When it comes to measuring customer satisfaction, managers are gaming the system. They are advising customers to answer survey questions in a way that makes the manager look good, i.e., a rating of 5 on a 5-point scale. Rather than trying to improve the customer experience, they are trying to improve their scores.

I understand their motivation. An executive in a central office or a hired survey company might be collecting this data and drawing conclusions about customer service in a location that they may or may not have visited and probably know little. Sometimes the data folks understand the business and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they understand what customers mean by a particular rating and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they ask valid and reliable questions and sometimes they don’t. A phone company service technician once pleaded with me not to send a compliment to his supervisor because the “system” counts every comment from a customer as a complaint and it would go against him.

William Grimes, in a column for the N.Y. Times, writes:

In the auto industry, which tries to measure customer satisfaction at every possible stage, from the first tentative Web search to the last service visit, the assessment ritual can become a kind of performance.

Sales representatives have been known to show pictures of their wives and children as they plead for a favorable review in their dealership’s satisfaction survey. Some show their customers a sample survey already ticked off with top marks in every rating category. Dealers sometimes throw in a free tank of gas or a free oil change as a quid pro quo.

Pressure tactics have crept into other industries as well. Cable technicians, after completing an installation or repair, often call into the head office to report and then hand their cellphone over to the customer for a quick round of questioning about the service, an awkward conversation with the technician standing a few feet away.

Sales clerks who once concluded a transaction with “Have a nice day” now plead with customers to fill out surveys and award good marks because “my job depends on it.”

This is a sign I observed on the checkout counter of a CVS/Pharmacy:

CVS Sign

Clearly, this store is trying to influence ratings, not by improving customer service but my pleading for leniency.

I’ve written before about helpdesk employees who, at the end of a phone inquiry, ask customers to report that they were highly satisfied with the service.

Encouraging a particular rating does not tell you what customers really think. You have to ask yourself, “Do I want high ratings or do I want to know the truth?” Customers might tell you what they think you want to hear and then not buy again and not recommend your product and services to others.

Zingerman’s, which is well known for creating an outstanding customer experience, says in its training video that most customers don’t like to complain. By discouraging negative comments a company only makes customers more uncomfortable and more likely to misrepresent what they really think. Then managers will not hear what they need to hear.

If you want to improve performance, ask customers for feedback in a safe and neutral way. If you don’t care about improving performance, don’t ask for feedback. 

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