Is Your Survey Sabotaging the Customer Experience?

Customer Survey

I’ll be the first to champion the merits of a well-honed Voice of the Customer survey and other surveying tools in order to better understand how a company or brand is doing and how it can better improve the overall customer experience. HOWEVER, in the quest to better quantify a company’s performance with its customers via satisfaction surveys, is it possible that we can alienate or even sour the same customers we are desperately trying to win their allegiance?

Baiting the survey? Think about the last time you were surveyed by a company after making a substantial purchase or used their service department with a series of questions asking you to rate your experience and/or satisfaction on a 1-10 scale. Were you told upon the purchase or after having service to expect a survey and to let them know if there was anything that would cause you to give less than a “10” on the survey so they could address it BEFORE you received the survey?

If so, how did it make you feel? Did it make you feel truly valued? Or, did it sour the experience that was actually positive prior to that caveat?

I think that one of the worst industry offenders in this “customer satisfaction” ruse is regrettably the auto industry. I’ve experienced this with several auto makers. It is too bad because I’m a “car guy” and I’ve been fortunate to help a number of clients in the auto industry.

“10” or failure? Before you think this is a forum for me to rant on a particular company (or even industry), let me say that it isn’t. In my opinion, those who are in corporate sales and marketing departments (regardless of the industry) who invented the “anything less than a ‘10’ is a failure” survey and incentive criteria are REALLY missing the mark and are likely being misled by metrics that don’t reflect how customers really feel. Think about that for a moment – anything less than a “10” is a failure?! Wow.

A recent example. To hopefully encourage reflection on how your own surveying (and incentive structures) may be either elevating or souring the customer experience, I’ll illustrate using my own recent experience. A few years ago, I purchased a new vehicle one evening after identifying and test-driving the exact vehicle the day before. I was happy with the salesman, the price I negotiated, and the car. I spent four hours at the car dealership at the end of a long workday to simply finalize the paperwork (due to their short-staffed situation). I was about at the end of my patience and the salesman apologized for flying through some of the car’s new-fangled technology features as it was past closing hours. It was late so I assured the salesman that I’m a half-way intelligent guy and I could figure out whatever we weren’t able to cover in the demonstration.

Before I even had a chance to get in my vehicle the next morning, I received a customer satisfaction survey from the car manufacturer via email. Since I believe in the power of better understanding customers via surveys, I dutifully fill them out. I rated the experience honestly with rather generous scores (a few 8’s, mostly 9’s, and a few 10’s) given the fact that I spent so much time at a dealership when I’ve done the same kind of transactions with other car brands in less than an hour start-to-finish.

Within an hour of completing the online survey, I received a frantic call from the salesman. He was practically in tears as he said he had never received such low scores in his 20 years of selling cars and that his performance incentives were trashed due to my low scores. (Remember, the lowest score I gave was an “8”.) He said that the auto manufacturer penalizes sales and service department members for anything less than a perfect “10” on their surveys. (He failed to clue me into that little detail the night before.) I was aghast. I had no idea that the manufacturer really didn’t want me to give honest feedback. They clearly wanted me to tell them only what THEY wanted to hear.

I felt horrible about hurting this guy’s performance record and even worse, his financial incentives. I even called the General Manager to see if I could somehow help remedy the situation for the salesman. Fortunately, we resolved the situation for the salesman. However, I realized that the automotive brand for which I’d had a long-standing affinity instantly left a NASTY taste in my mouth.

Pause. Think about that for a moment: How many brand-loyal customers are being alienated by well-intentioned but out-of-touch, misaligned surveys and measurement systems?

When a “10” = resentment is brewing. Even though I’ve purchased another new vehicle from this same dealership since then (and I’ve continued to service my car there), I’m wise to their surveying criteria. I dutifully give them “perfect 10’s” after every encounter. Yet, each time I do, I get a bit more cynical about the brand and a dose of resentment builds in spite of my love for pretty much every aspect of their cars and their brand – EXCEPT for their ridiculous customer “satisfaction” surveying (and incentive) system.

Time to look under the hood. When is the last time you took a hard look at your customer satisfaction surveys and sales incentive structures from the CUSTOMER perspective? I encourage you to do so because if you don’t, the data on your monthly “dashboard” may be saying that all systems are working PERFECTLY when in fact, your customers are about to blow a gasket.

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