Threatening Customers–A Poor Tactic to Raise Customer Satisfaction

I took my car in for a 20k service visit last week.  And just as winter comes after fall, a week after my service appointment, The Letter appeared in my mailbox.  You know what letter I mean–all dealerships use them now to cajole, if not threaten, customers into giving them high marks for satisfaction.  “Thank you for choosing <Dealer Name> for your recent warranty repair.  We will continue to be the answer to all your parts, sales and service needs.” So far so good, though I’m smarting a bit at the term ‘warranty repair.’  If the repairs were under warranty, why did it cost me $1200?  But I digress.

“You may be getting a survey from the <brand> manufacturer.  They will be asking you if you are completely satisfied with the warranty repairs and service on your car.  If you are completely satisfied, please indicate so.  If not, please contact me so I can immediately look into the matter…  Remember, anything less than an outstanding (bold theirs, not mine) score on the survey is considered a failure on our part.”

Boy, oh boy.  Where do I begin in the list of ‘worst practices’ I see developing as companies use gorilla tactics to gather high satisfaction marks?

  • What does outstanding mean?  I think for a survey to be actionable, the company and the customer need to agree on the definitions.  No one asked me what I consider an ‘outstanding’ experience.  Caviar and a martini while I wait? Wash my car and fill the gas tank before returning it?  Some companies publish a ‘customer bill of rights’ or something similar that defines what the ultimate experience should be. I could use one here.
  • Plausible deniability.  You can just hear the conversation from the dealer’s service manager when corporate sends them their satisfaction scores.  “I told the customers in my letter that they had to call me if they didn’t think we were outstanding!  How can I possibly fix a problem I don’t know about?  Let’s ignore our bad sat scores–it is the customer’s fault for not speaking up.”  Clearly this company doesn’t want real feedback from customers, just a good score.
  • Threats lead to useless survey results.  At the end of the day, any company threatening customers to give high sat ratings is shooting themselves in the foot.  When repeat business dies, they may have no idea why since their sat results are artificially high.  If the only reason you are collecting satisfaction scores is to make corporate happy, you should just stop.
  • Anything less than outstanding is a failure.  Failure to whom?  Frankly, forget outstanding, I’d settle for merely competent in most of my customer service interactions.  ‘Oustanding’ would be if I never had to bring the car in for service–ever!  Top box scores look at the top 2 or 3 ratings on a 5 or 10 point scale–not just the #1 choice.  Human nature (and many other factors) influence how we score (look at the comments on my blog post on cultural differences), so expecting everyone to agree to give you the highest rating is unrealistic.

Bottom line, any company that tells its customers how to fill out their satisfaction survey must have a satisfaction problem.  I was pleased with my service experience….up until I received this letter.

Do you have a satisfaction story to share?  Please add a comment or shoot me an email.  And as always, thanks for reading!

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9 Comments on “Threatening Customers–A Poor Tactic to Raise Customer Satisfaction”

  1. wizper Says:

    I’ve seen this kind of thing all day long. The problem is that the people at the top bury their heads in the sand. Too much time is spent chasing after new business rather than looking after the existing. The vision should be focused on the ‘lifetime’ value of the customer.

  2. jragsdale Says:

    Thanks Wizper. I wonder what the impact is to survey response rates? If customers see these surveys as a useless effort because it never benefits them, won’t they stop answering?

  3. It’s amazing how many dealers try to game the system with these useless surveys, which are supposed to anonymous. I once responded to a survey expressing deep dissatisfaction with the service, and in return I got an angry phone call from the saleswoman who had sold me the car 2 years before!! Needless to say I switched my servicing loyalty to another dealer (who happens to be closer to home as well). The new, more enlightened dealer, doesn’t run these surveys, and guess what, their service is great! They spend time listening to customers as well, and have added useful waiting room things like wi-fi, coffee from a real coffee machine (not a ’70s era Bunn machine). I asked the manager at the new dealership if they were required to run surveys, and he said that the survey was an optional feature of their relationship with the manufacturer. Dealerships that run them get some sort of kickback (kickbacks in car sales – really?), but they felt that the small kickback wasn’t worth it, and instead focused on running a good operation.

    I guess I know where I’ll buy my next car from.

  4. Rudy Vidal Says:

    Thank your for your post.
    This is not only a poor practice but one that also shows the emptyness and lack of meaning in the intention.

    WE all know that the dealer is not really interested in customer satisfaction. If they were they would just ask you for the rating and not tell you that anything less than outstanding is not acceptable. This last statement is has nothing to do with how I feel about the service.

    It is clear that theya re doing this becuase they need, as you say, to have the corproate office feel theya redoing a good job.

    Additionally, if the corporate office really cared, they would deliver the survey and keep the fox out of the chicken coop.

    Rudy Vidal

  5. John,

    See? I was right… customer satisfaction measures everything else, but customer satisfaction. useless metric, widely used.

    I know the letter well, I get the same one when i take the car in for service. I talked to them about it once. They said that part of their discounts,the attention they get from corporate, and priority for new showings and distribution comes from that stupid survey. they also said that the letter is not their idea, rather corporate’s idea on how to “stimulate” higher scores for customer satisfaction.

    i still believe that customer satisfaction is a worthless metric, whether you use top-box or single box. you can manipulate surveys and methods to get juts about any score you need – no problem. I worked with several customers that were mandated to have at least an 85% customer satisfaction, and by the time we were done creating and distributing the surveys, we had an almost constant 90%+ satisfaction. however, customer churn continued at around 20%. Guess what? management paid bonuses and made plans for new and “improved” services based on the 90%+ satisfaction, never noticed their churn continued at the same level — even increased as the new initiatives were put into place.

    final comment – if you really, really, really want to use customer satisfaction as a metric make sure you put it into a dashboard and that you contrast to other more useful, effectiveness-based metrics. then you will be measuring how good you are at getting an opinion to come up as you wish against some real metrics on your business health.

    sorry, getting off the box now… if you want to read more about this, check out the following blog entries.


  6. jragsdale Says:

    Hi Esteban–I thought you’d chime in on the that one!

  7. Customer service ultimately comes down to investigating/clarifying what the customer needs and helping them get it.

    Some of these surveys often raise questions that customers themselves wouldn’t even ask!

    PS. My customer satisfaction ratings are great!

  8. This is a great topic and shows some of the problems when there is aunrealistic focus on a simple score.

    Some manufacturers financially penalize their dealers for anything less than 100% scores on satisfaction surveys.

    The manufacturers then have a financial incentive (arguably unfair) to get customers to complain and I have seen some where the survey is worded in the negative to try and increase the number of customer complaints.

    Especially when some customers’ dissatisfaction is caused by the manufacturer (e.g. parts unavailable), the dealer feels somewhat justified in trying to just ‘tick the boxes’ with survey scores.

  9. Car People Says:

    We have seen several auto companies ask ridiculous questions on their customer satisfaction surveys.

    Many manufacturers demand that dealers increase scores on bizarre survey questions and have no idea themselves of how to do this, so cannot provide training on it.

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