This is the third in a series of posts on our recent trip to Africa.  To see our first two posts, click here and here. We checked into a hotel in Antananarivo, and I was delighted to see that the Malagasy people embrace market research.  Inside our room was a customer service survey asking about various attributes of the hotel.

However, upon reviewing the survey, it struck me that the survey was dealing with the wrong issues.  It was a classic hotel survey:  was the room neat and clean?  Was my check-in fast?  How was the food at the restaurant?  The survey was asking about the basic infrastructure of the hotel.

Those questions are fine, and they have value.  However, as an international traveler in a developing country, I am primarily looking for features that weren’t covered in the survey.  Sure, I want a neat room and fast check-in.  But what I really need is a feeling of safety and security in my room, and a good safe.  I need an ability to use a credit card, and to exchange money.  I need the ability to get small Malagasy currency for the innumerable tips I have to bestow, when the airport only gives me the equivalent of hundred-dollar bills.  I really, really want hot water in the shower, and a shower head height that halfway works for a giant American, and it’d be nice if there was a guide to nearby tourist places where I could walk, and information about places where I could find Internet access.

Fortunately, the end of the survey contained the question, “What other issues would you like to share?”  This allowed me to let them know about my small currency needs and my worry about the people outside the hotel who were trying to take my suitcase without telling me that they were hotel employees.  Those are the things that will help them become more desirable to foreign tourists, and by including that last question, I was able to tell them so.

Even on a well designed survey, adding the “other” question provides the researcher a chance to catch any nuances that may otherwise have been missed.  It is often in these free response questions that, through the respondents’ own words, real insights can be gained.