Highly satisfied

I was in the grocery store the other day. Normally, canned music plays over the speakers, but this day, it was interrupted repeatedly by announcements every few minutes encouraging people to take a post-visit survey and say you were "highly satisfied."

I bought a car a couple of years ago. The sales rep asked several times if I was "highly satisfied." I assured him that I was. He mentioned that I might get a phone survey from the car company and if I did, to make sure I answered that I was "highly satisfied."

I did receive a call — from the dealership. They wanted to make sure that I was "highly satisfied." When I told them that I was, them reminded me that if I get a call from the car company, to tell them that I was "highly satisfied."

What's going on here? Why is everyone so concerned that I am "highly satisfied?" Because that's the only acceptable answer.

Car dealerships, retail stores, financial services institutions, insurance companies and other businesses* all want to improve customer experience. So they create surveys to see where they need to improve. 

Often, bonuses for staff and managers are tied to the responses. Managers and staff obviously want the bonus money, so they go to great lengths to ensure that all customers report that they are indeed "highly satisfied."

The salesman at the car dealership confided that the only answer that was acceptable to the higher ups was "highly satisfied." Everything else is a failing grade and results in the sales team taking a personal financial hit. I had a similar conversation the other day with someone in the financial services sector.

This is a ridiculous misuse of metrics. Instead of testing whether a customer is actually satisfied, you are testing how skillfully the management can manipulate the customer into responding with the highest ranking. These survey results give you no real insight into the mind of the consumer. You've simply created a system to feed you the information you want to hear.

A survey with one "right" answer creates a situation where the goal for the staff is not a happy customer — it's a successful survey. If a company wants honest survey data, they have to get real, uncoached answers. And that means not pushing the customer into giving a particular response.

* And software companies. The same basic principle is at play in the app store. Everyone is pushing to get the highest star rating because apps with higher rankings are more profitable. The emphasis isn't rating the app accurately, it's playing the game to get the highest ranking.

Bob Wertz

Husband, Dad (x3), Creative Director at @UofSC, Type Designer, Teacher and Volunteer. Blogs at Sketchbook B and Wanted in Columbia.