If You Value My Opinion, Pay Me for It

PUBLISHED: July 3, 2018

The Nielsen Corp., which tracks TV viewing and other consumer behavior, knows the value of a buck. When Nielsen sends out survey mailers, tucked inside each envelope is a crisp dollar bill. After all, a deal’s a deal. Nielsen wants your feedback, and it learned years ago that you’re more likely to respond when compensated, even with a token sum.

But in the internet era, many companies think it’s reasonable to ask for your time and advice without offering anything in return.

"At Avis, we value our customers’ opinions," said the email after my recent car rental. I doubt it, since Avis offered me zilch for filling out its three-minute survey.

Home Depot wanted me to "take just a few minutes" to rate my purchase of "1 lb. Stain Removing Poultice Powder." The compensation was Home Depot’s enduring gratitude: "Thank you in advance for your time."

The Geico Homeowners Team emailed a survey saying the company’s goal is "excellent service." No thanks. My goal is to get paid for my work.

Petco called me "a valued pet parent" but offered nothing for a hefty 15-minute survey. Really? At the federal minimum wage, I deserve $1.81.

Even the wealthiest American president in history wants free feedback. "Please, take a moment to take the Official Presidential Job Performance Poll today," reads the email sent by the Republican National Committee, operating as "The official polling team of President Trump." What? No chance to win Trump steaks? Not even a MAGA hat?

Some companies are less daft. Wells Fargo offers survey respondents "a chance to win $1,000 in our Survey Sweepstakes." Best Buy dangles "a chance to win one of three $5,000 Best Buy shopping sprees." AT&T promises a shot at "1 of 8 $100 Gift cards." However remote your chances, a prize at least conveys the company’s thanks.

The most riling request for uncompensated feedback I’ve ever seen came in a recent email from JPMorgan Chase Bank, "inviting" me to join something called the Chase Innovation Community. This "select group of customers," I was told, "will be asked to participate in short online surveys and discussions with others in the community," occurring "once or twice a month."

Working with the international research firm Ipsos, Chase pledged that this data "will result in improvements and products inspired by you." To participate, I would first have to fill out a survey to determine if I was "eligible" to complete more surveys.

I decided to phone Chase customer service to check the validity of this odd program. Three different customer-service agents, taking more than a half-hour of my time, concluded it was a scam and advised me to forward the email to the Chase Abuse unit. A fourth agent checked further and informed me that the Ipsos survey was legit.

Alas, I’ll never know what, if anything, members of the Chase Innovation Community receive for their service. A team T-shirt, perhaps? After completing the initial survey, which asked about my accounts, credit cards and various banking habits, I was rejected.
Just as well.

My advice to Chase and other feedback freeloaders: If you want my two cents, you can start by offering me at least a penny for my thoughts.

(c) Peter Funt. This column originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal.

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