When I recently bought my new car I was informed that I would be receiving a satisfaction survey in the mail shortly asking me about my buying experience. I thought, “Fair enough.” Then I was told that they really like to see top scores for everything, and that if I feel something wasn’t top notch that they would appreciate the chance to fix it first. Again, “Sounds fair.” But wait, will people actually come back and ask them to make it right? As I once read in the Ultimate Question, people will give a high score because they feel guilty not giving them the chance to correct it. So now no one wins: the dealer doesn’t get good feedback and the consumer is left unhappy.

This seems to be a trend in customer service research. From retail to a recent call to one of my credit card providers (Agent at end of call: “Would you say I provided you with great service today?”)

Obviously the research findings produced are faulty. So why do they do it? I think a lot of it is energetic employees and managers who have a very large incentive to show good results. Taking a longer term view would help these companies immensely (maybe provide short and long term incentives?), as well as better policing by those analyzing the research. Companies should be using customer research to evaluate their policies and practices in addition to employees’ performance. When the outcome of a customer service experience is unsatisfactory, it may be because the customer service representative wasn’t helpful when he/she could have been, or it may be because the customer service representative was perfectly helpful, but handcuffed by a problematic company policy. If the survey only asks whether the employee was helpful, and there’s no response category for “as helpful as they could have been given a stupid policy”, how do you respond? Ideally, companies should measure satisfaction with the interpersonal aspects of the experience separately from satisfaction with the outcome of the experience. (“Do you feel the employee did everything they could to address your problem?” and “How satisfied are you with the outcome of your experience?”)

Have you witnessed this as well? What was your reaction?