Power To (Some Of) The People.
Differentiating The Identical.
In my long and random career, lo, I have done many things. Among them was a period spent conducting so-called surveys. Not the customer satisfaction type that banks and the gas people expect you to participate in on the rare occasions when they have done something right, but going out and asking people loaded questions in the hope of seeing some kind of pattern emerge.
None ever did, mainly because people are not representative of anything, don’t know what they’re expected to say, and don’t have five different degrees of dissatisfaction.
Even mostly positive types like myself don’t do surveys unless they are very unhappy. If the head of my bank reads the customer satisfaction survey I completed, I hope he won’t climb on the roof. After all, his bank is hardly any worse than all the others, but that wasn’t one of the questions.
Bizarre and inappropriate
Nowadays there are surveys for everything, and the tabulations of these vagaries often actually form a basis for planning and decision making in enterprises, schools and even in the home. The delusion that lumping a few hundred – or a few thousand – disparate responses together can reveal a single shared viewpoint explains a lot about some of the bizarre and inappropriate impositions the multi-millions who have better things to do with their lives have to put up with.
Product surveys are another effort to get a picture of reliability and satisfaction. But again the problem with obtaining an accurate picture comes from the disparity of the people being surveyed.
This is especially true in the motoring field. No matter how much trouble it gives them, there are some makes of car that their owners will not hear a word said against. Some people will mark a car up or down for its image or what they conceive to be the general attitude to it. And many participants who think their purchase has been especially good or bad don’t have the comparative experience to know that it isn’t.
A clear demonstration that there is a margin for opinion and error more significant than the actual comparison between products is demonstrated by the 35 per cent difference in placings of the outgoing Toyota Aygo and Citroën C1 in a recent survey. Both cars, along with Peugeot’s 107, are produced by the same workforce at a shared factory in the Czech Republic, using the same materials and mechanicals. Only styling details and cosmetic features distinguish one from the other. All three have been reported by the German Automobile Club to have had the least breakdowns of any small car.
Curses of the ancients
Yet the Aygo, which, as a Toyota, benefits from warm thoughts of Japanese value and reliability is marked dramatically higher for customer satisfaction than the Citroën which, though materially identical, labours under the voodoo curses of the ancients and the chorusings of cut and paste bloggers, one of whom even offered his considered advice that the marque would do better if it ‘stopped making cars that fell to pieces’.
Their DS 3 won the ‘small-car’ section of the same survey suggesting the idea had occurred to them independently.
Meanwhile, the Volkswagen Up! took the laurels in the ‘city-car’ category, roundly beating the Aygo, C1 and 107, but its clones, the Škoda Citigo and SEAT Mii were nowhere to be seen.
Are they less efficient, less reliable? Do they not do exactly, give or take, what the Up! does?
All three have equally embarrassing names. It might be that the Volkswagen badge outweighs its more effectively than the alternatives. In any case, both Škoda and SEAT can draw comfort from the fact that Citigo and Mii owners were not disappointed or incensed enough to come out of hiding and complain, even if they weren’t quite thrilled enough to stand up and be counted.
On the other hand, what inferences are to be drawn from the survey by the potential buyer? Volkswagen buyers love their Volkswagens and like everyone to know it. Škoda buyers love their Škodas, but tend not to mention it, except to friends and neighbours. SEAT buyers don’t stop still long enough to fill out surveys. Each of these propositions is as meaningless as the others. Unlike the cars themselves, no two buyers are the same. Categorising them is an amusing conceit, but ultimately as lazy and far off the mark as any other attempt at generalisation.
Just as losing your deposit in a by-election doesn’t make you a bad person, the ‘worst’ car in such a survey is still not a bad car. There may be others too horrible to mention, and there may be those, that are as good as or better than some or all of the also rans, that, for whatever reason, didn’t run.
How would I rate customer satisfaction with my own car? If you had asked me last week before I received a labour bill of two hundred and fifty quid, I’d have had nothing but good to say about it. Today? If ‘one’ is only slightly pissed off, I’ll give it five.
In the final analysis, buying a car is based on whether you like the look and the idea of it, whether it does what you want to do, whether the dealer notices you, whether he’ll take your old one off you without pulling too many faces, and how much money needs to change hands.
If a survey confirms your decision, all well and good. If not, the survey is clearly flawed.