As much as I hate spam phone calls, I always make time to take surveys, no matter the subject. Since I have no aspirations to government or title, surveys are my secret path to power. You see, in order to be statistically significant, most surveys rely on getting about 1000 respondents. In a nation of 300,000,000 people, that means that the opinions of every respondent represent about 300,000 people. That’s about the size of the city of Pittsburgh, according to the 2010 census, or a bit less than half the size of Washington, DC. Somehow, I find it satisfying to commit that many people to my point of view on laundry detergent or the new fall TV season.
Sometimes, however, marketing people are more selective. There is a market research company here in Raleigh. I am in their database, and sometimes they will call me because I “qualify” for one of their studies. By “qualify”, they basically mean demographically, as in “Hey, we need to represent 300,000 males over the age of 50. Let’s get John, he’ll be surveyed on anything!”
So I got a call from them last night asking if I would be available to take a survey. This one was something medical in nature (they won’t tell you ahead of time, but sometimes you can tell from the questions). And sometimes you can tell what answers will get you automatically excluded, like “I don’t use nail polish” or “I get all my news from reading my neighbor’s mind.” But you can never be sure, so I just try to answer the questions honestly and hope for the best.
Two of the screening questions on this survey stuck out though. The first was, “If you could have dinner with anyone (living or dead), who would you choose and why?” This is a great example of one of those questions it’s hard to guess correctly on. I’m pretty sure the correct answers are Jesus, Mother Teresa, Barack Obama, Kim Kardashian, and Albert Einstein (in that order). I decided to throw caution to the wind and choose Heather Locklear, in the hopes that they were doing a study of how people handle having dinner with living and/or dead people. (For the record, there are now 300,000 people who want to have dinner with Heather Locklear.)
Now, you’d think that would be the question that would trip me up. You would be wrong. (How could you not see that one coming?) No, one of the other questions was, “Have you ever cancelled a doctor’s appointment?” When it comes to doctors, I pretty much go where I’m told (you can read about my trip to the neurologist at the beginning of The Stroke Saga). So I answered, “No, I pretty much go where I’m told.”
At the end of the survey, the screener said that I had answered all the questions correctly for the session except one, the appointment cancellation question. Getting people signed up for these survey sessions is a lot like cold calling, in that you have to make a lot of calls in order to get sufficient participation, so she was reluctant to throw back a willing volunteer. So she tells me, “I’m going to contact the client and see if you will meet the criteria.”
Today she called me back. I failed. Her exact words were, “They really want people who cancel their appointments all the time.” She thanked me for my time and I hung up.
But all I can think about now is,
1) If your main criteria for a survey is irresponsible behavior, how many people do you expect to show up?
2) How is Heather going to feel if she gets stood up by 300,000 people?