Survey Says…

Like owners in a lot of small businesses, I wear many different hats; sometimes I’m the account manager, at other times I’m the bookkeeper, editor, or when the trash cans are full and the cat hair is swirling on the desks, I’m the janitorial staff.

Most recently, I became the research department; a company hired us to survey about twenty different industries nationwide to determine if there was room in the marketplace for their product. They manufacture a material that is used in a variety of industrial applications.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve called about 150 different companies. Whenever I make a call, I tell them who I am and explain that I am conducting research about a certain type of product, and ask if there is someone who could spare about five minutes to answer six very brief survey questions.

Before I started making the calls, my expectation was that if I got through the phone tree to an actual person, that they would direct me to someone in the company who could answer the questions, I would record the answers and move on to the next company on the list. After all, I’m calling businesses and not a home phone number at dinner time to tell them that their name has been selected for an exciting all expenses paid weekend at a time-share in Lake Havasu.

For the majority of the companies I have called, I end up trying to blaze a trail through the phone tree jungle in the hope that I’ll land in a department or with a person who might be able to connect me with someone who understands my inquiry. Many businesses ““ including the one in Texas that was in the process of evacuating for Hurricane Ike ““ have been quite helpful or at least business-like in saying that no one could take my call but that I could leave a voice mail. And when I actually connect with someone”¦which happens about 30% of the time”¦who takes a moment to answer the first survey question so I can determine if the other questions even apply to them, I feel like I’ve scored.

However, when I look back on the notes next to each company on the calling list, there are about 10% for which my notes read, “Drop dead!” These are the companies that immediately assumed that I was selling something that they didn’t want and turned defensive in spite of my explanation that I was only conducting research. It’s always a little jolting to be told to go away.

When I talked this over with Steve, he was actually surprised that the percentage of businesses with the sad face next to their name wasn’t larger. You can pretty much expect 10% of any group of people to be jerks. If you’ve ever been in the parking lot at Whole Foods at 5pm on a Sunday then you know that’s true.

However, the range of responses I have gotten has led me to think a lot about the personality of businesses. We know everyone is busy with way too much to do and that taking my call is an interruption. So why do some companies respond to my request courteously and others react so negatively? Why do some have an attitude of openness while others slam the door shut?

Aren’t businesses in business to answer the phone? They exist to take calls from current clients, potential customers, and even people just making inquiries about the types of services they offer. It would seem to me that even taking a call from someone doing research (like me) would be a smart thing to do. If I am calling with questions, I’m interested in what they do and how they do it. And isn’t it possible that this information that I’m gathering would be used to develop a product or service that has the potential of making their business more efficient, more profitable, or better able to serve its customers?

Given the difficulty of making money these days, it’s still surprising to me that 100% of businesses aren’t working hard to connect with anyone who calls.



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