz spectrum like the other Premier Inn, so it seems the wifi architecture is sound, however what’s different here is the backhaul technology.

The other property was on what appeared to be a VDSL line from a more specialist business ISP. It also had the advantage that it was only shared between about 20-odd rooms.

This Premier Inn is much larger, but based on the ISP (Sharedband) it is likely to be using a link-bundled ADSL2 connection, and is shared amongst many more users – about 140 rooms. I’ve noticed several other Arqiva-managed hotspots using Sharedband as the backhaul technology, and these all have suffered from very slow speeds, high latency and signs of heavy oversubscription and congestion.

Notice the “star rating” on the Speedtest above. One star. Lots of unhappy punters?

I’m currently getting better performance on a 3G modem. (No 4G coverage on my provider in this area.)

It would be great if Premier Inn could offer a more consistent experience in it’s wifi product, and I mean a consistently good experience such as the one I enjoyed just up the road in Abingdon, and not the lowest common denominator of the congested barely useable mess here.

They aim for a consistent product in the rest of their offerings and for the most part achieve it, however if I was only staying here in this property, I’d be asking for a refund for the wifi charge.

Update at 1am in the morning, after the fire alarm went off around 11.30pm and caused the hotel to be evacuated…

I can just about get 3Mb/sec down (and less than 256k up) out of the connection here now, and I assume the large majority guests are sleeping. Still less than great. This is very obviously based around oversubscribed link-bundled ADSL stuff.

A hotel that got wifi right

Normally the one to highlight when something is done badly, I also want to give praise where it is due.

I’m currently staying in a Premier Inn in leafy Abingdon. The data service here that I’d normally tether to is next to non-existent, dropping out all over the place. It looks like I’m in the shadow of some structure, between me and the Three UK antenna. There are also a couple of water courses in between, which might be hindering the signal.

So, I’m forced onto one of my pet hates, paid-for hotel wifi. Remember that Premier Inn are marketed as a “no frills” hotel – but they are almost always spotlessly clean and consistent.

It was either pony up for that or go and track down (and pay for) an O2 PAYG data sim, as I do at least have line of sight from my room here to one of their masts.

Firstly, I fired up Wifi Explorer, and took a look at what is deployed here.

Nice, uncrowded 2.4GHz spectrum, sensibly placed channels.
Nice, uncrowded 2.4GHz spectrum, sensibly placed channels.

Not only was the 2.4GHz likely to work okay, but they also had 5GHz too!

Wow! 5Ghz as well.
Wow! 5Ghz as well.

So, I decided that it was worth a spin. I signed up for the free half hour. Then I actually found I could get real work done on this connection, so I gave it a speed test.

Reasonably speedy too. I'd guess it's a VDSL line.
Reasonably speedy too. I’d guess it’s a VDSL line. Might get crowded later, I guess?

Not only have they got 5GHz, but they have recently slashed their prices. Some would say that it should be free anyway, but £3 for the day, or £20 for a month seemed a reasonable deal, especially if you’re staying in a Premier Inn a lot (I’m actually back here again next week).

I’ve not tried connecting multiple devices simultaneously using the same login, but I suspect you can’t, which is possibly the only downside.

However, big props to the folks at Premier Inn for actually having a wifi install that works, even if that means having to pay for it. I’ve seen much worse services in high-end hotels which have under-provisioned, congested (and often expensive) 2.4GHz networks.

Credit where it is earned, indeed.

Update: Sadly, it seems Premier Inn have decided we can’t have too much of a good thing, and need to manage our expectations. It’s alleged that they have therefore plotted with those dastardly people at Arqiva to make Premier Inn wifi universally shit.

Please read this item from Bill Buchan, which reports that the wifi is now clamped to 2.5Mb/sec on the premium “ultimate” offering.

The question I’ve got is if the “ultimate wifi” is, as they market it, 8x faster than the free wifi, then I make the free wifi out to be <500Kb/sec.

I can just imagine a load of product management muppets sat around some buzzword infested meeting room table, cowed by groupthink, agreeing this is a good idea.

Flowery marketing adjectives gone wrong

If you live in the UK, you’ll know the purple phenomena which is Premier Inn, advertised by that jolly Lenny Henry. (He’s a very tall chap. I wonder if they have a special bed for him when he stays?)

They actually do well at providing a reasonably good and consistent hotel product, something which the UK has long been lacking. Remember we’re talking about the country where you could end up in an antique hotel complete with rattly plumbing, school-canteen food, and that epitome of UK hotel kitsch, the Corby Trouser Press.

However, the warm, fuzzy, “I know what I’m getting”, brand consistency which comes with Premier Inn, also comes at a cost: There’s a marketing department back at Premier Inn Central in Dunstable, which feels the need to use lots of adjectives. Fairly standard marketing practice, but it’s almost like it’s there for the sake of it, and often downright odd.

My current cringe-worthy favourite is from their “grab and go” breakfast, or whatever it is they call it. It stood out as being odd when I first saw the flowery prose, talking about grabbing:

“A Costa Coffee and a baked croissant“…

The first thought that came into my mind was “Baked as opposed to what?”

Poached? Steamed? Deep-fat fried? The mind boggles.

Some copywriter in the marketing department just had to put in an adjective.

Yes, it made me pay attention to their “baked croissant”, so maybe it worked, but it’s just bloody weird when you read it.