The Customer Service Survey

Vocalabs' Blog

What to Do About a Bad Survey

Consumerist today has a story of a car buyer who was told he had to give the dealer top marks on the customer survey or else the employee could be fired and the customer might not be allowed to bring his car back for service.

Clearly this dealer's behavior will not lead to increased customer satisfaction, nor is Ford getting a realistic measure of how well the dealer is performing.

This story may be unusually extreme, but this behavior seems to be endemic  in the auto industry. Anecdotally, I haven't talked to any recent car buyer who hasn't been subjected to some sort of blatant attempt to manipulate the customer satisfaction survey.

Over the years what started as an honest effort to measure and improve customer satisfaction seems to have morphed into a hollow exercise which penalizes employees who don't cheat. But the process is so baked in that change is extraordinarily difficult.

Change is necessary, though. The existing customer satisfaction surveys are not only ineffective, they actually encourage bad behavior. Here's how I would fix a badly broken process like this:

  1. Immediately stop doing customer surveys. If the customer satisfaction process is this badly broken, it's not only a waste of money, it is actually making customers less satisfied and encouraging bad behavior. Ending the program will send a clear message that things must change, and force the organization to overcome its inertia.
  2. Reconsider the ultimate goals of the customer feedback program. The goal is (probably) not to get good survey scores for the sake of good survey scores. The goal is to provide excellent customer experiences. In the case of auto manufacturers, the goal is to make every customer as satisfied as possible with the purchase and service experience, and strengthen the relationship the car owner has with the brand.
  3. Develop a new feedback process from the ground up around the new goals. To develop that deep satisfaction and relationship with the customer, you don't just want to ask if they were satisfied and punish the dealer if they weren't. Instead, rebuild the customer feedback process as an opportunity to identify and correct mistakes the dealer might have made. Don't just ask how satisfied the customer was, ask what the customer needs to resolve the problem, and then have the dealer correct the issue. Give the dealer incentives to fix things, and make the goal "eventual customer satisfaction" not "zero problems ever."
  4. Make it a two-way street. The people being evaluated should buy in to the process--which means listening to dealer's concerns, being fair and open about how they are measured, and also giving them a way to contest unfair feedback. No process is perfect, and there are customers who threaten bad feedback if they think they can blackmail the dealer. Have a review process for the dealer to demonstrate that they did everything possible to satisfy the customer.
  5. Don't tolerate cheating. Even the best customer feedback process will be manipulated if someone thinks that's easier than providing good customer service. Customer feedback programs need to be actively managed, and anyone caught trying to cheat must be punished.


Same Ford Survey

We were given the same "you must give us high scores or else" survey from the Ford dealer last year when we bought our Ford Escape. I answered the survey honestly nonetheless and the scores were not all high ones. I was struck by the insincerity of any customer satisfaction process that would manipulate the customer into being anything less than honest.

Bill Leinweber
Landmark Experience Consulting


The system is horrible and employees end up losing jobs because of it. It is no way to judge employee performance. What does how the waiting looks like have to do with the service adviser? People can be happy with the service they received but dissatisfied with the price (even though given a discount) and it marks down the grade. Anything below a 10 is failure. It's basically pass/fail. And either the customer ends up bribing the dealership to give a 10 or they try to buy you off to get one. How does that help anyone improve. It just doesn't make sense that no one cares about this.