While I was busy with other things, American businesses have been pervaded by an antibiotic-resistant strain of Bacillus customersurveyus. This pathogen infects its corporate host, causing it to seek constant affirmation from its customers in the form of numerical ratings.
Customers, at first unaware of this proliferating disease, numbly complied, responding zombie-like to on-line questionnaires, mailed surveys, telephone interviews, and other obsequious pleas for ratings. It used to be just the major purchases. I could almost understand that. After all, it’s not every day that you buy a home or a car.
Before entrusting me with the keys to my new vehicle (sometimes long before…) the salesperson will take me aside, and tell me, almost conspiratorially, “You’ll be getting a survey from (dealership/independent organization) asking you to rate me. We are evaluated based on these results, so is there any reason you won’t be rating me a five?”
I figured that the commission process would be the reward mechanism. You sell more cars, you earn more commissions. Darwin would like that. But… back to the question: if I did have reservations about rating you a “5”, why would I tell you?
Let’s say that you told me something about the vehicle that I know to be false, or you didn’t return my phone call within a couple of hours, or you made careless errors on the financing agreement that caused me to endure some added hassle. All these things happened on my last purchase. At the end of the day, I'm thinking: just give me the spiel about all the features, hand me the damn keys, and we can both go on to lead useful and productive lives.
As a buyer, is it really my job to bring these things to your attention and tell you that a “4” would be generous indeed? A “5” after all, is the top of the scale. If everyone’s a “5”, it doesn’t mean an awful lot. Follow along below the black hole of mediocrity for more...
Still, this survey approach must be a winner for the car dealers, as everyone is now emulating it. I’m in the midst of refinancing my home. We are weeks away from the closing, but already, we’ve gotten the lovely form letter alerting us that we will be getting a survey, and Larry really hopes that we’ll rate him a “5”. Let’s just wait and see, Larry, okay? We're entrusting you with a major transaction. Try not to screw it up.
Stay at a hotel? Expect an e-mail in a few days asking about your stay (even if you've stayed there once a month for a year). Buy something at the mall? Oblivious to your time pressure, the salesperson detains you to write their name on the receipt and circle the URL of the web site where you evaluate them (and win a chance at a $500 gift certificate). Go to the bank for a simple transaction? They ask you to ring a bell if you got excellent service.
Your restaurant bill will likely be delivered with a survey card. More likely, a manager will likely swing by your table as you are ingesting your first bite of food and say: "Is everything great? Okay, that's good!!" and be gone before you can make the universal sign for "Heimlich Maneuver, please!". It's this "hey,-I-asked-the-question-and-they-didn't-have-any-problem-so-it's-all-good" approach to customer satisfaction that confirms what I've long suspected: it's all about checking the box.
I give blood a couple of times a year, and the cheery blood center receptionist who greets me hands me a card to fill in to mention who did a great job. I always pick the phlebotomist; no sense pissing off the person who sticks the needle into my arm next time. I think that I did a darn good job, but hey, I'm only the donor. Clearly it's not about me.
You don’t even need to buy anything. I’ve gotten pop-up surveys from web sites that I searched, about my “on-line experience”. Did I find everything I needed? Do I have suggestions on how they can improve their web site? Make a phone call to activate a new credit card? Expect an e-mail asking you how that process went. You can't make a move in cyberspace or in real life without someone needing your rating.
Maybe I’m just too “old school”. I was brought up to do a good job, then move on. Don’t stand around like the bellhop waiting for someone to remember to tip; that's unseemly. Go on to your next task. Good work was the baseline expectation, whether doing chores as a kid, or delivering services to clients as an adult.
Don’t get me wrong: I crave positive feedback as much as the next person. It’s very much appreciated when it’s delivered spontaneously. An e-mail or call from a client who is pleased with my work makes all the hard work worthwhile.
I do wonder, though, why these surveys now pervade our every transaction. I’ve come up with a few theories:
“Management” or “Human Resources” uses the feedback to decide on promotions and terminations: (So should I feel guilty if I rate someone less than a “5”?)What I do know is that, as a customer, any otherwise “good” or "pleasant" transaction is now tainted by the survey process. I don’t want anyone groveling for my “5” rating. I don’t want to be “guilted” into a “5” rating for utterly ordinary (or disappointing) service. I gave you my business; why isn't that enough?
“Management” and “Human Resources” cannot or will not spend the time actually observing their employees and monitoring their performance, so they’ve outsourced this function to customers: (If I’m doing their job, I expect a discount off the price)
Annual performance evaluations don’t provide employees with enough positive feedback, and unless they’re reassured every day/every transaction that they did a wonderful job, they will become despondent.
Businesses secretly realize that they and their employees are failing to provide real customer service, and use the survey results to avoid making any improvements.
As much as I enjoy receiving praise, I enjoy giving praise where it's truly merited. Here is how I deliver praise for a job well done:
Ask to speak with the person’s manager and deliver the praise in person
Order a fruit basket or other gift and have it delivered to the person to share with their colleagues or their family to celebrate good service
Write a letter or e-mail with specifics on the person’s excellent service and send it to them and to their supervisor (or convey the information by telephone)
Recommend the business, and the particular person, if applicable, to others (verbally and on their web site)
Return for more products and services and always ask for that person if available
Go out of my way to do business with the person. My husband and I bought 8 vehicles from a particular salesman in New Hampshire over the years. When we moved to Texas, we drove to New Hampshire to pick up two more from him. As customers, I hope they’d rate us a “5”. I'd also hope that our actions spoke more convincingly than the numerical rating survey we were asked to complete.
It's time for a cure for the ravages of Bacillus customersurveyus. Customers are starting to develop immune defenses, but there are still far too many surveys bombarding us on a daily basis, reminding us that it's not a deal until the fat lady fills out the ratings.
We get it: we're just customers. All we've done is identify a need, save up and plan for a purchase, research available products or services, narrow down our choices, bring you our business, work with you on the deal, part with our hard-earned money, and invest hours of our time. You've done your part in the deal too, but here's the difference: you were paid. It's your job.
So please pardon me if I skip your damn survey and get back to doing my job, the one that enables me to do business with you.