This story about a couple who had a miscarriage and then received a text message from the hospital’s A&E department is as heartbreaking as it is shocking as it is sadly predictable.

The grief was volcanic. Jane woke in the middle of the night howling “I want my baby back”, having dreamed of a happier ending and, emerging from sleep, been forced to confront the nightmare of reality once again.

The next day Jane received an automated text message. It read: “We would like you to think about your recent experience in the A&E department. How likely are you to recommend our A&E department to your friends and family if they needed similar care or treatment? Please reply 1 for extremely likely, 2 for likely, 3 for neither likely nor unlikely, 4 for unlikely, 5 for extremely unlikely, or 6 for don’t know. Please reply today, texts are free of charge. Your feedback is anonymous and important to us and helps us to improve our service.”

Of course, this was an unfortunate accident. The message would have been sent out automatically to a random selection of patients. One would hope that certain safeguards would be built into the system to prevent situations like this, but for whatever reason, these safeguards failed on this occasion.

But the fact that the hospital sends out such messages shouldn’t really surprise us. Everywhere does. Visit the website of any retailer and a little box will pop up asking you to evaluate your shopping experience (an experience inevitably made worse by these pop-ups). Should you decide to actually buy something, you’ll find an email in your inbox a week or so later asking for feedback.

In a way, it’s sort of flattering. These giant companies so eager to hear what you think. Multinationals begging for our approval. But they can seem a little needy – and, as in the example above, insensitive. They can also seem a little arrogant – asking whether or not you would recommend the product or service to a friend or family member, as if all we have to talk about is who we bank with or which energy supplier we use. Brands failing to realise that they are not as important to us as we are to them. I’m extremely unlikely to recommend my bank to anyone – not because I’ve had a bad experience with them, but just because it’s not something which is likely to come up in conversation. Even if it did come up, I still wouldn’t recommend them. What if they take my advice and have a terrible experience? I’d feel like it was my fault. When it comes to recommending an A&E department, the stakes are even higher.

Have a bit of self-confidence, guys. Believe in yourself. Stop sending us text messages.

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