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What to Do About a Bad Survey

| Apr 4, 2012 No Comments

Consumerist today has a story of a car buyer who was told he had to give the dealer top marks on the customer survey or else the employee could be fired and the customer might not be allowed to bring his car back for service.

Clearly this dealer’s behavior will not lead to increased customer satisfaction, nor is Ford getting a realistic measure of how well the dealer is performing.

This story may be unusually extreme, but this behavior seems to be endemic in the auto industry. Anecdotally, I haven’t talked to any recent car buyer who hasn’t been subjected to some sort of blatant attempt to manipulate the customer satisfaction survey.

Over the years what started as an honest effort to measure and improve customer satisfaction seems to have morphed into a hollow exercise which penalizes employees who don’t cheat. But the process is so baked in that change is extraordinarily difficult.

Change is necessary, though. The existing customer satisfaction surveys are not only ineffective, they actually encourage bad behaviour. Here’s how I would fix a badly broken process like this:

  1. Immediately stop doing customer surveys. If the customer satisfaction process is this badly broken, it’s not only a waste of money, it is actually making customers less satisfied and encouraging bad behavior. Ending the program will send a clear message that things must change, and force the organization to overcome its inertia.
  2. Reconsider the ultimate goals of the customer feedback program. The goal is (probably) not to get good survey scores for the sake of good survey scores. The goal is to provide excellent customer experiences. In the case of auto manufacturers, the goal is to make every customer as satisfied as possible with the purchase and service experience, and strengthen the relationship the car owner has with the brand.
  3. Develop a new feedback process from the ground up around the new goals. To develop that deep satisfaction and relationship with the customer, you don’t just want to ask if they were satisfied and punish the dealer if they weren’t. Instead, rebuild the customer feedback process as an opportunity to identify and correct mistakes the dealer might have made. Don’t just ask how satisfied the customer was, ask what the customer needs to resolve the problem, and then have the dealer correct the issue. Give the dealer incentives to fix things, and make the goal “eventual customer satisfaction” not “zero problems ever.”
  4. Make it a two-way street. The people being evaluated should buy in to the process–which means listening to dealer’s concerns, being fair and open about how they are measured, and also giving them a way to contest unfair feedback. No process is perfect, and there are customers who threaten bad feedback if they think they can blackmail the dealer. Have a review process for the dealer to demonstrate that they did everything possible to satisfy the customer.
  5. Don’t tolerate cheating. Even the best customer feedback process will be manipulated if someone thinks that’s easier than providing good customer service. Customer feedback programs need to be actively managed, and anyone caught trying to cheat must be punished.
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