Can we over-pursue customer satisfaction?

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Is it possible to ask our customers if they’re satisfied . . . and then put them on the defensive for their opinions? Absolutely, and it’s not good contends Sean Silverthorne in his post: “Stop Badgering Me with Customer Satisfaction” for Harvard Business on bnet.

Silverthorne writes: “I never thought I’d complain about a company trying to bathe me in customer satisfaction, but the time has come.” He goes on to describe a series of contacts by his car repair shop after getting service there.

A week later, a customer satisfaction survey arrived via e-mail from the repair shop and Silverthorne took it seriously – he wanted to give them honest input. So, he did the survey in which he graded most of the people and services between eight and 10 (10 highest.) But, he rated the cashier who took his $1,800 check only four. “It was closing time. She was obviously eager to get out of work and I didn’t even get a smile. She was doing her job, nothing more. That’s a four – a little less than adequate – in my book,” he added.

He also rated the service advisor a seven. Again, he did his job but not much more. Comparably, a previous service advisor had pointed out a 10 percent discount coupon Silverthorne was eligible to get. Completing the survey, he sent it off thinking the repair shop would be glad to receive his input. Think again!

First, the service advisor sent him a note: “I received your survey with a score of 68.8 out of 100. If you have a chance, could you please elaborate on a few questions for me. This will help myself and the dealership improve our process.”

]Seemed like a fair request, so Silverthorne spent 15 minutes replying to his questions. But, he also included an excellent point: namely, he assumed the data would be used by management in private and was surprised the people rated were informed and allowed to contact him.

You guessed it – an e-mail from the cashier’s supervisor arrived next. He took five minutes to reply to that one. Yup - shortly after, an e-mail from the area manager arrived! So, he answered that one, too. Overall, Silverthorne figures he gave 30 minutes of his time, faced a little embarrassment and has decided he’ll never fill out their survey again. Moreover, he finally concluded: “I don’t really think the survey was about making me happy; it was about the dealer being able to report good customer sat numbers back to corporate."

Silverthorne’s story raises some questions worth consideration by all dealers who survey customer satisfaction. For example, should employees know who sends in the survey? Should they be allowed to directly contact the customer? When and how should a follow-up survey be used, if ever? Is that forcing the customer to defend his opinions? Are there really any universal CSI benchmarks for rendering judgments? Won’t everyone’s opinion of satisfactory service be a little different? Out of respect for the customer, should there be strict limits on conducting any satisfaction surveys?

When is enough, enough?

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