The problem with perfection

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Ford CustSat SurveyCustomer satisfaction surveys are carefully constructed by instructional designers who labor over details such as the exact wording, number, and sequence of questions, and the rating scale used. This is done with the intent to produce a survey that yields reliable feedback that leadership can then use to improve product and service quality.

Tampering with customers’ satisfaction survey responses undermines the tool’s design, erodes its validity, and masks legitimate opportunities to improve. It’s like tampering with your bathroom scale to display a more desirable weight: while the number looks good, you know that it doesn’t match reality.

Two weeks ago, my wife and I bought a new Ford Expedition. We had a terrific buying experience at the dealership. Our salesman was knowledgeable, low-pressure, and communicative throughout the sales process. In fact, the only time he applied pressure was when he handed me the Ford customer satisfaction survey – on which he had taken the time to highlight every “Completely Satisfied,” “Excellent,” “Definitely Would,” and “Yes” box to guide my survey responses.

One of the questions asked me to rate the length of time to complete the final paperwork. Although our salesman had said, “It takes less than an hour,” we were there for more than two hours. Even so, I was instructed to check the “Excellent” box in response to this question. While it took longer than expected, our salesman brought us chilled bottled water and the finance rep took sufficient time to offer complete explanations and respond to questions. When I complete the survey, I will check the “Very Good” box.

Another question asked if everything on the vehicle was in working order. Although the touchscreen display on the navigation system didn’t work, I was advised to check the “Excellent” box in response to this question. Our salesman owned the problem and scheduled an appointment for the following Tuesday to replace the navigation system’s touchscreen monitor. But because it didn’t work when we took delivery of the vehicle, when I complete the survey, I will check the “Very Good” box.

Afterward, when we were in the parking lot taking delivery of the vehicle, my wife had a question about the Bluetooth hands-free feature. Our salesman said, “It’s pretty easy to figure out. It’s all in the manual.” But then he added, “They’ll ask on the survey if I showed that to you, so tell them I did.” Now, in our salesman’s defense, it was after 7:30pm, the sun had set, and everyone had had a long day. To expect him to explain every feature on the vehicle at that hour would have been unreasonable. Even so, his response is further evidence that the customer satisfaction survey process at Ford is broken. The actual customer experience has been subordinated to an artificial survey rating that does not reflect the customer’s reality. In their zeal for “perfect” scores, salespeople have lost sight of the ultimate goal: a perfect buying experience.

This approach, which I’ve experienced at multiple Ford dealerships, attempts to cajole customers into assigning perfect scores for an imperfect experience. Let’s face it: most exceptional consumer experiences (whether buying a new car or vacationing on Marco Island) are likely peppered with opportunities for improvement. Why should customers be asked to assign perfect scores when doing so may not reflect their reality? And how exactly does receiving a perfect score on every customer satisfaction survey help you to improve?

Customers should be given the freedom to provide authentic ratings and feedback that reflect their actual experience, not coached to provide what Ford wants to hear. I can’t fathom how a company as sophisticated as Ford Motor Company doesn’t see the fatal flaw with the execution of its customer satisfaction survey process. You can’t tell customers what score to give you. You can’t hand customers a guide demonstrating how they “should” complete their surveys. You can’t tell a customer what his experience was like and how he should feel about it in order to placate your manager, “earn” a bonus, or validate a flawed customer satisfaction survey process.

Ford, if you’re listening, continue to solicit customer feedback. But please discontinue the practice of coaching customers to assign only perfect scores. And recognize that receiving a disproportionate number of customer satisfaction surveys with perfect scores, indicates the presence (not absence) of problems.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Steve Curtin
Steve Curtin is the author of Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary. He wrote the book to address the following observation: While employees consistently execute mandatory job functions for which they are paid, they inconsistently demonstrate voluntary customer service behaviors for which there is little or no additional cost to their employers. After a 20-year career with Marriott International, Steve now devotes his time to speaking, consulting, and writing on the topic of extraordinary customer service.

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