When Begging for Customer Service Scores Hurts Customer Service


DSCN4878I complain a lot about bad service, but I'm all for recognizing outstanding customer service. I go out of my way to thank people directly for great service and often ask to speak to a manager to give positive comments. I remember the manager of an AT&T store who seemed extremely surprised (and happy!) to hear me telling him good things about one of his employees and how he had helped me.

Recently, I had a vehicle in to a dealer here in San Antonio for service. It's a vehicle that's out of warranty and, one day, the speedometer and other dashboard gauges stopped worked… then later that day started working. I scheduled an appointment and, of course, the problem didn't come back.

The dealer got me an appointment about two days later… asking me to wait until they had a loaner car available (which they provided for free – thanks!). They kept the vehicle for three days to run lots of tests and see if the problem would reoccur. It did not. Of course. Not the dealer's fault.

I came back to return the loaner and pick up our vehicle. The service advisor, who had done a great job of communicating and keeping me posted, verbally asked me something to the effect of:

“You'll get a survey, please make sure to fill that out with 100 scores for us.”

OK fair enough. Happy to do that. He waived the diagnostic charge, which I had expected to pay. I started to wonder if the advisor or the service department were sort of trying to buy good scores. I would have given “100” scores regardless.

He added:

“That's how I get to keep my job, those scores.”

Yikes. No pressure… on either of us. It made me wonder how much “get great scores or else!” pressure he was under from the service manager or the general manager. Was he really going to lose his job if he didn't get good scores this month?

I thought, well, the feedback must be important. So, I took a few minutes to send a message through the “Contact Us” form on the dealer's website. Within 20 minutes, I got three different emails trying to sell me a new vehicle (all sent out by automation, I'm sure) even though my email was only about praising the service advisor. Oops. I won't ding the service advisor for that (although I did have to beg the emailers to not spend time calling me the next day).

Then, the next morning, I got an email from the service advisor:




I wouldn't dare give him a 90 for having a broken caps lock key. I gave him 100s on the survey… even though he emailed me twice more to remind me.

But, my feedback to the automaker would be to let people focus more on providing excellent service instead of worrying so much about scores… or even begging for scores. There's a certain point where it becomes off putting or annoying.

I'm sure the service advisor is intrinsically motivated to provide good service. I can tell he takes pride in his work. But, he seems scared to get a less-than-perfect score. If there were customer scores of 80 or 90, that should be used for improvement, not for punishment. What if there were systemic problems that were out of the control of my service advisor?

Time spent begging for better scores is time NOT spent:

  1. Providing great service
  2. Figuring out how to provide better service

I see similar things happen in both hotels and hospitals. Employees wear buttons that prompt you about how to answer the satisfaction surveys. There are signs in elevators. You're reminded at check in and check out (or registration and discharge)… “give us 9s and 10s,” you're told.  There are consultants who will teach you what to say and how to say it… all pointed toward better SCORES.

I'd rather make things better. I'd rather provide better SERVICE than focusing on the scores. If you're a manager and the service scores are too low for your department or business, please send more time understanding WHY the scores are low instead of just imploring people to do better or merely demanding that they “get better scores.”

I always think… you want patients to say you give “excellent” service and care… then focus on providing excellent service and care! Don't guilt trip me or don't manipulate me… that makes me feel a bit worse about the service, when that's not the intent. Employees shouldn't be put in the position of begging for scores… help them provide the best service possible, instead.

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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent book is the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus. His latest book has been released as an "in-progress" book, titled Measures of Success.

  1. Dale Savage says

    I also like to compliment people on a job well done and, if possible, let their boss also know I was pleased with the service. I have not had the experience of being asked for a good score but, if I were, I would be less likely to comply with the request. I would probably just not respond at all. I see compliments and good survey scores a little like leaving a tip at a restaurant. If the service is good and my needs were anticipated, I will leave a larger tip than if I had to ask the server for everything I needed. If a server begged for a tip, I would be less likely to leave one beyond the customary amount. The higher tip and survey scores are to be earned, not expected.

  2. Mark Graban says

    From LinkedIn:

    John Anthony: BMW in Austin does this and it is even after often terrible service. I agree, just give great service because you have pride in a job well done!


