At Walgreens: An Amazing Abuse Of the Customer Satisfaction Survey

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about how fed up I am with customer satisfaction surveys (link here). Truth is that companies are out of control – thinking it’s the job of consumers to fill out a constant stream of surveys.


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

So I’m going to pick on Walgreens here – not because they are the worst. But because I have recent Walgreens experiences that show how messed up this constant survey abuse is.

What Happened at Walgreens. At the time of my prior post, Skye Weadick sent me a photo of what she saw at one drive-up pharmacy window at a Walgreen’s.

The desperation evident in that sign seemed bad enough. Really? Asking customers to come around, park, and walk in to the store to fill out a survey?

Except… I was at a Walgreen’s this week – a different one – and heard an amazing employee discussion with two people in line.

He gave them their receipt and pointed out the link to the survey printed on the bottom. Then…

…He carefully explained there is a scale of 1 (worst) to 9 (best) but that only the 9’s count.
…They asked for his name so he could get credit (nice customers).
…He observed his name didn’t matter because the survey results would rate the whole store.
And he explained that his personal bonus depended on the store getting all 9’s.

It would be great if this was an aberration. Maybe it is for Walgreens. But I’ve been told fundamentally the same thing in quite a few stores and across a wide range of sales situations.

I do not condemn the employee – although what he did was quite bush-league. But we should save our rage for that portion of Walgreen’s management that created an environment this dysfunctional.

What Purpose Do these Survey’s Serve? My guess is that these surveys at Walgreens have morphed to the point where they are about making management happy – no longer about learning things that would make customers happy. And it shouldn’t need to be mentioned that ANY survey results from an environment like this should be thrown out – there is no truth in them.

If Walgreens cares about customer satisfaction (which I believe they do):

1. They will deliver better satisfaction if employees focus on DELIVERING customer service – not creating good survey responses.
2. They will deliver better satisfaction if employee morale is positive. But employee morale cannot be maintained if your staff is panicked about losing their bonuses due to poor survey responses.

This situation has enough dysfunction in it to write a PhD thesis. And the truth is that by creating this environment, they’ve already lost the short-term customer satisfaction battle.

Are Satisfaction Surveys the New “Office Space” Flair? In the movie “Office Space”, Jennifer Aniston’s character fights to wear enough “flair” to satisfy her manager & keep her job (video link here). Satisfaction surveys are becoming similarly pathetic attempts to impose service enthusiasm through bureaucratic rules.

That said, I love Walgreen’s because of their product – led by pharmacy, health, cosmetics, and photo then well supported by a smart merchandising. And they support this with a savvy combination of well chosen basics but keep the store fresh with rotating sets of seasonal goods.

It’s disappointing to encounter this broken machine in a store I really like. Just imagine how bad the brand impact from a situation like this would be at a store that didn’t offer Walgreens advantages.

Copyright 2013 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

About Doug Garnett
Doug Garnett is an expert introducing innovative consumer products and services to market while driving higher return on innovation investment. His career has been spent in innovation and he is the president of Protonik, LLC - an innovation consultancy focused on marketing and innovation. Prior to founding Protonik, he was founder and CEO of ad agency Atomic Direct.

35 Responses to At Walgreens: An Amazing Abuse Of the Customer Satisfaction Survey

  1. Pingback: At Walgreens: An Amazing Abuse Of the Customer Satisfaction Survey | Financial Services 3.0 |

  2. Dawn Hollis says:

    The same thing is done with the Mazda store where I purchased my vehicle. If the dealer who sells you the car doesn’t get a 10, it doesn’t count for them. The same spiel you mentioned above applies there, it seems. I agree with the assessment that these things are used to make management happy. The distress the system causes employees seems to be substantial–though the enthusiasm of my dealer was not in question. Very odd to hear that Walgreen’s does the same thing.

    • Doug Garnett says:

      I picked on Walgreens here because of the specific experience. But Volvo and VW have the same process. And so does Einstein’s Bagels. Was in Einstein’s one morning and you could feel the emotion coming off the woman who asked me to fill out the survey because it was really important.

      Leads me to suggest that surveys like these get initiated for honorable reasons. Then become mundanely out of control – terrorizing employees and customers.

      Thanks for the comment!


    • Abused Employee@WAG says:

      It is worse than you think. Employees have been written up and fired for poor responses other than 9s. The scale is skewed… say out of 10 ratings, nine of which the respondent gives 9s and the tenth is a 7 (still a good rating) the final score is in the 70 percentile and everyone cathes heck, verbal warnings, etc.
      In addition, one bad rating where you are mentioned by name and your entire year of good performance can be labeled unsatisfactory on your performance evaluation and a raise denied.

