June 14, 2013

Werner Braun: CRI surveys help our industry improve and grow

— I’m a scientist at heart (and by training), so it should come as no surprise that I place a lot of stock in the importance of surveys, particularly those that gauge customer satisfaction.

I came to work as the CEO of the Carpet and Rug Institute in 2000, and I, along with our Board of Directors, grew to believe that we needed to do more consistent surveying of our industry’s customers to see what perceptions consumers had about carpet and just what issues we might need to address.

It’s all been very enlightening.

In 2002, we began surveying both residential and commercial customers. Our commercial customers encompassed a broad group, including such sectors as governmental offices, schools, private businesses, etc.

What seemed to jump out at us at that time as the No. 1 issue that consumers of all types, both residential and commercial, had “issues with” was that of the cleaning and maintenance of carpeted floors.

It seems that a perception existed in a big way that “carpet is difficult to clean and maintain.”

This concerned us because that’s just not the case. But just imagine our surprise when we realized that there were no standard testing procedures in existence that actually judged whether an advertised product really worked. In our follow-up discussions, we realized that no one was taking the lead in terms of testing to see that the existing carpet cleaning products and extracting machines, including vacuums, really did what they claimed to do.

That’s when we decided to initiate our Seal of Approval (SOA) program and create testing standards and procedures (through an independent lab) to certify cleaning products and machines as either worthy of the Green Label Plus standard of excellence — or not.

We started our SOA program late in 2002 after getting the results of those initial surveys. And the rest, as they say, is history. Having this testing program in place has been a real boon to us in many ways, and it’s one of the most important things we do at CRI.

One of the next biggest issues that we became aware of through initial surveying was a common and widespread misconception: that carpeted materials played a large role in the development of asthma and allergies.

Again, imagine our surprise because we knew that this is simply not the case. In fact, carpet actually creates a much healthier indoor environment because dust particles and allergens get trapped in the carpet and are then subsequently removed through regular vacuuming. The carpet actually takes the allergens out of the air, creating a healthier breathing space.

We wanted to know where this misconception was coming from. And again we were met with quite a surprise. It turns out that many of those who had bought into this fallacy were getting that idea from their physicians.

That led us to begin surveying asthma and allergy specialists to see what scientific information they were using to make that claim.

On our initial surveys back in 2004, we found that 60 percent of the doctors (allergy and asthma specialists) who responded to the survey believed that carpeted floor aggravated patients who presented with those issues.

These physicians for the most part were advising their patients to do two things: get rid of their pets, and get rid of their carpets.

We asked each physician who held that view if he or she could point to even one piece of scientific information that bore out that claim. And we did not receive even one single response.

In 2008, we expanded that group of survey recipients to include general practitioners as well as allergy and asthma specialists because we had discovered (through the surveys) that many people were being given this same misinformation through their family physician.

We began a targeted year-long communication campaign to educate physicians of both types as to the positive impact carpet actually has in terms of high air quality and reduced floating dust particles.

Within a year, we were able to see through our survey results that only 42 percent of physicians were continuing to advise their patients to get rid of their carpets. This showed us that our communication campaign was working and our message was being heard.

The bottom line is that surveys really do help us understand what the issues are behind a person’s reluctance to buy carpet, for example, or a consumer’s unfounded belief that carpets cause allergies. And once we understood the misperception, CRI worked to make certain that consumers had all the best information to make the right decision for them in their flooring choice.  

And that’s a good thing.

Werner Braun is president of the Dalton-based Carpet and Rug Institute.