  3. John Hunter says

    The practice of telling your customer they must save you from horrible management is terrible. Managers designing a system that empress a burden on customers to rescue people from harsh treatment is about as lame as management can be. Definite Dilbert’s pointy haired boss level idiocy.

    Any company with this setup likely has little clue about how to use data. When you mistake the data for the proxy indication it is suppose to be for a measure of “reality” you can’t manage at all. Giving huge incentives to people to make the number good (like having employees impose a burden on customers to have a number better which directly burdens the customer) is idiotic.



  4. Mark Graban says

    I had an employee at a national drug store chain put this sticker on my receipt, asking me to giver her a “9” on the survey:

    She provided good service and was friendly and competent. I probably would have given her a “9” without the sticker… now the sticker makes me a bit grumbly and less likely to fill out the survey at all…

  5. Mark Graban says

    Also got this email from a car dealer today begging for a score:

    I also wanted to follow up with you because it’s very important to me that you are completely satisfied with my service. If I let you down in any way I would appreciate it if you would give me a chance to address your concerns. Please don’t hesitate to contact me and I will do my best to assist.

    You should have received an email survey for this service experience. This is my report card and anything less than all 10’s and Yes’s is a failure on my part. I am held accountable for any score less than 10 or yes, and also for the amount of returned surveys. Can you mark all questions 10 or Yes on the survey and send the survey in as soon as possible? I would greatly appreciate your help with this.

    As John Hunter or Dr. Deming would say, it’s ridiculous to hold an individual accountable for what are primarily systemic factors that lead to customer satisfaction… he gets dinged if I don’t complete the survey?

    Good grief.

    This is not how you make customers happy, pestering them about surveys.

  6. Dale Savage says

    I thought of this post a week ago when my wife had surgery. The staff (from the receptionist to the discharge nurse) was great and anticipated our needs. They were courteous and explained everything in detail. We could not have had a better experience. Howwever, whenever they did something or asked if we needed anything, they would say something like, “We want you to think excellent whenever you think of us.” I finally told my daughter, in front of them, that they were trying to leave subliminal messages so that we give them great reviews. Again, the service and people were great but it was a little too obvious what they were trying to get at.

  7. Heather says

    Chiming in a little late. I have a lot of friends who work in the car industry at multiple dealerships.

    Unfortunately this is true. They get less appointments therefore less money and if they are getting scores that aren’t perfect they get fired. Even if they get all 4s instead of 5s. Same thing with restaurants. I was actually fired from a serving job years ago because I didn’t receive enough survey responses.

    1. Mark Graban says

      I’m sorry to hear that, Heather. It’s a shame that the manager didn’t get involved to learn if you were a good server or not. I’m guessing it was part of a bigger corporate restaurant environment? I hope you’re working in a good environment now.

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  10. torres says

    I am a service writer for a dealer ship and it is true, if we do not get 10s on a survey we lose money or even are job. We are judge by good(10), ok(9.5), and bad(9.4 and below) scores if I get three good scores and two ok scores I make $80 dollars for that week but lets say I also get seven bad scores I now owe $60 and that comes out of my salary. the worst part our customers don’t receive the survey until 18 days after they come in for service and last I check getting a oil change is not a life changing event that your going to remember forever and with some many things going on I am sure serving you vehicle rates low on that list. So how are they going to remember the service I provided them 18 days ago? I only care about taking care of customers and their needs for their cars and try to give them the best experience I can, we know everyone hates taking their car in for repairs and its pressure enough trying not to live up to the stereo types of a repair shop and how they all like to get it over on a customer. I only care about being fair to the customers so they can trust me and want to come back. I am guilty of all of the tactics spoken about above not because management tells me to but because I need the job to support my son and I, do I like it no! surveys are good to help grow the company and show where we are lacking so we can improve, but surveys do not help the human factor. Not everyone will take the time out to tell someone they did a great job there are people who just don’t care and will just give you a bad score just because or will blame you for something that you had no control over. I think companies every where should fine a new approach for the surveys. They can make a positive different on the companies but they shouldn’t make a negative impact on good employees

    sorry for the rant have been holding it in

  11. […] of us can relate to car dealerships or service departments asking us to take a survey. Sometimes its blatantly obvious (“Please rate us a 10, my bonus depends on it!”), but it’s […]

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