      • Doug Garnett says:

        Thanks for adding to the discussion. That’s what I feared. It’s extraordinarily unfair to employees and tremendous management dysfunction.

        And as a consumer, there’s no reason a business should foist on me the responsibility for making sure employees keep their job. A successful business wants me to shop, be satisfied with my experience, and come back. That’s IT.

        But while measurement of business performance is a good thing when used wisely it’s now fully out of control.


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  4. Chris says:

    Doug, what I love about you and your blog is that you are (in my mind) a real world marketer.

    This was my recent response to an online survey from a now ex motor vehicle insurance provider. I had just about had enough of this company’s ignorant behavior when it came to my real world (email and phone) dealings with them. But I really popped my cork, when two weeks after cancelling my policies with them – I received a survey in my inbox….. my response went like this:

    You people cannot be serious!

    Why would I spend 8 minutes of my time completing yet another silly survey from yet another company that does not actually think about its marketing and business policies before it
    actually implements those policies on (ONCE) long standing customers like myself. (Multi policy holder, Multi car roadside assistance member, etc, etc, etc).

    It’s really simple – I saved myself at least $350 dollars by switching to one of your competitors because you people told me over the phone (Twice) that you won’t price match.

    Here’s the facts, you guys….

    Are over priced
    Offer a poor insured amount
    Have an excessive ‘excess’
    Don’t answer emails from your contact form on your website
    Don’t price match
    Ignore existing customers
    Penalize existing customers

    Insurance is competitive – all you people need to do is BE COMPETITIVE.

    If you people paid any attention to the conversations and interactions your customers have with your sales people (You record these conversations – don’t you???) you would not have to send out stupid surveys and you would not be reading this email…. and you would better off by almost $600.00 (My premium with the other guys). Why have a business strategy based around losing customers??

    If you read this – this has got to be the best customer feedback you will ever get. You just need to do something about it.

    Have a nice day!

  5. Steven Anderson says:

    I wonder how much the adoption of AS 9100 across industry is to blame for this phenomenon. I’m the manager for IT support for an aerospace contract with the Air Force. In a staff meeting yesterday we spent an hour talking about the design of the customer survey form, how frequently we needed to collect the information, what scale to use, etc. I brought up the question of what we intended to do with the information. No one was quite sure, but they were sure that we needed to collect the information in order to be AS9100 compliant. When we have asked our customer to fill out surveys in the past their response has been, “I talk to you guys every day. You’ll know when I’m happy and when I’m pissed off and why. Don’t waste my time with surveys.” In our small world of aerospace contracting customer intimacy and semiannual award fee briefings seems a reasonable substitute for formal customer survey forms. Scatter-shot surveys like Walgreens, Mazda and a multitude of other AS 9100 compliant companies use only capture the ecstatic and the pissed off, mostly the latter which is why I suppose the employees are begging customer to be ecstatic.

    • Doug Garnett says:

      Excellent point, Steven. I couldn’t agree more. And I’d go beyond AS9100 and include Six Sigma programs and a great many descendents of the theory that everything in business has to be measurable and reportable on a monthly basis.

      What’s saddest, in my eyes, is that many of the truly important realities for business simply can’t fit into those approaches. Manufacturing screws in a way to minimize defects is quite quantifiable. Measuring the really important relationships with your customers? It just doesn’t fit into the neat boxes needed for AS 9100.

      Love your thoughts…


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  7. Amy says:

    Walgreens is using the surveys to fire managers. Only 9s count an 8 is as good as a 1. It’s crazy the pressure these stores are under to have a good score!

    • Doug Garnett says:

      Amy –

      Thanks for the note expanding on the Walgreen’s program. There’s probably a truth that people tend to score things high in a survey. But that that make scary is that Walgreen’s grants so much power to the extremists that complain or merely the purist who treats the survey seriously.

      The Walgreens in my neighborhood has backed off their extreme surveying lately which has been a relief as a customer.


  8. Anne says:

    I went on the hunt today to see if others feel the same as I do. I do not work for Walgreens, but in the retail industry. As a member of store management, I can tell you that we are bombarded with pressure to get only “9”s, and it frustrates the heck out of me. Never mind that the store is trending more “8”s than “3”s, to me a clear sign that “results” are improving. And the constant pressure to receive a minimum number of surveys per week, regardless of the fact that this survey has appeared on receipts for over a year. How many times am I expecting the same customer to fill out the survey?
    I have seen an increase of customers who want to speak to management to express their concerns, rather than go online to leave feedback.
    And as for the sign in the window, I feel the desperation too, and am wondering if perhaps my store should have one of these too? I feel like Oliver Twist, begging with my hands out “p-p-p-puh-lease, sir?

