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Please Give Me a 10: How Good Measurements Hurt Customer Satisfaction

Please Give Me a 10: How Good Measurements Hurt Customer Satisfaction

Customer ServiceOriginally published on December 23, 2013 in the Philadelphia Business Journal.

Managers know that systems for measuring performance are foundational for leading teams that perform well. However, the existence of a rigorous system for measuring performance does not guarantee that performance will improve.

In fact, when we have good measurement systems but less developed leadership practices, our ability to measure can hurt rather than help performance. Here is an example and the lessons I draw from it.

I had my car in for regularly scheduled service. I gave the service manager my credit card, paid for the service, and then he asked the question that all car dealer personnel have been trained to ask, “Are you completely satisfied with your experience here today?”

But this time, the conversation went further. He looked me in the eye with a fairly urgent expression on his face, and explained that I would likely be receiving a phone call to complete a survey about my experience on this visit to the dealership. “They will ask you to rate your experience on a 1-10 scale,” he explained, “and on anything less than a 10, I get ‘dinged’. Even a 9 is considered unacceptable. So please give me a 10.”

I watched this guy plead with me to give him a perfect score, and had a couple of reactions. First of all, contrary to his intention, our interaction made my satisfaction with the dealership decease rather than increase.

Second, while this service manager should not have been making his performance review my problem, the fault lies more with the company than with him.

By and large, business executives love measurements and metrics. “What gets measured gets done,” we tell ourselves, and there is truth in this. However, if your customer service measurement system is encouraging employees to create a bad experience for customers, you obviously have to reevaluate your system.

Do your methods for measuring employees encourage or discourage great customer service?

Accountability alone will never create great customer service. You have to use your customer service measurements as a tool to coach employees on how continuously to improve their approaches to serving customers.

It was particularly telling that this man was afraid I would give him a 9 out of 10. Let’s face it — if a customer rates your service a 9 rather than a 10, is that really a failure? It may not be good enough, but it is definitely a solid platform upon which to get even better. If getting rated a 9 out of 10 by customers instills fear in the hearts of your employees, there is no way they will take the risks required to go for 10s. Instead, they will make their fear of getting “dinged” the customers problem, and this is guaranteed to drive customer satisfaction down rather than up.

What truly motivates top-performing teams?

If it were my dealership, and our overall customer-service ratings were strong, I would want my service managers to take pride in their ratings and think about how to maintain and build upon them. Yes, we would pay attention to problems.

But it is equally important to focus on what is working and why these strategies are successful. I want my service managers sharing stories and best practices with one another about what really makes customers happy. It is pride in a job well done, a commitment to customers, and a commitment to your teammates that makes teams great. When achieving and sustaining excellent performance, too much fear of failure hurts rather than helps performance.

Smaller businesses often suffer from a lack of systems. Larger businesses suffer from an overabundance of them. Today is a good day to step back and ask if your system for measuring customer satisfaction is perversely decreasing the actual enthusiasm that customers feel for your business. When it comes to creating a customer service culture, accountability without coaching breeds fear, and fearful employees will never provide world-class customer service.

The kicker of this story? The car company never contacted me to complete a survey. They likely randomly select customers and ask them for feedback. It makes me think that the primary purpose of these surveys is not to get feedback from customers and act upon it. It is rather to make dealership employees afraid that they will be rated so that they take customer service seriously. That is a broken approach.


What do you think? Leave a comment!