Perfect Or Fail: Why Customer Service Surveys Are Useless

by Randy Murray on February 7, 2012

I took my wife’s car, her beloved MINI Cooper, in for the yearly service the other day. I waded throughout the surprising amount of paper work to drop it off for an oil change, getting the tires rotated, and the wipers changed. I did the same thing again when picking it up. Then, before the service attendant handed me the keys he said, “You’ll be getting a customer service survey. A 10 is a pass. Everything else is a fail.” He seemed a little plaintive, a little desperate.

Typically I ignore survey requests. If there had been a problem I would have told them on the spot or asked for the service manager, but when I got the survey in my email I dutifully opened it up and gave them 10s across the board. I didn’t want to cause the poor fellow any problems.

But it’s been grating on me. Their service quality was fine, but I’ve had better (the service I receive from Lexus is truly outstanding. The BMW dealer who manages the Mini service is good, but not stellar). I just didn’t feel like I could be completely honest with them.

And that’s a problem. With this approach the dealer gets to crow about how their customers rate them with excellent service. Or management jumps all over their employees, not to fix the problems or modify their procedures, but to get customers to rank them better.

That is pointless.

I would have, if I’d been able to be accurate and honest, told them about how their drop off and pick up could be improved. I could have told them about how less paperwork and clearer instructions would have made my visit a lot better. I could have told them about how uncomfortable their waiting area is. And I could have given them excellent marks where they deserved it, not just across the board.

You can learn nothing from perfect marks. You can only learn when you get honest appraisal.

If you are going to ask your customers to provide you feedback, ask for it to be honest and complete. Follow up. Think about what you learn. And then, armed with real data, make changes.

That I’d happily rate with a perfect 10.

The Perfect Or Fail: Why Customer Service Surveys Are Useless by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Elizabethe Kramer February 7, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Completely agree. I had the same experience at a VW dealership in Buffalo. I waited too long to be greeted the last time. The time before that, the technician forgot to reset the service reminder switch, so I had to listen to a beeping message each time I started the car until I got back to Buffalo to get it fixed.

Both times, I had the same gentle plea for 10s in customer service, which I also gave. In Columbus, the sales team left me sitting in a room for nearly an hour-I was there to buy a brand-new Tiguan-while they dealt with a walk-in customer carrying a lot of cash.

The only good news about this is that the dealers take these ratings so seriously (but will indeed just beat up on the employees if they get anything less than straight 10s) they will give you all kinds of promo items if you bring it up. I give the VW zippered logo bag a 10. Both of them, actually.


Randy Murray February 7, 2012 at 7:49 pm

I think they stole our antenna ball thingy, too.


Scott Heitland February 8, 2012 at 12:42 am

Thanks for sharing, Randy. I’ve heard a lot of similar stories about superficial customer service survey practices at car dealerships. For some reason, it seems that this is common practice in that industry.

But I agree with you completely - it’s completely pointless. Ironically, this kind of surveying practice is arguably worse than not having a measuring process at all insofar as it buries customer service problems under a sea of artificially high numbers, thereby making it even more difficult to actually uncover systemic problems, much less figuring out how to solve them and improve the service performance.

The customer loses (gets a less-than-optimal customer experience), as does the dealership (fails to fully benefit from the additional profits attributable to greater customer loyalty arising from the optimal customer experience).

Scott Heitland
Principal | Pretium Solutions


Randy Murray February 8, 2012 at 7:19 am

Here’s something else that gnawed at me: the way that they asked me was more like they were assigning me a task, giving me a job. I didn’t sign up for that, but the way presented put the onus on me to give them a positive review. And you’re right, I felt less positive about them just by the way they asked.


Dan February 8, 2012 at 2:25 am

Couldn’t agree more Randy! Real feedback is extremely important. Blowing smoke gets nothing done.


Randy Murray February 8, 2012 at 7:20 am

It’s worse than getting nothing done. When done in this way, they get at best inaccurate information and more likely, completely erroneous data. When surveyed in this fashion they can’t make productive changes and have a false sense of how the customer really feels.


Michael Schechter February 8, 2012 at 11:29 am

I don’t want to be melodramatic here, but YES! We recently purchased a car and we were told not only by the rep, but by the dealership that anything less than a 10 would actually impact the amount of commission the agent would make. Now I really, really liked the guy, so I obviously gave him the 10, but there was feedback he could have benefited from. He didn’t fully understand the bluetooth and wired iPhone/iPod capability of the stereo (something that turned out to be a nice bonus for me after the fact), something that would make the car a far easier sell to techies such as myself. When the survey came around a few weeks later, I was tempted to let them know (as I’m betting he isn’t the only agent that didn’t fully understand this), but I worried about hurting the guys lively hood.

I know these companies are all trying to pad their “Customer top rated” “number 1 in satisfaction” garbage, but they are robbing themselves of feedback that would actually make them better… It drives me nuts. We appreciate it when our customers tell us how we suck. We don’t like it, but we learn a hell of a lot more from it than a pat on the back and an obligatory “good job”.


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