When Begging for Customer Service Scores Hurts Customer Service

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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:

HOPE ALL IS WELL AND IF YOU NEED ME IM HERE.

I ASK NOW TO  PLEASE HELP ME WITH MY SERVICE SURVEY.  ITS HOW I GET TO STAY HERE.  WHEN YOU CAN,  ITS IN YOUR IN BOX OR JUNK MAIL NO.

ILL SEE NEXT SERVICE  I HAVE AN APPOINTMENT REMINDER ALREADY. IF I NEED TO PLEASE TELL ME WHAT I NEED TO DO TO EARN MY 100.

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. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published 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.

14 Comments
  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!

    Agreed!

  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.

    http://management.curiouscatblog.net/2004/08/29/dangers-of-forgetting-proxy-nature-of-data/

    http://management.curiouscatblog.net/2009/10/19/managing-to-test-result-instead-of-customer-value/

  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.

  8. […] When I was going through the final paperwork at the second Brand B dealer, the salesperson gave me a little talk about the importance of their customer surveys. He asked nicely for me to give them a positive score. I’ve blogged about this before, this dynamic of begging for scores instead of just providing s…. […]

  9. […] For surveys done by businesses they often have big problems with survey methodology (dealing with issues such as response bias). Also businesses often have survey data that is collected where it is biased by pleas from those at the gemba for customers not to be honest on the survey. […]

  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 […]

  12. Toyota Buyer says

    I found this site when I googled the following phrase verbatim “why bother filling out after sales survey with dealership if they pressure you to give good scores”. I laughed/scoffed when I saw the date of this post given it was three years ago and apparently nothing has changed. I felt disturbed enough about this topic to do a google search.

    I just bought a new Toyota Camry 2018 XSE. I had a hard time finding the color I wanted at a price that was doable for me. After some time, I happened across an ad about the Sam’s Club car buying program and did the little car build thing, etc and submitted.

    I got bombarded with calls from dealerships. One of them was willing to locate the color I wanted and gave me the best price quote I had gotten from anybody I’d been talking to. I was thrilled and told the young saleswoman how happy I was that she could help me find the car I wanted at a good price. So I made the deal and went to go get my car several days later.

    My experience at the dealership was unsettling, however. I lease my cars so I have a lot of experience with picking up a brand new car, getting worked over by the horrendous finance person, signing the paperwork, and then having the salesperson go over all the car’s features with me and then driving away in the sunset pissed off beyond words at how the finance person ruined all the excitement of buying a new car by high pressuring me to buy all kinds of crap I don’t need. When I buy a new car, my stress level is always through the roof thinking of going into the finance office. (What is extra disturbing is why some dealers have signs that say you are being video recorded in the finance office, what the heck is THAT all about?)

    Anyway, back to my experience with the new Toyota. I was literally in and out of the dealership with my new car in about 20 minutes. That’s right, 20 minutes. You would think that was great, right? But there was no warm and fuzzies, no offer of coffee and cookies, no getting treated like the King of Zamunda. They sat me at a table out in the showroom. The sales girl ran a couple of papers over for me to sign on mileage stuff, etc. The manager walked over and introduced himself and said if I recommended them to anyone to please call them directly instead of going through Sam’s Club (essentially TrueCar I came to learn) and that it was really important to consider getting gap insurance when I spoke with the finance guy.

    I didn’t want gap insurance. I had just spent a few weeks trying to find a deal where my payment was at a certain spot, why would I then tack on another $30 to it to get gap insurance? So I politely said no to all the gap insurance choices. The look on the finance guy’s face was clearly disappointment and frustration but he wasn’t nearly as horrific with the high pressure as I’d experienced in the past so I was a bit relieved.

    When I was released from finance hell, the young saleswoman handed me the keys and said “oh I’m sure you know how to use the car, got any questions?” It was clear that she had no intention of going over the car’s features with me, it was like she just wanted me to get out of there. The new Camry’s are full of all kinds of new technology so I didn’t really know what I didn’t know in order to ask about specific things. Since I felt like I was kind of a bother to the salesgirl at this point, I just got in my shiny beautiful new car and drove away feeling somehow kind of cheated by the experience.

    The sales girl sent me an email the next day asking me to give her the best marks possible on the customer survey and that she “truly” wants to be sure I am satisfied and if there is anything that wasn’t good could I let her know before I filled out the survey. I thought, well how can she undo the lack of welcome I felt when I went to get my car? She then sent me a text the following day and left a voice mail the day after that trying to reaffirm that I should fill out the survey with the best scores. She even asked me to go on Facebook and Google and give her really good reviews there too.

    Now, I didn’t have a horrible experience at this dealer, but I really did not feel valued as a customer whatsoever. I had to go on Youtube, Google and car forums to figure out how to use half the features on my car, or what features were even on it.

    I feel deeply conflicted about this stupid survey. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s livelihood but yet I don’t want to give all good marks and essentially lie about my experience. I just don’t even want to do the survey at all. Will that be a bad thing, I wonder?

    1. Mark Graban says

      Thanks for your comment and story. I recently went to a dealer for an oil change and tire rotation and I’ve gotten a phone call and three emails about surveys, feedback, etc. These dealers are ratings obsessed. I don’t think they so much want feedback that could be used for continuous improvement as they want ratings, points, scores. GM corporate must measure them on these things. At some point, being pestered for scores LOWERS my customer satisfaction.

      To your situation… maybe the best thing is not filling out the survey. Or, like you said, just give in and give all top marks because you don’t want to hurt the individual worker who is part of a bad system.

      It’s always disappointing to hear about bad service from a Toyota or Lexus dealer. These independent businesses don’t have the same culture and mindset as Toyota corporate…

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