  9. Miguel says:

    Isn’t this econ 101? You give people certain half-assed incentives and incentives fire back prompting behaviors we do not want. If people would listen more to actual wisdom rather than fashionable crap, we would not see this aberrant stuff happening.
    “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” – Goodhart’s Law

    • Doug Garnett says:

      It is quite fundamental. Yet somehow companies let their bureaucratic needs over-ride being smart.

      And thanks for pointing out Goodharts law. A very fundamental truth forgotten in these days of corporate obsession with finding metrics to set goals in anything and everything.

      Thx for the comment…

  10. BJ says:

    Mr. Garnett, you have it right. I’ve been a market research/satisfaction exec for 30 years. Whereas surveys meant something in the “olden” days, they mean very little now. For me, I left the goal of “satisfaction,” moved through “delight,” and now practice “captivating” marketing. Frankly their is nothing like it. “Owning” your clients by giving them such high quality service is very liberating! thanks for your good work!

  11. I’ve been cashiering at Walgreens for the last 2 years, so I can tell you that your assessment is spot on. About the time I started, Walgreens adopted “branded greetings”: “WELLcome to Walgreens” as customers entered, and “Be WELL” as they left. I had no problem advising EVERY customer to “be WELL”, but the “WELLcome” was largely precluded by my cashiering duties. However, about 6 months ago, management decided that EVERY customer had to be greeted, and altho I’ve tried to comply, when I’m not busy checking out customers, I make myself busy stocking cigarettes, and I get so focused on the task at hand that I often don’t even see people coming in..

    • In my last performance review, I received a 1 (out of 5) in customer service. I protested, because all the customers like the fact that I know what’s on sale, and what has a store coupon. (Shelf price signs deduct the coupon.) I even have all the weekly and monthly coupons listed, with the 4 digit upc that I can quickly enter rather than having to find the actual coupon. I frequently apply coupons that the customer didn’t even know about, and alert them when they have only one item in a buy one get one free sale. The manager giving me the review said “That’s not customer service. You have to follow the 5 company guide lines for customer service, which include using the branded salutations.” Employees do not have access to the survey, but I’m sure one of the questions is “were you greeted?”, and if the store gets a low score there, it gets a low score in customer service. Point is that I feel I’m providing superior customer service, and “failure to greet” was the only negative issue in my review, but unless I can arrange a transfer to another store, I WILL loose my job

      However, that might be for the best. I have no experience, but I’m actually a licensed, certified pharmacy tech. I took the cashiering position to wait for an opening in the pharmacy, but I never pursued that because I discovered that I really enjoyed cashiering. But now I’ll be forced to find a much better paying job.

      • Doug Garnett says:

        Steven – Thank you for this more in depth comment.

        I’m appalled at what you are being put through. In fact, quality expert Ed Deming cautioned against these types of programs – programs that spend so much time measuring details that they never see the “coherent whole”…like truly good customer service.

        Wish you the best in your adventure. And appreciate that you’ve aired this story which encapsulates so much that is wrong at retail right now.

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  14. Kathryn Parman says:

