A co-worker of mine recently shared an e-mail he received from the DMV. The first line of the message read, "We're sorry your recent request to sign up for services with the Department of Motor Vehicles could not be processed. We apologize for the inconvenience." Right after that was a note from the commissioner saying "I hope you are satisfied with DMV's online services. We want to bring you the best in Internet service, and we welcome your comments. Please visit us again and remember to tell a friend!"
Back in the late 90's, when I went to pick up a new car I had bought, I was actually introduced to a cardboard cutout of the customer service manager. Why? Because the department was closed that day, but the survey I was about to receive had a question: "Did you meet the manager of customer service?"
And I can't tell you how many times over the past year I have been begged with, pleaded with, and even essentially offered bribes to say I would definitely recommend something to a friend, even if none of my friends needed that particular offering.
Serving to the Survey
The problem with each of these absurd scenarios is essentially the same. Measurement systems are built to find ways to make customers happier. But over time, the goal shifts from actually strengthening relationships to just improving a score. The process becomes the outcome.
Yes, there are a slew of very well researched questions out there that all show strong ties to business outcomes. Those metrics should be a reflection of service. Instead, service morphs into a reflection of the metric. The whole thing ends up flipping upside down.
After spending over two decades consulting around measurement systems, there are a few things I have come to realize. First, be careful of how you set your incentives. The survey score should be a partial leading indicator of a business outcome: increased sales, retention, use of multiple products. It is not in and of itself an outcome. Rather, it is just a light on the dashboard that explains some percentage of the measure of success you are pursuing.
Scripts Aren't Fooling Anyone
When you set your goals, incentives and rewards based solely on the survey, the actual outcome the survey is meant to help you achieve may fade into the background. You will start to see scripts designed to improve survey results that don't necessarily improve business outcomes, like closing with "I strove to provide you with excellent service today" when the first question on the survey is, you guessed it, "did the representative strive to provide you with excellent service today?" You might even see attempts to game the system that actually hurt customer relationships. I once saw an e-mail response to a customer in which a representative half-jokingly said that if the customer didn't give her the highest survey ratings, she'd be fired.