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Dirk Dusharme @ Quality Digest

Quality Insider

How NOT to Use Survey Data

Surveys as punishment

Published: Thursday, November 5, 2009 - 05:30

I recently got a phone call from one of our service providers asking me to participate in a short survey to assess their service quality. This provider handles part of our business infrastructure and so I was more than happy to answer some questions. I won’t name the company for reasons I will explain later.

Some questions dealt with service from the company as a whole, which is typically very good, and with service from our particular customer service rep, which is also typically very good, but not perfect.

A few days after taking the survey, I got an e-mail from our service rep concerned that I had not given him a “very satisfied” in all aspects of his service. I explained to him that while his service is typically very good, he is hard to get hold of by phone. Since this is infrastructure stuff, immediate response to problems is critical, and we don’t always get that, I explained. I then finished up by saying “I’m not unhappy with your service, Joe. In general you do a great job. It’s just the communication thing that needs work. No big deal. The survey taker asked a question and I answered. Don’t sweat it.”

To which Joe replied (his actual words):

“I know, and I appreciate your open communication about this, but anything less than ‘Very Satisfied’ actually counts as a negative response for me. Even ‘Satisfied’ is a negative response. It’ a very harsh and kind of unfair survey for us [the reps]. That’s why I always shoot for ‘Very Satisfied’.”

You really have to parse this to see the problem.

What Joe is saying is that his company punishes him in some way for getting less than a “very satisfied” on a survey. Which is why I won’t name his company here.

On the one hand, as a customer, this may seem like a good thing. I mean, light a fire under the rep’s behind, right?

But it isn’t a good thing. Joe is more concerned, and understandably so, about the negative response he is going to get from his boss than he is about how well his, or his company’s, customer-response system works. He is constantly looking over his shoulder and seeking short-term fixes to customer problems so that when the next customer gets surveyed, he will get a “very satisfied” on all questions.

But some customer-service solutions aren’t short-term fixes. They’re long term, and may very well involve Joe providing feedback to his boss about technical issues that hamper good customer service—things that Joe has no control over (like ridiculously convoluted phone trees) and that reflect poorly on him, as unfair as that is. These kinds of long-term, organizational changes are less likely to happen if all a rep can think about is plugging a hole in the dike. A short-term fix might be to pay particular attention to my phone calls in the future, but still let the others’ slide. But if the problem is that Joe has too many clients to manage properly (rather than just being lazy) then all his short-term fix does is to appease me. The rest of his clients get the short end of the stick.

We have had six different reps from this company, and they all had roughly the same problem. This points to an organizational issue rather than problems with specific reps.

Initially at least, you can’t punish employees for poor performance on a survey. This organization needs to analyze the results from these surveys as a whole and look for weaknesses in the system, rather than flog the employees. Why is there a problem in communication, for instance? Is it technology? Are the reps poorly trained? Does each rep have too many clients? Are customers upset about communication issues (that $%#&@ phone tree) that are outside the control of the rep? Are they hiring the wrong type of people? What’s the root cause of the problem?

Until these questions are answered, all surveys do is point to a weakness somewhere in the system, and not necessarily at the person delivering the service. Until the organization stops putting the blame on its front line people, they will continue to be reactive and the problems will never be solved, just disguised.


About The Author

Dirk Dusharme @ Quality Digest’s picture

Dirk Dusharme @ Quality Digest

Dirk Dusharme is Quality Digest’s editor in chief.


I Agree, spot on

Some very big companies use their customer satisfaction surveys that way. I've had surveys that caution me to call them before submitting a survey with less than the highest scores. What a joke, I don't bother to respond to them (maybe that's what they're shooting for).

When I fill out a survey, I reserve the highest rating for "above and beyond" or exceptional performance. I rarely give that rating. There's almost always room for improvement. Companies are cheating themselves when they bias survey takers like that.

I also have experienced the

I also have experienced the same situation and don't take the survey's very seriously....I typically disregard them. If companies really want to improve their customer service, they need to look at the process first and not their reps.
Sandra Gauvin

Deming in action...

This is exactly what Deming said and wrote about so many times.