    If you think Stevens story is appalling you would be horrified at what other companies do to their employees. I was number one in sales at a company in the automotive industry, every month selling more than any other employee, working hard to hit all the levels and numbers to impress management and earn a high dollar commission check each month. I was also number one in the western region (not just our dealership) for sales of a “flushing” product to clean different systems on the vehicle for maintenance. The company surveys were approximately 30 questions. Most of which were about things that had nothing to do with me and my service. For example, was the bathroom clean, rate the lounge amenities, was the rate the cashier, etc. The survey scores affect us in different ways depending on the pay plans at different companies, but mine was as follows at this particular dealership. I was paid a bonus percentage of my sales for survey scores being above a certain level, not just my personal score but the store and zone had to be above a certain level also. If my score was not at minimum for the month, I wasn’t paid my survey bonus and wasn’t paid my additional bonus for the “flush’ product sales. After a year and a half of being very successful for this company and having very few upset customers that needed to speak to management at all, I fell below the minimum, 3 months in a row, and was terminated for “unsatisfactory performance”. Why??? Because when I saw my commissioned statement that was presented a week before we are actually paid, I was shocked. The company was “dinging” me $2200.00 for the month. Yes, $2200.00. I was very upset, had a polite sit down with my manager telling him I felt this was excessive and unreasonable. The customer should not have that power over our livelihood. And in fact, since we can’t tell them the truth about the survey, they have no idea what their scores do to us. They think they are “helping” the company by filling out the survey and letting them know the bathroom wasn’t clean or the coffee machine wasn’t working and that is all fine and good. Management shouldn’t need a survey to know this, they should be on spot and making sure that facility is clean and functioning at all times, that is their responsibility, right?
    It all makes sense on paper. So, who suffers? The employee that the survey is attached to. In the end, I was terminated, my manager sat me down and told me he was sorry and that he would give me ‘raving reviews” to any potential employers that called him. So,what was the real reason? 2 or 3 other employees suffered the same fate as me, in fact, they had several more months that I of poor survey scores….but they didn’t speak up and talk to the manager. It is an unfair system. Employees live in fear of the survey, have no idea how the customer is going to fill it out, even after letting them know to expect it in their email, and ask them to PLEASE give all excellent or 100’s, as it really is our personal report card to the company. Is it fair that we can’t tell them that we can be fired? Is it fair that we can’t tell them their 9 or 8 or 7 can cost us al large portion of our income? Is it fair of companies to do this to their employee? What is next? I say this is out of control. Who knows what these customers are doing when filling out these surveys. Are they tired after a long day at work? Are they sipping their 1st, 2nd or 3rd glass of wine? Are the kids loud and distracting in the next room? All out of the employees control. Surveys, just another way for corporate to pay you less than you deserve. The good customer service people are dropping away. I am seeing it all the time. Customers always commenting that every time they come in they see new faces…if only they knew.

    • Doug Garnett says:

      Appreciate the comment. It’s mystifying to me that companies seem so blind to how much these draconian approaches to management backfire on them.

      Sorry about your story. But think it’s great that you shared it.

      • Kathryn Parman says:

        I have taken some time to decide to start opening up about the situation. Something really needs to be done about it. I think if customers knew what companies were doing with the “scores” from the surveys they fill out, they might refuse to participate. These employees have mortgages, children, responsibilities that suffer when they are terminated because of poor or low survey scores. What ever happened to job security based on actual job performance. Every manager I have worked for calls it “The Survey Game”, and they say you had better know how to play it. I have given away free services to get the 100% survey score from a customer, per management approval, they will never confess to that, it is not legal. Just about all companies survey customers now, i.e. your internet provider, bank, satellite company, carpet cleaning company, to name a few. Hard to find a company now that doesn’t base your job security on survey scores. I refuse to fill surveys out, sometimes I look for an area for comments and I tell them there how I feel about surveys, and that if the score affects their employee in any negative way and I would not do business with them in the future.
        While working at the job I was terminated from a survey came in on a fellow coworker of mine. The customer gave him all 100’s but in comments stated that she didn’t fill the survey out honestly because he had told her anything less than the 100 score would fail him at the company we worked at.
        I look forward to a 20/20 or Dateline program one night exposing the survey system for what it really is and really does.

      • Doug Garnett says:

        Would be great if 20/20 would pick it up. Would you be comfortable if I put together a new blog post using excerpts from your comments? Wouldn’t have to attribute them – probably just link to the Walgreen’s post…

      • Kathryn Parman says:

        Please feel free to use my story/comments and if you have any questions, please let me know. I am still in the industry, or trying to be. This stigma “low survey scores” stays with you and is a huge negative regardless of your skills, abilities and accomplishments. I hope to see more comments and stories from others affected by this. Thank you for taking an interest.

  15. Pingback: Walgreens, Campbell’s Law, and Deming: The Dark Side of Customer Surveys | Doug Garnett’s Atomic Blog

  16. Hannah Froehlich says:

    Lemme tell you this horse____- I work at TGI Fridays (loyal employee 2 years, my husband 5) – they won’t put us on the schedule unless we get 2 surveys per week (which don’t submit on apple products due to a programming flaw I guess, and also have to be perfect 10s). AND we lose shifts if we don’t sign people up for the dumbass rewards program. We have a family (yeah they took away our health insurance but that’s another story) and we depend on this. We are literally forced to lie and the do surveys ourselves becaus they’re so stupid and long that NO ONE DOES THEM. I recently heard from a little Birdy that the management gets bonuses from our surveys if we get enough. I HATE these and they are worthless if we have all lied our asses off. I work at the busiest one in the world and it’s impossible man it hurts the biz and it hurts us. If you want more info about this email me

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  18. Am says:

    I work at a Walgreens as a manger and i can tell you csa don’t get bonuses based off surveys that’s just lies to get people to take the survey. The surveys are pushed from upper ups not the store management .

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