Survey Intimidation: Are you experiencing it or practicing it?


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Have you ever experienced survey intimidation? You may be practicing it and not even know the impact it is having on your business.

Merriam-Webster defines intimidate as, “to make timid or fearful; frighten; to compel or deter by or as if by threats; ‘tried to intimidate a witness’.” Not a word you would typically attach to soliciting honest feedback from your customers. However, it seems more companies are enacting tactics that feel like intimidation in the name of measuring their customer satisfaction.

Just this week, I faced this dilemma in two service-related experiences; I have to say that I caved to the pressure. The companies did not receive my honest opinions. I specialize in customer experience and noticed a few things that I thought could really improve their businesses. I really wanted to give them some free advice, but I don’t think they were searching for any honest feedback from their customers. They just wanted a number…and that is what they got. Unfortunately, what they missed is the potential to gain insight into what their customers may really want and need from them and how they could make changes to stave off competition.

There are two primary reasons to conduct customer surveys: (1) to measure your results (2) to learn what you can do to continually improve in an ever-changing marketplace. It seems in our zeal to reach set customer satisfaction goals, we are missing number two by focusing only on measurement. Here are just three ways I have seen companies use survey intimidation and ultimately miss the point:

1. Survey Guilt

It seems that every time I take my car into the dealership for service, I dread the process. Don’t get me wrong, they provide excellent service (albeit expensive). The entire time, though, I know they are focused on making sure I give them a “10” in the survey when I receive it. The experience feels so disingenuous. I hear over and over at different times—“Well, you know a lot is riding on our customer satisfaction score Ms. Crawford. I won’t be able to get the best cars in for you, or get the best pricing from the manufacturers, if you don’t give us a perfect score.” During the buying process at another dealership, the process was once even worse. Dealerships have made such progress in moving away from the stress of haggling, but they have replaced it with handing out heavy doses of survey guilt. Over the past few years, I have heard countless stories from frustrated customers who have felt an immense amount of guilt about providing even helpful improvement comments to auto dealerships. Although this seems more prevalent in the auto industry, other businesses are also following this trend. Recently, I went to a retailer where the cashier told me that if I filled out the survey saying she did a great job, then she might receive a bonus that could help her feed her children. A store manager at another business once handed me his card with the survey phone number attached, saying that if I used the number but didn’t give their headquarters a perfect score in every single category, then they may have to close their store. As a mom, I thought I had the market cornered on guilt…apparently not.

2. Survey Stalking

In survey research, response rates are particularly important. This has resulted in some companies and healthcare providers taking matters into their own hands (literally) and leading to what feels like intimidation. For instance, last week, I had a service franchise in my house and they handed me an iPad twice. The first time, they wanted me to complete a survey, as they stood right next to me, rating their service responsiveness before service even began. Did they really think they were going to get my honest feedback with the person who is about to provide service in my home standing next to me? Then, as the person finished, he handed me the iPad again to make certain I completed a second survey before he left. Of course, they received zero feedback as to how they could fix issues at their office and how I will never use their services again…but they got their “10s.” Some healthcare providers have even adopted this uncomfortable process. I can’t imagine anything more intimidating than completing a survey (that is clearly not anonymous) about the person on whom I depend to take care of me standing next to me or even in the next room.

3. Survey Harassment

This seems to be a combined result of guilt and stalking. For instance, every time I use a certain computer service company, they call and email me multiple times to make one hundred percent certain that I am satisfied with the resolution. I think the follow-up is excellent, but four or five phone calls and a number of emails feels excessive. Being in customer experience, I know that they are probably being measured on their percent of case closure, reconnect, or resolve rate, so their incessant calling is just to make certain that I don’t call back or write on the survey that my issue wasn’t resolved and mess up their numbers.

You may ask how you can avoid this. The first way is to remember that measurement is only one purpose of surveying your customers. You really want to gain authentic feedback. To do this, you have to try to minimize anything in your survey process that may feel like intimidation to your customers. As leaders, we know that being myopically focused on “just the numbers” can harm our companies in so many ways.

I encourage you to take a hard look at your survey process, and how you are incenting these results, so you are not creating unintended consequences for your customers. If you want to stay in business during these disruptive times, you may want a “10” on every survey, but the truth from your customers is what you really need.

Angela Crawford
Crawford Partners, LLC
Angela has devoted her career to helping companies discover, design, develop and implement strategies that strengthen connections with both their customers and employees. She currently serves as President at Crawford Partners, LLC and CMO for Direct Opinions.


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