The phone rang the other evening. Uncharacteristically, I chose to answer it. A pleasant female voice identified herself as a staffer doing a survey for the phone book and asked for the male head of the household. “Hey,” I shouted to my husband, who was standing about 10 feet away, “do you want to take a survey about the phone book?” “No,” he yelled back. I turned back to the phone. “I’m sorry, he’s unavailable,” I said politely. The whole exchange had been completely audible to the caller, who had the humanity to laugh. “Then may I speak to the female head of the household?” she asked gamely.
I’m a big fan of usability testing, and market research is its distant cousin, so I like to help; but I think it was the fact that she laughed that convinced me to stay on the phone. I’m glad I did. For the next 15 minutes I had a very entertaining time answering some of the most bizarre questions I’ve ever heard. The caller was great — she fully recognized the absurdity of some of them, and she did her job gracefully anyway. For example, the irony of the following sequence was not lost on her:
Caller: How many hours of television have you watched per week for the last 30 days?
Me: Zero [this is true, by the way].
Caller: Have you seen any television commercials for the phone book in the last 30 days?
Caller: I’m going to describe three television commercials for the phone book that recently aired in your area. Please tell me if you have seen any of them. I am not allowed to record your answer until I have finished describing each commercial, but they are not long. [90 second storyboard-type description of the first commercial follows] Have you seen this commercial?
Two more commercial descriptions followed the first one; by the time she finished, I was laughing too hard to speak. She waited patiently until I had recovered and thanked me for not hanging up. “Are you kidding?” I said. “This is the most fun I’ve had all day!” Apparently she loses a lot of respondents at the point where she has to read the commercials.
My favorite part of the call, though, was the personality assessment of my phone book:
Caller: If your phone book were to come alive and speak to you like a person, would it be authoritative?
Me: Is that really what the question says? I have no idea. I can’t picture my phone book as a person.
Caller: So, I’ll put “I don’t know,” okay?
Caller: If your phone book were to come alive and speak to you like a person, would it be polite?
Me: How many phone book personality questions do you have there?
At this point she waited patiently while I lost it again. She ran through the personality questions with me randomly saying yes, no, or I don’t know — the user study from hell, but come on, what kind of a question is that? Still, I was almost sorry when she ran out of questions.
If the marketing exec who approved those questions were to come alive and speak to me like a person, would s/he be funny? Probably not.