Manipulating Customer Service Ratings... What's Going On?

I wanted to share two recent experiences with my family's automobiles and the ensuing manipulation of the Customer Satisfaction process.

A few months ago, we had one of our cars serviced. We were then told to fill out the Customer Satisfaction form with perfect scores for the Service department!

Recently, we bought a new car. The experience left something to be desired, and I said so in the Customer Sat survey. Yesterday, the sales rep left a message on our home voicemail stating that she was very upset that I had not rated her well. She then blamed us for ruining her day!

What's going on?

Do these major automotive companies have so little faith in their cars, dealers and service departments that they have to manipulate the process? Surely the manufacturers know this is going on. So why aren't they taking action?

Do manufacturers and dealers have a common goal of making the customer satisfaction ratings look good for advertising purposes?

Back to my story. In the first instance, we had the car in for routine maintenance. The next day, we received a call from the dealer asking if everything went well. We said yes. The rep then told us that a survey was coming in the mail and that we should answer all the questions with a "5" for satisfaction, as that would really help out the dealer. So much for the value of the service department customer sat data!

Now for the story about the new car purchase.

Everything was fine except when we picked up the car. This is always an exciting moment, but it was spoiled for my wife and I. First, our sales rep could not show us how to operate the brand new, high-tech navigation, climate control and surround-sound music systems, all of which were major selling points for this car. No one else was available to help. That left us frustrated and disappointed.

Then, as we were at her desk signing the final documents, our sales rep and her associate had a heated argument about some office issues that had nothing to do with our purchase. We sat there in the middle of their verbal crossfire.

Two weeks later, when the customer satisfaction questionnaire arrived by mail, it seemed to offer an anonymous response since my name wasn't on it. I answered the questions and explained that this had not been an optimal experience. However, because our sales rep had emphasized that she wanted to get good ratings, I was much more diplomatic than I should have been.

Imagine my reaction when my wife played the voicemail from the sales rep thanking me for having ruined her day and her ratings.

How else can these companies improve except though customer feedback? And what about the implied confidentiality of the survey I returned?

The Takeaways:

  • Take a careful look at your customer satisfaction process. Are the questions the correct questions? Will they get you the "right" answers or the real answers?
  • Are there opportunities for employees to manipulate the process, to get the "right" results?
  • What is done with the results? Are they used internally to ask the tough questions and make changes, or are they fodder for advertising slogans and sales brochures?
  • If your customer sat questionnaires say or imply that responses will be confidential, then honor that, so customers won't feel punished for taking the trouble to submit honest feedback.

Ernan Roman is President of the marketing consultancy, Ernan Roman Direct Marketing.
Recognized as the industry pioneer who created three transformational methodologies: Integrated Direct Marketing, Opt-In Marketing, and Voice of Customer Relationship Research.

Clients include Microsoft, NBC Universal, Disney, Hewlett-Packard and IBM.

2010-12-08-ernan.jpgErnan was named to "B to B's Who's Who" as one of the "100 most influential people" in Business Marketing by Crain's B to B Magazine.

His latest book on marketing best practices was published in October, 2010, and is titled: Voice of the Customer Marketing: A Proven 5-Step Process to Create Customers Who Care, Spend, and Stay.

Ernan is also the co-author of "Opt-In Marketing: Increase Sales Exponentially with Consensual Marketing" and author of "Integrated Direct Marketing: The Cutting Edge Strategy for Synchronizing Advertising, Direct Mail, Telemarketing and Field Sales."