It was an averagely OK evening at one of London’s smarter restaurants: the food was edible, the wine wasn’t vinegar, the company was quite adequate and I managed to return home without actively wanting to shoot myself, which is always a plus. But a mere 12 hours later these feelings of nondescript non-satisfaction turned into a boiling rage, because it had happened yet again: an email pinged into my inbox. ‘Rate last night’s experience at London’s finest,’ it urged. ‘Were you a) Extremely impressed with the restaurant? b) Quite impressed? c) Neither impressed nor distressed…’
And so it went on, pages of it, because you cannot do a blinking thing these days without being asked to fill in a customer satisfaction survey. Who has the time to wade through this stuff? They are everywhere: not just about hotels and restaurants but about everything. I’ve been asked to rate my grocery store driver for heaven’s sake (‘Look, he just delivered the flipping order without breaking the eggs, OK?’). Then there’s every purchase I make online (‘The book had two hard covers, as described, and many really quite interesting pages in between’). A recent personal low was being asked to rate a doctor’s appointment. A doctor’s appointment? By their very nature, doctors are often the purveyors of bad news: what do they expect you to say? ‘Convivial atmosphere, ten out of ten for the bedside manner and a diagnosis of inoperable cancer delivered with warmth and gusto!’ Give me strength.
Recently it began to occur to me that these infernal questionnaires are asking all the wrong questions. For a start, all this business about ‘customer satisfaction’ is nonsense: we’re British and as such we’re never satisfied about anything. If they insist, far better to have one box for us to tick marked ‘Mustn’t grumble’ and have done with it. Or why not survey us to see what the evening was really like? Was the waiter a) genuinely French, b) clearly a culinary ignoramus, or c) a patronising bastard? Your delivery van driver, was he a) casing the joint for valuables, b) eyeing you up in a way that was singularly age inappropriate, c) caught me in my dressing gown at 11a.m., whatever must he think?
The other appropriate and genuinely useful time and place for customer satisfaction surveys might be after events that really do matter, for people you really would like know your mind. After your promising first date with a prominent barrister who has a good career in front of him and who was also something of a looker, but who then failed to call you afterwards as promised, were you a) a little disappointed, b) suicidally depressed, c) seething with fury and determined to get revenge on the sucker? Truth be told, I’m extremely dissatisfied with quite a few of the swains who have wafted in and out of my life and would very much like to fill in a customer satisfaction survey on the subject to be emailed straight to their inbox. Couldn’t someone somewhere organise this?
And then there’s that unhappy childhood you never really got over. Did a combination of parental neglect and unsatisfactory schooling a) make you determined to succeed (that’ll show ’em, they told me I’d never amount to anything and now I’ve got a Porsche), b) scar you to such an extent that you have never been able to form a committed relationship, c) give you some excellent material for your latest novel or d) leave you emotionally undisturbed because there are faint indications you might be a psychopath? If we could routinely leave feedback for our parents, we wouldn’t have to turn to alcohol to repress it all.
And what about life itself? Is the way things have turned out for you a) very satisfactory indeed, thank you, b) mustn’t grumble, c) not at all satisfactory, actually, no one told me this was how it was going to turn out or d) mine’s a treble, please. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone cared enough to ask?
There would be a downside to existential customer satisfaction surveys, which is that just as we were evaluating everything in our lives, so everyone else would be marking us up or down, as lovers, parents, friends. Perhaps then c) best stop whingeing and leave well enough alone.