I’m not a fan of incentives in general, though I think they may sometimes be necessary.

The other day, I did some account management at Sprint’s website, which required a (pretty unsatisfying) live chat with a representative. Afterwards, the system asked me to take a survey about my experience, which I of course did. I didn’t notice them telling me there’d be an incentive — turns out they wanted to give you a free ring tone if you took the survey — most likely I just sped past that bit to get started.

I did, however, notice the details of what exactly I’d need to do in order to actually get my ring tone:


What could be easier?

From my standpoint, this is just another tiny nail in the coffin of online research. When you can’t get the incentive you were promised without jumping through seventeen hoops, how likely are you to believe the next researcher who claims you’ll be compensated for your time?

(Adding insult to injury: you’re not going to see this survey unless you interact with a Sprint representative in a chat. You’re not going to need to interact with a Sprint representative unless you’re already having a problem. Sprint already knows how bad its customer service is, so they can be reasonably sure the only people who take this survey were angry when they first got to the website and that a healthy percentage of them got even angrier after they had their chat. So now you’re going to ask them questions and then “reward” them with a nonredeemable incentive? Classy.)


Filed under bad user experiences, incentives/compensation, Market Research, The cancer that is killing market research, web research

8 responses to “Lolcentives

  1. And on top of all that: apparently the supply of ringtones is limited somehow?

  2. Ziggy

    Whoever, you are, thank you! Between you, the Heretic, and Zebra Bites, I have new hope. Better ways of doing research may spread, and our children may see an era of more authentic and useful customer information!

    It’s exciting to think that in a few years our debates might shift from “5- versus 7-point scales” to “how can we best show genuine value to respondents,” or, “which phrasing leads to the most engaged responses,” etc.

    It’ll be fun to have methodological arguments over better techniques.

    Anyway, thanks for being out there.

  3. Thank you! I really appreciate the kind words.

  4. When I see things like this it makes me wonder how someone didn’t look at that before it was unleashed on customers and say: hold on a second, this is crap!

    Sadly, I’m pretty sure I know the answer. One person made the decision to award ring tones, someone else was tasked with figuring out how to dispense them, yet another person had to write up the instructions, etc…. and each of them said: “I’m just doing my job, it’s not my fault the end result sucks; they don’t pay me to fix other people’s mistakes, and even if I said something it’s not like they would listen to me.”

    Another example of why I’m convinced quality doesn’t scale.

  5. You’re a lot less cynical than I am, because I would guess the actual process was more like this:

    “Hey, we need to provide people with an incentive to take our survey. How about $5 off their bill?”

    “But everyone will want $5 off their bill.”


    “We can’t afford it.”


    “It’s like the rebates. We could just make the phones $50 cheaper, but instead we make you fill out a form, attach a copy of the receipt and the UPC code from the box, and make you wait 6-8 weeks for a check you’ll probably forget to deposit, if you ever actually get it.”

    “Whoa, that’s brilliant. Also, evil.”

    “Indeed. So, how about this: we’ll give away ring tones, and we’ll make it a giant pain in the ass to get them.”

    Along those lines.

  6. Alison

    What a lovely blog!

    And LOL at lolcentives.

  7. bgfred

    Distribute incentives efficiently? We have a railroad (phone company, whatever) to run!

    This isn’t malice, it’s just a pernicious mix of organizational structure and legacy systems.

    But it’s why there are ALWAYS opportunities for small startup David to slay long time market leader Goliath. And why no one loves their utility company.

  8. Pingback: No Biscuit: Fouten in online research | Gyurka

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