All managers, inside and outside of banking, will attest that they are interested in customers’ opinions about their businesses. That is so basic a concept that it sounds almost silly to question it.

Yet, judging by many of the customer satisfaction surveys I’ve encountered recently, the accuracy and relevance of the feedback is not the primary concern of many businesses. Being given high marks in reviews is their true concern.

That may sound like the same thing. The reality is that it frequently is not.

Sure, conscientious employees and managers want the “perfect scores” on their surveys to be truly reflective of the customer experience. Furthermore, employees’ performance reviews and compensation are increasingly tied to those scores.

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Accurate and relevant feedback should be the goal of customer satisfaction surveys, not merely racking up perfect scores that could be the result of employees lobbying customers for positive reviews. Adobe Stock

On the surface, the logic and reasoning for this strategy are sound.

We want to reward employees for providing the high levels of service we strive for and hang our hats on in marketing. Our customers are obviously the people who will tell us whether that is happening.

That’s how it’s supposed to work, anyway.

Yet, most of us have had the experience of employees coaching us about a survey we will be receiving from their companies. The number of employees I have encountered over the past year who openly lobby customers about survey reviews is striking and a little problematic.

During a recent car-buying process, I was coached repeatedly by both my salesperson and the “customer experience ambassador” of the importance of giving them perfect scores on the survey.

One went so far as to tell me that they would prefer I not take the survey than give them anything less than perfect scores. Apparently, their incentives were tied to the survey results.

My salesperson explained that an uncompleted survey costs them nothing. However, anything but a 10-out-of-10 score on any part of a completed survey takes money out of their pockets.

While I was mostly happy with my experience, I could think of several things that were not “perfect.” In fact, attempting to guilt me into committing to give perfect scores on a survey I hadn’t seen yet in and of itself diminished my “satisfaction.”

I declined the follow-up survey and wondered if management had an inkling of why a person who just spent a sizable amount of money on a purchase would not participate. I also wondered if they cared.

Granted, that is a pretty over-the-top example. However, the lobby manager at my hotel during a recent trip asked if I would answer an email I was to receive and give her team perfect scores. It would make them eligible for some contest the company was running geared at getting the most perfect score reviews.

My stay and the service were fine, actually. I could think of a couple of things that were not “perfect,” but overall it was fine. However, anything but a perfect score wouldn’t count for their contest.

Rather than desiring truly legitimate feedback, they wanted high scores. As long as we have evidence that customers say we’re great, we’re all good, right?

Few industries over the past two years have been as maligned as banking — sometimes fairly, often not. Few, as well, have so recommitted to raising customer satisfaction scores as has banking.

In our quest to solidify and improve customer satisfaction, we should not set up systems that have our teams more focused on manipulating scores than actually earning them.

I’m not suggesting that employees’ natural tendencies are to game a system. However, when we set up expectations that nothing but perfect or near perfect scores will be tolerated, we need to do as much as possible to ensure that we are actually learning where our weaknesses lie.

I’ve often shared stories with managers about a large organization I previously worked for in which the annual employee performance reviews became a time-consuming joke. Like the children of Lake Wobegon, we were all apparently above average.

My theory was that that performance review system failed because managers did not want direct reports receiving “needs improvement” scores. That could be seen as a reflection of that manager’s performance. If your employees had areas needing improvement, maybe you did as well, and we couldn’t have that!

Of course, it may be impractical to precisely measure the quality of every customer service interaction. But an honest assessment will do more to truly improve customer satisfaction (and subsequent surveys) than lobbying customers for survey scores.

Dave Martin

Dave Martin

Dave Martin is the founder of the retail bank performance company bankmechanics.

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