Using Satisfaction Surveys to Create Unhappy Customers

Anti-motivational website Despair.com offers as their customer service mantra: We’re not satisfied ’til you’re not satisfied.

Pretty funny. But while I may love that crack, it looks like satisfaction survey teams at most major corporations have missed the point and have chosen dissatisfaction as their goal.

How? By pestering us with “satisfaction” surveys. How many more will I be asked to complete? I don’t care any more. Because that’s it. I’m done.

I PLEDGE TO IGNORE ALL SATISFACTION SURVEYS!!!!

This is a tough step for a strong advocate for consumer research. But can we just have done with satisfaction survey burn out?

AT&T Overload. I shopped at the AT&T store this week. Bought a screen protector (yup, a cheap film to cover an iPad screen). Total time required: 2 minutes. Next day, AT&T texts me twice for 2 different surveys. Would I please rate my experience on a scale of 1 to 10? And would I recommend AT&T to my friends?

From a 1950’s mentality we might consider that quaint (“Look, AT&T wants to know what we think.” “That’s nice, dear”). Except I’m bombarded with requests like this. Starbucks, Target, and Macy’s – too many retailers print a request for feedback at the bottom of each register receipt.

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Sign at a drive-thru pharmacy inviting drivers to fill out a survey—inside the store!

Putting Obligation & Responsibility on Consumers to Do OUR Jobs. Okay, I’m not entirely done with surveys. I’ll fill out a few. Like, when we bought a new car recently and had an outstanding dealer experience (we should have – it wasn’t an inexpensive car). And at the end of the deal, our sales rep pleads that when we get the survey, please fill it out.

Why? THEIR SALARIES AND JOBS DEPEND ON IT. The truth at dealerships seems to be that they are extensively evaluated based on those surveys in some overweening bureaucratic evaluation machine. So I filled out the survey because I’m sympathetic to a good salesman who spent 2 months working with us.

Cars I might understand a tiny bit. But when I went to Einstein’s Bagels this morning, the staff pleaded for me to fill out the survey with an urgency that suggests their jobs depend on my choosing to respond. Yikes.

Now I’m pissed. Because it appears to be the truth that if I don’t jump through hoops and fill out the damn survey, the guy selling me a BluRay player might get fired. Are you kidding me?

I BECOME A DISSATISFIED CUSTOMER. If you can’t figure out other ways to evaluate your employees or your store, don’t make me, your consumer, responsible. This is a way companies foist their personal responsibility back onto the consumer. (Avoiding responsibility is a deceptively common marketing disease – can you say “crowdsourcing”?)

At web sites survey overload gets worse. Seems like Huffington Post asks me to rate their site once a week – whether I rated them the prior week of not. New York Times, Sears.com, Zappos. They all have a hyperactive “consumer experience” gene that is driving me crazy.

These surveys also violate a truth we’ve found about consumer research.

The more meaningful the questions you ask, the more respondents will take the time to give you the good feedback that reveals insight.

And when you ask bureaucratic or financially self-serving questions that aren’t important to the consumer (e.g. “How likely are you to refer a friend?”) the quality of their answers drops and you should throw out the survey.

So this is the ultimate irony – as we conduct more and more satisfaction surveys, the accuracy of the results drops.

Return to Respectful Relationships. Survey burnout is a serious risk and a serious problem. Marketers can only obtain good market knowledge if consumers will take selective surveys. So we should all be concerned about the burnout risk.

It’s more frustrating to me because while this hyperactive satisfaction action may protect executive jobs, it doesn’t build business. As marketers, we have a job – to deliver what consumers need. It takes months and years to create that environment. If you make mistakes and customers are dissatisfied, sales will drop. And it will take months and years to change things. Evaluating your teams & their execution with minute by minute surveys is meaningless.

So don’t ask consumers to do your job for you – take responsibility. If you’re an executive, I expect your team already knows the truths and won’t find anything new through a survey. So stop this constant surveying and trust your team to take an honest look at your operation.

And don’t do away with the customer satisfaction survey – in moderation it’s a tremendous tool. But don’t let your teams drive down research quality by pestering consumers with constant contact – they don’t want it.

The surprising thing you’ll find is that your consumers will be happier with you.

(And please click this link for an outrageous Walgreen’s experience with satisfaction surveys.)

(Click here for a post about a Walgreen’s survey dysfunctionality experience.)

Copyright 2013 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

About Doug Garnett
Growing retail based businesses through television, DRTV, and all forms of video. Doug is a strategist, executive producer, director, author, & teacher.

