Bribe Me With Amazing Service

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Bribe Me With Customer SerivceSocial Review Sites

My automobile dealer wants my experience with them to be perfect. Really, they do! It turns out that the dealership is given a financial incentive by the automobile manufacturer to deliver excellent service. They are worried that if the dealership fails, then the next time I buy a car I may switch, not just to a different dealership, but to a different brand all together. Even though it’s not the manufacturer’s fault that the dealer gives me a bad customer service experience, the dealer’s problems reflect poorly on the brand.

So whenever I bring my car in for service, the service manager reminds me how important it is for him to get a good review. He wants me to give him a perfect ten, and he gives me an incentive to do so. More on that in just a moment.

It turns out that some of the reviewers on social review sites such as Yelp, Trip Advisor and others are customers who have been bribed to leave those kind words. Now, bribe might be a strong word, but there is an incentive. Customers may be offered a discount or free merchandise. I’m not saying this is completely wrong. Giving a customer a coupon or discount for leaving a favorable review doesn’t bother me. It’s a way of nudging them to take action. And if your customers are not happy, a small discount won’t be the incentive that gets them to come back – or gets them to leave a positive review.

So, back to my auto dealership. They offered me a bribe to answer the manufacturer’s survey and give them high marks. The bribe was simple and, most important, ethical. The service manager made it clear he wanted me to give him a ten on the scale of one to ten, with ten being “excellent.” The incentive for me to do so was that he was going to give me the service I expected. He told me that if the service he gave me was anything less than a ten, he wanted to know about it so he could fix it. That was the bribe. He would deliver flawless service in exchange for a good review and a high score. This is a bribe I liked!

I once stayed at a hotel that made the same offer. There were several signs that asked for a review on one of the social review sites, such as Yelp and Trip Advisor. The incentive to do so? It was similar to the car dealership. If they were falling short, they wanted to know so they could fix the complaint or problem. It was obvious that the hotel staff was 100% committed to the program.

So, if you want to bribe me with amazing service, I’m in!

16 COMMENTS

  1. Great piece as usual, Shep. And, you raise a fascinating issue regarding the tit-for-tat issue around incenting great service through the customer’s being encouraged to give a merchant an “A” on their customer’s report card. Too often, however the reciprocity pitch is not as transparent and unobtrusive as you describe. Most customers have had merchants use an “arm twisting” hard sell that ends up making customers less apt to favorably respond at all to the “soft” bullying they receive.

    The best service I have found comes from a deep and obvious passion for excellence, not the pursuit of an incentive. As you say, a zeal to amaze every time. It is the merchant or dealership that delivers world-class service because that is who they are; it is the foundation from which they operate. And, they could not fathom doing it another way, regardless of the financial payoff. It reminds me of the words of the great Shaquille O’Neal, “I’m tired of hearing about money, money money, money, money. I just want to play the game, drink Pepsi, and wear Reebok!” His tongue in cheek comment acknowledges the presence of incentives while bringing front and center the fact that his motivation for excellence on the court is the sheer joy of playing the game.

  2. Thanks as always for sharing your considerable expertise on this Shep.

    Whilst I completely agree with the sentiment and intent in your examples, my fear is that we are increasingly interacting with consumers who are already becoming cynical of ‘reviews’ that are available across a plethora of social media platforms. I feel that asking customers to do something is actually almost missing the point – a customer should do something because they WANT to do it – they are COMPELLED to do it – rather than doing something because they have been asked to.

    In my opinion, it is far more powerful openly and honestly asking for customers to tell you and others what they think publicly – whether it is good or bad – it is then the ability of the organisation to demonstrate what they have done with that feedback that unleashes the power.

    No business is perfect – every business can learn from mistakes – consumers will trust reviews when they can see that in action…..

  3. Customers are increasingly savvy about bribes. An incentivized, or coerced, positive review or recommendation is worth nothing, and often less than nothing because it can undermine the image, reputation, and credibility of the organization seeking it. One of the things this identifies is a very superficial, reactive, and passive concern with, or understanding of, customers.

    Customer-centric companies take a different approach. If there is real learning from a rating, or a complaint (such as communication back to a customer when ratings are neutral or negative, or a problem is surfaced), and true intention of making improvement in an area, or areas, of value delivery found wanting, this can go far to build customer loyalty behavior. Compare that to trumpeting bribed social media comments and phony high recommendations or ratings.

  4. Shep, you are lucky to deal with such ethical people. A few years ago I wrote an article (http://www.middlesexconsulting.com/_literature_210761/Gratification_Surveys_Are_A_No-No) about a car dealership that offered $25 prepaid credit cards for a 10 and a hospital that tried guilting patients into rating them a 5 (top box).

