Everytime You Mark Customer Service Poorly in a Survey, a Kitten* Dies

By Reader Glenn L. Tebbit on at

If you had the power to fire someone random with the click of a mouse, even if they'd done nothing wrong, would you do it? Chances are, you may already hold that power without knowing it.

We've all had those surveys. "Your opinion is important", "We value your feedback", and the like. Equally, we've all ignored many of them, due to the sheer deluge of the things that seems to have invaded our every transaction over the last few years. But what actually happens to all our responses when we do fill them in?

As a sales guy for a major national electronics chain, I'm rated on many things. Sales, for one. But also customer service. After all, no company wants surly so-and-so's representing its brand, and I totally get that. Luckily, I'm not a surly so-and-so. I'm quite possibly the most pleasant, upbeat guy that'll serve you in any of our stores -- testimonial letters from customers and a shelf-full of awards for my service testify to that. But every so often, I'm still hauled in for a meeting with my superiors to discuss "concerns" about my customer service skills. And the conversation always begins the same -- "one of your customers filled in the survey, and gave you an 8 out of 10...".

You might be thinking 8 out of 10 isn't a bad score. Hell, an 80 per cent score at university gets you a degree with a distinction and honours. You might have even filled in one such survey received by email or text message, and given a similar score off the back of superb service. Would you have commended their service? Maybe. Was the service you received so bad that you'd complain? Definitely not. But by giving a non-top mark, you just have complained. And the poor person that served you is feeling it.

You see, in the eyes of the company, an 8 doesn't mean they did everything right, it means that they did something wrong to lose the 2 points short of it being a 10. Which, in turn, means a documented warning for giving poor service. Too many of those, and the door beckons. Some of the surveys ask for your feedback in your own words too. Don't be deceived. Even writing a comment like "Best service I ever had! I will recommend to all my friends!" means jack if you don't mark the numbers at the top level. The computer that analyses the scores doesn't read words -- it only averages numbers.

The suckiest part of the whole ordeal is people who mark 5s and 6s, because something has gone wrong that's out of the control of the staffer. I fell foul of a response recently (and the resulting chat with a manager) by scoring 6, with the accompanying comment "salesman was really helpful, he was 10 out of 10, but the manufacturer's helpline was engaged when I called so I am not happy". I try explaining to the managers that I was scored a 10, but to no avail. "No, you scored a 6."

The following things are NOT cause to mark less than top score -- if any of these occur, you should rate the staffer first, then make a separate complaint about what's gone wrong:

- The staff member followed policy but you didn't like the outcome.

- The store didn't have the exact product you wanted, so you had to buy something else.

- You had to queue and you were in a rush.

- You didn't like the taste of your burger, because you ordered the avocado burger but you don't like avocado.

- You forgot to bring your ID to sign up for financing, and had to go home and get it.

There are two big problems with these surveys. One is that the questions are often ambiguous. "What did you think of our store?" doesn't want to know if you liked the decor. It's scoring the staff member. Same goes for "Are you happy with your purchase?", or "Did you have a good experience?", or seemingly non-relevant questions to that effect.

The second problem with these surveys is that very rarely does anything go back to the customer that filled it in. Never a phone call back saying that, due to the low rating you gave, Tony from the Croydon store has been fired, or Anna in the TV department has been demoted to polishing the battery display. So, nobody ever sees the severity of the repercussions of a "bad" (read: "non-perfect") score.

So, my plea to you is this. Next time you get a survey of this type, remember that you're rating someone who's earning close to minimum wage, to be there and be chirpy from dawn until dusk, and deal with the crap of hundreds of customers a day. You're not rating a professional like a doctor or a surgeon. You're rating a poor schmoe who's trying their best to make ends meet, by selling you a computer, or making your sub sandwich, or answering when you ring a call centre.

Try not to forget that, next time you find yourself with their career life, quite literally, in your hands.

*Ok, so a kitten doesn't die, but there are certainly repercussions.

Glenn is a tireless worker for a purveyor of gadgetry that has a branch not far from you. He's about 30, hates frustrating corporate nonsense, but likes avocado. Basically, he's the retail version of Dilbert.

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Image Credit: Surveys via Shutterstock