Marketing research how-not-tos: The case of the fast-food advisory panel

In the original version of this blog entry, which I composed last week and had planned to post this week, I railed on about the unfortunate experience I had attempting to join the “advisory panel” of a fast-food chain:

So, the other day, I got an e-mail from a fast-food chain whose locations I frequent inviting me to join its “advisory panel.” Sure thing. I clicked the link and waited…and waited…and waited…for the pages to load. Not their fault, I thought – probably a lot of people just like me responding to the invite, bogging down the servers. The slowness persisted throughout what turned out to be a half-hour process.

Now, having received similar come-ons before, I figured I would answer a few questions to see if I qualified and then I would receive a link via e-mail to take a longer-form survey as part of the advisory panel.

Not this time. Instead, I slogged through the aforementioned half-hour, battling my way across a series of batteries that went into excruciating detail about my fast-food dining habits. Again, it took forever but it would have done so even under the speediest of connections – I understand that these sorts of question series are part of the deal.

But the kicker was, after all that, I got to the last screen and was greeted with this:

“Thank you for your interest in joining the [Offending Fast-Food Chain] Advisors panel.

Due to an overwhelming response to our invitation, the panel is now full.

[Offending Fast-Food Chain] truly values consumer feedback – we hope you will consider becoming a member of the [Offending Fast-Food Chain] Advisors Community in the future. Please check back in a few months to find out if new panelists are needed – we’d love to hear from you!

Thank you,

The [Offending Fast-Food Chain] Advisors Team”

Are you french-frying kidding me? All that work, only to be told I didn’t make the cut?

This is another variation in the oft-cited problem where unsuspecting respondents plow through a survey invite only to be told they don’t qualify – something I thought the panel companies long ago vowed to avoid as much as possible.

Can’t you engineer your questionnaire so that once a quota has been reached, you don’t accept any new applications, as it were? Or is it too late, once the survey process has begun?

And, don’t compound the insult with the annoyingly cheery letter from “the Team” telling me that you value consumer feedback when you’ve just finished clearly devaluing mine. Further, even if I love your food, do you really expect me to “check back in a few months” to find out if new panelists are needed? And how, exactly, would you suggest I go about doing that?

This ain’t rocket science, folks. We can do better.

Well, over the weekend, those of us who subscribe to the company’s e-promotions list received an extremely apologetic e-mail that addressed almost every point I raised in my unposted post. (For a second I felt like our WordPress account had been hacked or something!)

Thank you for your interest in joining [the panel]. We were overwhelmed with the interest everyone showed in joining [the panel], which meant that the advisory panel was quickly filled-up.

We apologize first, that the positive response resulted in the system being overloaded and therefore the survey took a long time to complete for many of you. Normally, the survey is very quick. We also apologize if you spent time to complete the survey and were unable to join the panel due to full quotas. All the questions you answered were important in selecting a representative cross-section of people. We expect to expand our panel in a few months, and will need more people like you at that time. We hope that you will reconsider joining [the panel] then, and you will be one of the first people we contact to see if you’re still interested – we’d love to hear from you then!

[Admirably forthright fast-food chain] truly values consumer feedback – thanks for letting us know your disappointment in not joining the panel, and about the cumbersome process. We hope you will continue to be interested in voicing your opinions and joining [the panel] as space becomes available.

Thank you again for your time!

We clearly can do better and this company did. Kudos.

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One Response to Marketing research how-not-tos: The case of the fast-food advisory panel

  1. Jim Nelems says:

    Another effort the chain might have made is to provide a coupon or some kind of discount for all those (I wonder how many) got this same message. No more expensive than providing a discount or free item on one’s birthday, which many chains do.