“How did we do?” or “We’d love to know what you think.”
How often do you see these questions – or something similar – in your email in-box? For me, it feels like it is almost daily. And some days it is more than once.
The question comes when you buy some product online. Not to mention the courier service through which it was delivered.
These days, providers of healthcare, at least in the UK, also ask for your views of their service. Every hospital out-patients appointment has been followed by a questionnaire.
Indeed, I have even been asked to rate the provider of some surveys, Trustpilot, itself! We are reaching infinite regression.
All very annoying.
Asking Our Views
It is easy for organisations to use the convenience of email to ask our opinions without any cost to them. Occasionally, they offer a small inducement, such as the chance (one in a million?) to win some valuable prize, but usually there is nothing.
It often starts by asking you to give a number of stars out of five. That seems easy enough. Yet, before you can blink, you are asked why you gave this assessment. And all sorts of subsidiary questions, often highly repetitive.
Sometimes, if you don’t respond, they write again. It makes me want to scream!
As a former researcher (although not of this kind), I used to feel it was my duty to respond to surveys when asked and did so faithfully.
But no more. My patience has been tried too long. The simple solution, of course, is to delete the email. Problem solved.
Until the next one.
But I have a different – yet related – problem.
I write books. And we authors need good reviews in order to sell our books. Lots of reviews, the more the better. Otherwise, no one can decide if your book is worth buying.
Some well-known writers get every new book reviewed, often in prominent places. But most of us struggle to get reviews whether from someone famous or simply ordinary readers.
We often ask at the back of a book for readers to put a review somewhere appropriate, such as on Amazon. We don’t like doing it, but every bit helps. We hope that it doesn’t annoy readers too much.
So, given my complaints above, how is this different?
The answer lies in the nature of the information gained and the use to which it will – or will not – be put.
Large surveys give only a very broad view. Companies can use the answers to argue that some hopefully high percent of their users found their product or service helpful. And if the users indicate otherwise, the survey can be ignored. The results are not likely to have a major impact on sales in any case.
Writers, in contrast, are individuals who have spent large amounts of time and effort to create a book, which may – in the absence of any review – end up languishing unread. Reviews are specific to the book. Each one is likely to make a difference to the potential reader wondering what to buy next.
We can’t decide to ignore reviews we don’t like. They are there for all to see and cannot be deleted. Even the one star review that says the book isn’t what they expected or complaints about a late delivery (yes, it happens).
And very importantly, each positive review provides the most wonderful boost to the writer. We all know our best reviews off by heart.
Some years ago, Sir Ian McKellen said of my book about people with AIDS, “As powerful as any great classic of fiction.” My heart swelled.
More recently, my book about growing older has received numerous positive comments, “a lovely, lovely book”, “original and perceptive”, “a celebration of life”, “extremely well written.” It all helps.
So, I have a simple request, whatever your practice on responding to those pesky emails from companies.
Next time you read a book and like it, do think about writing a good review. It will really help to sell it to more people.
And it may just make the writer’s day.
A version of this article was initially published by SixtyandMe.com