Which would you rather have: Positive customer feedback, or honest customer feedback?
Most people would probably say "both," but it's not always possible to have both. If the honest customer feedback isn't positive, then you can only get one or the other.
So when forced to choose, I would generally prefer honest feedback over positive feedback. As long as the person giving me feedback isn't being cruel or demeaning, I would rather hear about ways I can improve than get my ego stroked. At least that's what I say, and what the rational part of my mind thinks. In reality, hearing negative feedback can be hard, even though it's also much more valuable.
I think most business leaders would probably agree with me: it's better to get honest feedback from customers than positive feedback.
But the real-world incentives at most companies don't support this. Incentives based on customer feedback are always designed to encourage positive feedback, not honest feedback. That's because it's easy to measure how positive the customer feedback is, but almost impossible to measure how honest it is.
Where companies base bonuses and compensation on customer surveys, this leads to a perverse incentive to get customers to give higher scores no matter the customer's actual opinion. Is it any wonder that survey manipulation is so common?
The problem is that when customers don't give you the straight story, the feedback has no value. You might as well not do the survey at all if you can't get honest feedback.
So what's the solution?
The first step has to be to stop undermining yourself. If you give employees incentives to only deliver positive feedback, stop that.
That probably means you shouldn't be using survey scores for employee bonuses at all, since it's difficult-to-impossible to create an incentive system that encourages honest feedback.
The next steps are much harder. The goal is to create a culture where customer feedback is seen as constructive criticism and an opportunity to improve. That will require significant effort coaching employees in how to listen to customers without becoming defensive or negative.
But if your customer surveys are biased towards giving you positive, rather than honest, feedback, then you're not getting any value anyway.