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When the survey is worthless (Part 1)

Car salesman- Tom Vander Well, executive vice president of c wenger group, is a recognized customer service authority in the contact center industry.

It's happened every time I've purchased or leased a vehicle for the past 20 years. The auto industry are the worst culprits. It's happened to me with Ford, Saturn, Cadillac, Nissan, and Lincoln. The auto industry is not alone. It's happened in retail stores and restaurants. I'm sure it's happened to you.

The salesperson helping you out says something similar to this:

"In the next few days you're going to get a survey asking you about my service. It's really important to me to get all high marks. If I don't get all "5s" I can get in trouble and might even be fired. So, if you could help me out, I'd really appreciate it."

The last time this happened to me the salesman added: "The truth is my company doesn't really care what you think. They're just doing this to decide whether I get a bonus or not."

There are so many things wrong with these scenarios that it's difficult to know where to begin. The intention of the process is worthy. The company wants to base rewards and compensation based on actual customer experiences and satisfaction. The process, however, is deeply flawed and any data gathered by the surveys can't be trusted.

Once the salesperson or agent appeals to the customer's sympathies, the customer is strapped with an emotional burden that makes it nearly impossible to provide an objective answer.

Tempted to be honest, the customer starts to fill in something less than a "5" and then feels the weight of denying the poor saleswoman a bonus or getting her fired. Some will simply go through and give all "5s" just to "help the guy out" without giving any consideration to the questions. Now that the responses are not objective but emotionally biased towards the salesperson you've ensured that the results are neither honest nor representative. Even if a few honest people fill the surveys out objectively, there's no way you can trust any of the results to be an accurate, representative picture of what customers really think.

So why does it happen? It's a self-deceptive, feel-good win-win-win for three of the four players in the scene:

  • The company feels good about surveying customers and they can pretend that they really care about what the customer thinks. They feel good about all the high marks coming in for all their sales people. They delude themselves into thinking that customers are truly "very satisfied" and all the corporate training efforts are paying off. 
  • The salesperson feels good about getting a bonus, feels good about keeping the sales manager off his or her back, and deludes him/herself into believing that the results really show that he/she is doing a good job.
  • The survey vendor feels good about making a lot of money cranking out the surveys, feels good that the client feels good, feels good that the salespeople feel good, and generally everyone seems to feel good.

Who loses? The customer, who has been coerced into being a part of the self-deception and who wastes time participating in a survey that will truly not result in accurate data or a better sales/service experience.

There are much better ways to accurately gather customer data, objectively measure what customers think, and trust data that can help move the needle on the customer experience. Unfortunately, I don't believe we'll see the automotive industry (and others) abandoning their "feel good" survey models any time soon. 

When approached by a salesperson to "help them out" with a survey I immediately choose out of participating in a process that provides worthless data and ultimately does nothing to truly enhance the customer experience.


The same survey skewing happens in the financial services industry. A very large retirement services company representative closed the telephone conversation with the obligatory "Is there anything else I can help you with?" When I declined and advised that I was waiting on the telephone line to answer a customer survey, she responded enthusiastically. To anyone who may have been listening "for training purposes," it was obvious the representative was having a difficult time answering my questions. The telephone line was disconnected after a reasonable few seconds. I could be wrong, but I did not believe the disconnect of the telephone line to be a coincidence.

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