The Problem With Customer-Service Surveys

Customer surveys are a joke when they are only meant to tick off boxes. Here's an example of what I mean by this. I received a call recently from a national hardware and department-store chain asking me to complete a survey on the recent repair of my air conditioner. There were two problems with this request. First, we had a service call (actually, it was three calls) on a dehumidifier and not an air conditioner and second, there was no human on the other end.

But I figured a call was a call, right? So I began to answer the questions. That was until it dawned upon me that if I answered the questions as asked, the repairman would be the one who would suffer. He would receive a dreadfully low score because of my unhappiness, which by the way wasn't his fault. I gave him all average scores on questions regarding his appearance, politeness, and general demeanor. But here's the thing. None of this matters because we still do not have a working dehumidifier in our basement and the company has absolutely no information that could help them improve their service.

You would think if the company were so concerned about their levels customer satisfaction, they would have a real person doing the calling, instead of an automated system. Then perhaps I could have provided this person with useful information.

If you downright serious about your service levels, then I suggest you do the following:

Empower your customer service people to make decisions. The company in question lost a valuable customer and perhaps many more through people who will hear about my experience. Had they rectified the situation quickly, we wouldn't even be having this conversation. We are talking about a $199 piece of warrentied equipment that could have easily been replaced.

Stop hiding behind your website. I would have personally contacted the CEO if I was able to locate his e-mail address on the website. I think it's intentionally hidden, which is a big mistake. Wouldn't you rather know about a problem so that you could fix it before it goes public?

Ask survey questions that matter. The only question that matters is how satisfied is your customer with the repair or the service they received. The company never asked me this question. They are obviously more concerned with the appearance of reps when in fact they should be more concerned with how the customer is actually feeling.

If you really don't want to know, don't ask. I honestly forgot how ticked off I was until I received the call this evening from an automated attendant. I now know why they say you should let sleeping dogs lie.

In this day and age, customers truly do have choices. You may think you are the only game in town, but all one has to do is go online and they can find dozens of providers in dozens of other towns. Now is the time to get serious about high levels of service. As for me, I'm heading to my local hardware store, where at least there will be a human there who is willing to speak directly with customers.

—Guest contributor Roberta Chinsky Matuson is the author of Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around, a Washington Post Top-­5 Leadership pick. Download a free bonus chapter. Her new book, The Magnetic Workplace: How to Hire Top Talent That Will Stick Around, will be published in 2013. Sign up to receive a subscription to Roberta’s complimentary newsletter.

[Image: Flickr user Max Khokhlov]

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  • Jeff Toister

    Stories like this suggest that this particular company is focusing on the survey scores themselves, not using the survey to find out how to serve you better. You are so right that surveys shouldn't ask questions we don't really want the answer to. And, companies must be willing to act on those survey results once they arrive!

    Good for you for not taking it out on the employee in your survey. Who knows if this is the case here, but in some companies an employee can get in trouble for a poor survey score even if it wasn't their fault.

  • Shep Hyken

    I agree!  Some surveys are just not good surveys.  They
    don’t tell the story.  A negative review may not be because of the person
    helping me.  That person may want to help, but the company’s “policies”
    prevent it.  Your comments are right on target.


  • Sudarshan

    You're right, most companies just have it as a part of the 'process' , but the customer service person whom you rate has a lot riding on your survey; I can tell you that. It's a simple process of having a survey that rates service and business independently; which companies are unwilling to do. I wonder why, it gives them a clear cut picture of what's working and what's not.  

  • Roberta

     Hello Sudarshan,

    I understand that the customer service person has a lot riding on the survey. That's why I decided not to blast them in the survey.

    Some employees take this one step further to ensure they receive a good rating. A friend bought a new car and then received a survey that was completed by the employee with all "outstandings" already filled in "to make it easier for her." Now that's what I call another useless survey and one overly assertive employee.


  • Impact Learning

    Good thoughts! Companies need to separate out questions about people and their skills vs. the product and it's problems.