Survey mania | Inquirer Opinion
Pinoy Kasi

Survey mania

I’m not referring to the political polls, which are done quite professionally and have been proven, time and time again, to have high predictive value with elections and are fairly good monitors of public opinion.

I’m referring instead to the proliferation of surveys supposedly to gauge customer satisfaction and, yes, public opinion.


These surveys are now a requirement in government agencies, including UP, and I sigh whenever I get one of the survey forms from another university office, because I feel many of the problems we have are traced to bureaucratic procedures, rather than unfriendly or rude staff.

(Yes, we do have them, too, but I’ll tell you I have had more encounters with inefficient, rude, uncaring staff in the private sector than in government.)


Let’s start with “public opinion,” which has become popular with online versions of newspapers like Rappler and, gulp, our own Inquirer.

Let me give you some examples from Rappler. Yesterday there was an article: “Manila Water interruptions set May 24-25 due to MRT 7 construction.” Prominently on top of the article, like a banner headline, are results of readers’ feedback on how they feel about the article. For this one, “people are divided on this issue,” and it turns out no one’s happy, afraid, amused or annoyed; 17 percent are angry, 17 percent don’t care, 33 percent are sad and 33 percent are inspired.


The next article, or rather a video, is about JV Ejercito and Bam Aquino comforting each other after the 2019 polls. This time, the banner headline reads: “This story makes people happy.”

Which made me happy. But wait—you find out that 9 percent are annoyed, 9 percent are inspired, 15 percent are sad and 15 percent are angry.

Angry comes out very often in these media online feedback, which gets me feeling uneasy because the whole thing reminds me of “sulsul,” the Filipino term that’s hard to translate but is really about goading each other toward negative emotions. It’s what you have with mob rule, in political rallies with people building up hatred and rage.

I don’t really see the value of these online media feedback, but at least it doesn’t entail costs that are passed on to customers.


For customer feedback in restaurants and government agencies, the costs are passed on to you, the consumer. These surveys are outsourced to companies that process and analyze the forms, although frankly, I don’t know how much there is to analyze.

I doubt if the feedback forms are cost-effective in significantly improving service. Much of the feedback will be perfunctory: a scale of one to five, from being very dissatisfied to being very satisfied. At UP, we’ve had years of experiences with a questionnaire for students to evaluate teachers, and we had to revise it because we found students were taking it lightly—by not participating at all, or by filling it out haphazardly.

We still do the evaluation, because with a detailed questionnaire, you can pick out patterns, identifying teachers who might need help to improve.

There’s also a qualitative part—not too often filled out—

where students can write more about how they feel.

This qualitative part is what’s missing in so many of the customer satisfaction surveys. I’ve found, from my own experience, that there are times when I am extremely dissatisfied with the service, but don’t want to bother filling out their silly surveys.

One recent example: I was at a restaurant recently and right after taking my order, a waiter came to me and said, “Sir, your egg custard will take 15 minutes to prepare.”

Five minutes later, another waiter came and said, “Sir, your egg custard will take 20 minutes to prepare.”

I just had to call another waiter to complain about the inanity; in effect, they were asking my family to wait 25 minutes for an egg custard. I added that I expected the food in 15 minutes, and if they couldn’t deliver, I was withdrawing the order.

I set the timer on my phone, and at exactly 16 minutes, they came to say the egg custard was almost ready.

This whole thing about “your meal will be ready in x minutes” is a good thing, because customers do want to know. But the case of the two waiters giving contradictory information reflects the problems we have with customer satisfaction strategies turning mechanical.

It was a Japanese restaurant, and the Japanese are known to be polite and all. But doesn’t it drive you nuts, too, when they shout out their greetings and their goodbyes, only because they have to?

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TAGS: Michael L. Tan, Pinoy Kasi, Public opinion, surveys
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