    Two years later I was dealing with the same hospoital’s business office by telephone, and was asked to participate in a survey at the end of the call. I agreed and at the call end I was told “Remember that a 5 means I met your expectations”. I declined to take the survey!

  5. Hey Chip – Thanks for this excellent comment. Especially love the Shaquille O’Neal quote. Sure, a company gets paid for what they do, but when they truly love and have a passion with what they do, then it takes doing business with them to another level.

  6. Hi Ian – Agree with you. I think that the number (a perfect ten) or a positive review is just a way for a company to validate that they are doing the right thing. As for as reviews go, you are right. There was a study done at Northwestern that proved that a rating of 4.4 was more credible than a 5.0 (scale of 1-5, with 5 being best).

  7. As usual Michael, great comment. I think that a company that “bribes” me to do business with them, or to leave a review, by giving me an amazing customer experience, both with the product AND the service, is the most ethical bribe in business. Perhaps bribe is a strong (or wrong) word. Maybe it’s just the incentive to do business with the company – again and again!

  8. Crazy to offer money for the score Sam. I understand compensating money for time on a survey. I’ve been asked to take 15 minutes for a survey in exchange for a gift card to Starbucks. However, they wanted honest feedback versus a fictional rating. They were only compensating me for time. Bottom line is that if the numbers aren’t real, then the company will eventually lose, wondering how they lost with all of those perfect scores. (The scores weren’t really perfect at all!)

  9. Hmmm. This sounds a little twisted. The service manager wanted you to reward him with a 10-rating. In exchange he provided you with an “incentive” which was . . . to give you the service that you expected? So, even before the service has been rendered, there’s haggling over quid pro quo? And what if you had declined his offer? – you wouldn’t have received the service you expected? This seems pretty convoluted.

  10. He was simply telling me he wanted to exceed my expectations. And, if anything was less than that, he wanted me to tell him. The manufacturer always sends a survey. I believe in the spirit of what he was trying to achieve. Call it an “ethical bribe.”

  11. Hi Shep,

    Bribery comes in many forms and many instances. As more businesses look for ways to offset the negative effects of social media mentions they offer incentives to their staff for positive online reviews. This is one way the bribe starts.

    It continues when the business rewards the employee in relation to the number of on-line mentions he/she receives.

    Sounds a little “Pavlovian” to me. Shouldn’t the desire for great service be the driver instead of the TripAdvisor, Yelp, Google mention? Of course!

  12. I feel the spirit of the “ethical bribe” is what this article is all about. However, I find your comment about this behavior being “Pavlovian” very interesting. Good behavior deserves to be rewarded. And, the social review sites are just ways to measure the success (or failure) of the company.

  13. It’s one thing for a company to invite you to post a review. Sure, they hope it’s favorable, but it might not be.

    The auto dealership shenanagins, on the other hand, we’ve all experienced, where the service manager tells you that they “need” all tens to earn a bonus and that you should tell them (before completing the survey) if you can’t give them straight tens for any reason.

    Let’s face it: this is an effort to cook the books and skew the measurements more than an effort to woo your favor with the promise of great service. While this interevention may well boost scores (we all know that the more personal the mode of data collection, the harder it is for people to be critical and the higher the scores tend to be), it at least partially undermines a company’s effort to deliver a great experience and top-flight service: this bribery makes it sould as if the customer “buys” the great experience by giving high scores, when the company is supposed to “earn” the scores by delivering the experience that justifies such top ratings.

  14. Thanks for your thoughtful words. I understand the spirit of his request. And, I’ve been doing business with them for several years, and they never let me down. They try hard and make it clear it’s their mission. All good service is rewarded, from a customer with repeat business – or in this case, the manufacture with incentives. I mentioned this on an earlier comment: Perhaps a better title might have been to “Entice Me with Amazing Service.”

  15. Interesting discussion. I am conflicted about this.

    On the one hand, as a consumer I feel annoyed at “begging for scores” — yet also pleased that at least there is some “skin in the game” by the employee, which gives me leverage.

    As a car shopper I might get free floor maps, a discount, or some other incentive to give a “5 star” score.

    However, gaming the feedback system in this way could mean:
    1. Excessive freebies or discounting to curry favor (cost/profit impact)
    2. The scores don’t reflect what is really going on (leading to bad decisions)

    So how does a CX manager deal with this? Is the answer to get rid of incentives based on scores?

    Or change incentives to reward employees on something besides a score?

  16. Great comment, Bob. Everyone is compensated for great service. The best compensation: The company gets a customer who comes back, post reviews, tells friends and more. That’s great compensation, in my book. I’ve been sharing some thoughts about the concept of the “bribe.” It’s obvious that that word caught the attention of many. I like that! Perhaps a softer, and maybe even more appropriate word would be “entice.” I can be enticed, bribed, lured and sold if you promise me an amazing customer service experience!

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