Allow customers to give honest feedback

This post was first published in 2010, but I still see this approach six years later and remains as relevant today as it did back then!

Point of sale research is pointless!

When I picked up my new car from our local dealer a couple of days ago I struggled to suppress a smile when the salesman handed me a questionnaire for me to complete in front of him (which also needed signing), and then showed me another questionnaire (from the manufacturer) that I should receive in a few weeks, explaining that he is assessed on customers’ responses to this particular question circled here, yadder yadder yadder…

Photo by Greenkozi, on Flickr

When I picked up my last car (different make and dealer) I was offered an incentive of £15 of fuel if I brought the questionnaire into the garage to go through the feedback with them (“so they could have a chance to resolve any issues”).

The irony is that both salesmen/garages were fine – I was more than satisfied with the experience, the only thing they could have improved was the price (and I really wanted to go back to the first garage to buy our next car but they just don’t offer a model that fits our bigger family requirements, sorry).

Asking a customer to fill in a survey in front of your staff is wrong. And if your dealers/store managers/employees are compelled to “improve” their score by helping customers to fill in the survey you have a problem.

It’s easy to see why this is a bad approach to fielding customer satisfaction surveys. When I was about 10 or 11 we had our windows at home replaced with uPVC windows and I remember my mum complaining about the mess the installer made. When the job was finished she was asked to fill in a very short questionnaire and I watched the biro hover over the less than satisfied option before she swiftly ticked top-box, top-box, top-box for each question and handed it back. “Why didn’t you say anything?” I asked my mum.

The mess probably wasn’t all that bad and didn’t take much to put right (hoover and a few minutes each window I should think). Was it a one-off or a recurring issue? The installer’s manager would never know what the customers really thought.

The issue for employees feeling pressured to improve their score (or ‘gaming’) is more difficult to resolve, and my response if this is the case is …

  • perhaps the targets that trigger bonuses are simply too high (initially),
  • scores fluctuate too wildly and/or not enough responses to provide reliable scores (if an employee’s score is based on 6 or 7 customer contacts then gaming just 2 results contributes to 33% of the score), or
  • staff don’t have confidence in the process and/or feel penalised because of factors outside of their control (a delivery delay or the terms of the warranty are corporate issues – not down to the individual).

Finally, what purpose is the survey for? The example questionnaire I saw at the garage on Friday asked more of “did the salesman explain gap insurance?” and “did the salesman offer you our finance?” than “did we mess up?” and “how can we improve?” – which is more about conformance to procedures than customer satisfaction. Don’t mix the two.

3 thoughts on “Allow customers to give honest feedback”

  1. Dan Wardle says:

    There is a related story on Econsultancy today – the head of customer experience at Porsche discussed some of the challenges they faced because their customer feedback programmes became incentivised, which was also damaging the brand …

    Porsche’s battle to improve customer service and the Net Promoter Score:

  2. I have just spent the last hour trying to get the name of our company bank account “customer manager”. It took me an hour of combined searching of their website, holding on for 15 minutes then being cut off, listening to ear- jaggling music etc etc you get the picture. Half-way through this process a questionnaire popped up which was all about the website. It was all about the navigation, whether I liked the colours and so on all on a scale of 0 to 10. The only thing I wanted to tell them was that I could not find the thing I was looking for but there was no chance to answer that one – just the chance to tell them whether “everything I was looking for” was there – and how do you answer that on a scale of 0 to 10? Strictly speaking I was not looking for everything, just one thing – and it was not there. So is that a zero? But I could see that there was a lot of stuff there that one day I might want, maybe. So is that a six, or a seven, or an eight or what? Daft question. Daft scale.

    1. Dan says:

      Hi Caroline,

      Did you get through in the end?

      I had a similar experience only yesterday trying to complete a purchase on PC World’s website. At the time I was peeved that my transaction hadn’t gone through, and since the survey had popped up I thought well they can have my feedback…

      It sounds like someone at your bank likes their 10 point scales and you touch upon a very important consideration when designing surveys: can the participants be expected to answer this question? The challenge with website surveys is that most of the time you don’t know anything about this visitor until you ask them (why they’re here, what they’re trying to do, etc.)

      Thanks for posting!

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