Please Give Us a ‘Highly Satisfied’ Rating!?!


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Why do sales and service representatives feel compelled to tell customers how to answer a survey? Does the company want to know what the customers really think, or is the company trying to build positive publicity by claiming superior ratings?

The answer to the second question exposes the company’s culture and customer experience management motives — whether they are striving to be customer centric (eager to know and act on what customers really think), or happy to be self centric (eager for positive publicity). Maybe the motive behind the satisfaction survey depends on the sponsoring organization; perhaps a Marketing-sponsored satisfaction survey will naturally lean toward PR objectives, while a Quality-sponsored satisfaction survey will naturally lean toward continual improvement. Regardless of the sponsor, here’s why it’s best to pursue a customer centric survey strategy:

1) Investment: Surveys are an investment of customer time and of company funds, manpower and time – aren’t there more straightforward (honest) and cost-effective ways to build positive publicity? From a statistical view, manipulated surveys are worthless. Even the positive publicity is not sustainable, if it is inaccurate. Telling customers how to respond to a survey makes the survey results invalid, and the whole effort a waste of everyone’s time and money.

2) Customer Management: Many companies are concerned with respondent fatigue issues, so it’s essential to design surveys wisely and use results wisely. And since customer expectations can rise after they participate in a survey, it’s wise to have a well-established process in place to act promptly and systemically on survey results.

3) Growth: Marketing is overlooking lucrative opportunities to heighten their value within the organization if they do not view their role as a voice of the customer conduit into all functional areas across the company.

The answer to the first question reveals weaknesses in the company’s performance management strategy — either imbalanced scorecards or poor training of employees. Customer experience management scorecards should balance lagging indicators and leading indicators, with greater weight placed on the latter. Leading indicators are metrics that are actionable at the manager and worker levels, with a strong (predictive) tie to the customer survey ratings, and which can be measured before customers experience their effects. Survey results are lagging indicators because they reflect what customers have already experienced. If sales and service employees know their performance is being measured primarily by leading indicators, and secondarily by lagging indicators, their compulsion to tell customers how to rate them will be lessened. With the proper setup of customer satisfaction incentive pay, employees should be trained to respect customer’s pure assessments of the business and its related services, and to welcome constructive customer feedback.

The practice of coaching customers on satisfaction surveys should end! Customers feel insulted to be told what to say, especially in our Web 2.0 world, where customers are now accustomed to thinking independently and voicing their true opinions. To end this manipulation, go to the root cause of it: the company’s motives and/or the employees’ bonus calculation. Customers will reward you well for doing the right thing the right way.

Contact the author to find out how to customize these tips to your situation.

Lynn Hunsaker

Lynn Hunsaker is 1 of 5 CustomerThink Hall of Fame authors. She built CX maturity via customer experience, strategic planning, quality, and marketing roles at Applied Materials and Sonoco. She was a CXPA board member and SVAMA president, taught 25 college courses, and authored 6 CXM studies and many CXM handbooks and courses. Her specialties are B2B, silos, customer-centric business and marketing, engaging C-Suite and non-customer-facing groups in CX, leading indicators, ROI, maturity. CX leaders in 50+ countries benefit from her self-paced e-consulting: Masterminds, Value Exchange, and more.


  1. As much as anything, this looks like an internal customer focus / voice of the customer initiative gone wrong.

    Knowing that customer satisfaction is a driver of customer loyalty, (and thay loyalty drives profitability) someone in a senior management has the brilliant idea that customer satisfaction should be part of location & personnel performance evaluations.

    Rather than taking the time to teach proper service philosphy, instill service-orientation in hiring practices, establish service-supporting process and service recovery protocols (to mention only a few), the order comes down to be interpreted as follows:

    “We’re going to measure customer satisfaction, and use it in your job appraisal. If you want to advance in this organization, make more money or simply stay hired, you need to perfrom on customer service metrics.”

    So the locations and staff attempt performance on customer service metrics, rather than actual customer service. And, people having the nature they do, attempt to “game” the metrics by asking customers for a highly satisfied / top-box rating.

    Of course, the effect is as you say it is. The data ends up useless, customers end up offended that they are being asked for a rating the provider doesn’t deserve, and the company, instead of valuing employees that perform highly on customer service, end up valuing employees that prove able to achieve results on metrics with a marginal tie to service.

  2. Hi Chris,
    Yes, this post was motivated by a poor experience I’ve seen all too often — someone inviting me to give my feedback, and then coaching me on how to do it. As a former market research professional, I’m deeply offended by the coaching as it results in non-valid data. As an intelligent human being I’m offended by this coaching because I’m quite capable of voicing feedback as I see it, and certainly not interested in being manipulated.

    Thankfully, I’ve designed and managed successful customer satisfaction incentive compensation programs, with increasing sophistication over time, and have found that it’s possible to overcome the weaknesses described in this post, and observed by so many of us as bonus traps that are all too easy to fall into.

    Part of the answer is described in my post 4 Tips for Keeping Goals & Initiatives on Track.

    Lynn Hunsaker helps companies improve customer data ROI, customer-centricity and customer experience innovation. She is author of 3 handbooks. See,,


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