9 Responses to Using Satisfaction Surveys to Create Unhappy Customers

  1. Steve says:

    I couldn’t agree more.

    Few surveys present neutral questions. Most are heavily biased toward positive responses. Some don’t even permit a negative response.

    Few are branching. I love it when I’ve panned a website or service with low scores on every question and the final question is presented along these lines, “So OVERALL [my emphasis] how would you rate our site/service/product?” Unfortunately, none allow negative numbers such as -5 or -10.

    Further, many of these surveys are crafted, presented and reported by “expert” survey companies. I wonder if they were asleep when surveys were covered in marketing class.

  2. Actually using satisfaction surveys does not create unhappy customers, in most cases. Most of satisfaction surveys simply are annoying for customers and in fact useless for the companies interested in such information. Such information does not reflect the reality. It is a very good idea in general but nowadays we can see just a too formal implementation of the idea.

    • Doug Garnett says:

      Vladimir –

      Thanks for your thoughts. We only disagree in the unhappiness. What’s been interesting to me is that in the few days since I published this post, a great many people have come to me (with passion in their voices) and confirmed that they were very irritated by survey overload.

      Does this mean unhappy? As marketers, we must take those underlying & unspoken irritants seriously because they discourage brand choice and drop sales.

      Cheers…

      …Doug Garnett

      • Absolutely. On the other hand we could call such unhappy customers “Irritants” 🙂 and this percent should be rather high, really, despite a general satisfaction and a positive attitude to the main product / service.

  3. Pingback: At Walgreens: An Amazing Abuse Of the Customer Satisfaction Survey « Doug Garnett's Blog

  4. Pingback: At Walgreens: An Amazing Abuse Of the Customer Satisfaction Survey | Doug Garnett's Blog

  5. Aaron Wolff says:

    Dear Doug,

    I am a Walgreens Customer Service representative. I make 9 dollars an hour, but I’m very proud of my skill in customer service. The hidden purpose of the survey, I think, lies on the other end of my admitted ego: not every retail worker has a sense of dignity. While I agree that the survey is obnoxious and generally useless, it does provide one very essential benefit. It gives the corporation the opportunity to fire somebody legally should enough complaints come in. Maybe I’m simply misinterpreting laws here, but last I checked, companies like Walgreens and Target are incredibly afraid of being sued and are always looking for coherent, lawful reasons to ditch bad apples. I’m happy about this because I absolutely despise working with these people.

    Now, obviously this would require quite a few survey reports, but an obscene action would likely prompt several people to report. I once heard an employee at an unnamed store (not Walgreens) refer to a very pregnant woman as a “slut”, saying “the B&*(h shouldn’t have gotten knocked up.” As you understand, this is simply unacceptable dialogue in earshot of clientele. The next time I walked into that establishment, the punk was no longer there. A manager let me know that he had been let go because of “public demand.” This lesson stuck to me and helped me during those days in which I returned to the customer service field.

    AW

  6. Aaron Wolff says:

    Dear Doug,

    I am a Walgreens Customer Service representative. I make 9 dollars an hour, but I’m very proud of my skill in customer service. The hidden purpose of the survey, I think, lies on the other end of my admitted ego: not every retail worker has a sense of dignity. While I agree that the survey is obnoxious and generally useless, it does provide one very essential benefit. It gives the corporation the opportunity to fire somebody legally should enough complaints come in. Maybe I’m simply misinterpreting laws here, but last I checked, companies like Walgreens and Target are incredibly afraid of being sued and are always looking for coherent, lawful reasons to ditch bad apples. I’m happy about this because I absolutely despise working with these people.

    Now, obviously this would require quite a few survey reports, but an obscene action would likely prompt several people to report. I once heard an employee at an unnamed store (not Walgreens) refer to a very pregnant woman as a “slut”, saying “the B&*(h shouldn’t have gotten knocked up.” As you understand, this is simply unacceptable dialogue in earshot of clientele. The next time I walked into that establishment, the punk was no longer there. A manager let me know that he had been let go because of “public demand.” This lesson stuck to me and helped me during those days in which I returned to the customer service field.

    AW

    • Doug Garnett says:

      Aaron –

      Thoroughly appreciate your comments about clearing out the problem employees. That situation you describe is horrid.

      But there are better ways to cover the company legally and remove problems. To force the entire retail sales force to suffer under the abuses that come from surveys of this type is a serious management failure.

      Thanks for the comment!

      Cheers…

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