Making surveys unnecessary

It’s almost going on two years since I wrote Why Surveys Suck. They still do. Case in point: Sirius, the satellite radio company. Last December, Mike Elgen in Computerworld listed satellite radio among 10 Things That Won’t Survive the Recession. Said Mike,

I’m sorry, Howard Stern. It’s over. The newly merged Sirius XM Radio simply cannot sustain its losses. The company is already deeply in debt and would need to dramatically increase subscribers over the next six months in order to meet its debt obligations. Unfortunately, new car sales, which account for a huge percentage of satellite radio sales, are in the gutter and stand-alone subscriptions are way down.

I’ve been a Sirius subscriber for years. I’m currently paid through next November, but after that I’ll let it lapse if nothing convinces me to renew. The reasons are straightforward:

  1. I don’t like having no choice about what company I buy my gear from. Near as I can tell, Sirius has few or no third parties. They make their own receivers, antennas, and accessories. True, some car radios come with Sirius already installed, but I don’t want to have to buy a car to get the service.
  2. Their gear is full of proprietary suckage. The dock for one won’t work with another, to name one problem. My old Sportster radio has a display that’s as dim as a nebula. None of the new offerings fit in my old docks (I have three of those).
  3. I don’t like being forced to pay for something I don’t want in order to keep getting for “free” something I’m already paying for. (I visit that one here.)
  4. At the very least, they should have a player that works on the iPhone. If other developers can get 20,000 apps on the iPhone, why can’t Sirius? (They should follow on other smartphones, as well as hand-helds of all sorts.)
  5. Listening online should be easy. It’s not. The whole website is a triumph of design over utility.
  6. I want to spool data off of the radio, just to know what I listened to and when. Can’t do that.
  7. I would be willing to pay on an a la carte basis for lot of Sirius’ offerings. Especially their most expensive: Howard Stern.

I could go on, but it would all be beside the point: that none of this stuff shows up on the survey Sirius sent me this morning.

Here’s Sirius’ side of this little market “conversation”:

  1. “Please enter your primary Email Address (required)”. Would it be other than the one they used to send me the survey?
  2. “What types of music do you like? Please select up to 7 (roll over with mouse to see examples)” In fact I like more kinds of music than they list. Some would be in my top seven.
  3. What types of talk/entertainment/news do you listen to? Check all that apply”. I like Howard, sports and public radio. That’s it. (I like music too, but for that I listen to Internet radio because the stations are better, and there are many more of them.) They list Howard as a check box. Public radio doesn’t rate. Sports gets its own section…
  4. What types of sports do you follow? Check all that apply.” I checked three. This is the only place where I sensed the survey talking to me, personally.

That was about it. Meanwhile I want to scream at Mel Karmazin (who runs Sirius XM) — a guy I have respected for many years — HEY, MEL! QUIT BEING SO VERTICAL. GET HIP TO THE NET. QUIT TRYING TO OWN THE WHOLE MARKETPLACE. STOP TRYING TO BE PROPRIETARY AT ALL COSTS. HURRY! THEY’RE WRITING YOUR EPITAPH OUT HERE.

What will VRM do to make surveys stop sucking? Two words: eliminate guesswork.

Surveys are ways of improving guesswork. But they are no substitute either for conversation or for relationships that transcend the mass-marketed. And that transcendance is required for companies like Sirius to survive.

So. What can we do on the VRM side to make it easier for customers to relate to any vendor? What tools already exist, or can we make, that will standardize and unify the way we make our wishes known for any vendor or combinations of vendors?

How can we offer to pay on an a la carte basis that the vendor can take or leave — but at least know that the money is there to ignore?

These are some of the challenges we’ll be working on at the VRM West Coast workshop on Friday and Saturday of this week in Palo Alto. Follow that link for more details.

4 Comments

  1. MikeRiddell62

    May 14, 2009 at 1:12 am

    great stuff Doc. We are working on the creation of a VRM platform in Greater Manchester, UK. This was the birthplace of the industrial revolution. Surely, VRM + participation + local identity pride = industrial revolution 2.0?

    We are working with the soccer clubs, the shopping centres, the bus companies and the health authority. We are getting there! Also, Greater Manchester was the home of the Co-op and Northern Soul music (Wigan Casino). Too many things are coincidental for this not to be an opportunity.

    Thanks for all the good work and free advice. You rock man!

    The UK will appreciate you in the yrs to come!

  2. Terrific post. Also followed the link back to “why surveys suck.” As a researcher and survey guy, it’s hard to disagree. All surveys are limited and some really suck. I’m a 40-year luddite…now on the mend, and have recently been diving into social networks (e.g., GovLoop in the fed gov’t space), blogging, twitter. Just didn’t realize how these could add so many new dimensions to connecting and collaborating…cause I’m a also a bit slow. I look forward to learning more about VRM…the concept is great. One small suggestion: consider writing out what acronym stands for at the top of the page. I found the blog by chance, but not being tech savvy, it took some work to figure it out. Just a thought. Cheers

  3. I completely agree, Howard Stern is probably the only thing keeping Sirius alive. Too bad they can’t sell all those satellites for scrap metal.

  4. I don’t even like stern , but seriously they should be giving the units away with free install and just charge for the service . It never ceases to amaze me how complicated people try to make things to justify their salaries . PT Barnum had it right by stating “give them what they want” . The only survey they should be putting out there is “what to you want”

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