I’ve recently got back from visiting family in the UK. Whilst there, I noticed things that had changed since I left 7 years ago. This post is about one particular change in service businesses that stood out to me.
During my visit I travelled the length and breadth of England, staying in hotels, eating in restaurants and buying items in shops – my credit card took a real hammering!
It struck me that many of these service businesses have put in place some very unhealthy practices around asking customers for feedback.
Let me explain with an example:
We stayed a few nights in a (budget chain) hotel on the edge of London – nothing flash: A basic family room for four, breakfast included and parking for our hire car.
Overall the place was pretty good – well worth the price we had paid. However, during this stay there were the odd things that we noticed that could have been better. For instance:
- The onsite parking was rather confusing: we had pre-paid on the internet but it wasn’t easy to show this. It took a few phone calls and some explaining to partially satisfy us that we weren’t going to get towed away for non-payment;
- My boys complained to us that the sheets on the extra beds put into the room for them were cheap and scratchy…which they really didn’t like. I told them to ‘take a concrete pill’; and
- The scrambled eggs at breakfast had clearly sat around at the buffet for far too long and had become a bit ‘plastic’, dare I say chewy.
At the end of our stay we went to reception to hand in our room key. A very nice chap behind reception thanked us for our stay and then told us that we would be receiving an email with a link to a survey asking us to rate our stay using scores from 1 – 10. He went on to quietly inform us (as if it was secretive information) that:
- if we scored 9s or 10s then these counted as a positive for them;
- if we scored 8s, these were neutral – no good to them; but
- all scores of less than 8 would count against them. He gave us the clear impression that this would be in monetary terms (i.e. affecting their rating and therefore bonuses for this month)
Some very clever manager at head office (who had probably been to ‘management school’) had tied the collection of customer feedback with contingent rewards for the workers. Clearly a believer in the brilliance of extrinsic motivators.
Now, before I go any further, if you are a fan of contingent rewards you may cry out that the employee shouldn’t have told the customer about the scoring and its effects! But think about that for a minute – do you really expect your employees not to engage in the games that you are playing on them?
As Goldratt wrote: “Tell me how you will measure me, and I will [show] you how I will behave.”
Further, let’s just assume that the employee hadn’t told me about the scoring system: Management have shown no understanding of the variation in customer demand (one person’s 5 is another person’s 9) – meeting these targets is a lottery that the employee is, understandably, trying to influence in his favour by confiding in us.
So what do you think this scoring knowledge does to the customer, and for the company?
I can tell you three things it does to me:
- First, given that I am a human being, it makes me feel a little bit sorry for the really nice chap behind reception who established a rapport with us and served us excellently. We understand that he probably has very little ability to improve our stay any further…and so we want to give him a good score, an 8 or 9 so that it doesn’t count against him*.
But this isn’t what we really feel. I was thinking of a 6 or 7…along the lines of ‘it was all right but not mind-blowing’.
So the company collects distorted information telling it that it is doing better than it is…and will draw incorrect conclusions accordingly.
- Second, I also feel a bit used by the employee telling us about the scoring and the likely outcome. So I now think worse of the company for putting in place such a system which has ended up manipulating me. I almost feel dirty for being involved in this subterfuge!
So I am now turned off this company for making me feel this way by their management practices.
- Third, I walk away without providing any verbal qualitative feedback on my stay.
So the people who need to know have gained no understanding of my three highly useful pieces of qualitative feedback (the parking, scratchy sheets and plastic eggs)
I can almost picture the confusion at the senior management team meeting where the CEO is asking his Executive team:
“But how can we be performing so poorly when our average customer feedback score at each of our hotels is 8.27?!”
In summary, the company:
- has collected a score for my stay that is likely incorrect and misleading;
- has annoyed me because I feel manipulated…which may lead me to look elsewhere next time (and tell my friends the same);
yet (most importantly)
- the employees are totally blind as to what could have been better and hence cannot improve.
The customer feedback score is worse than useless!
The knowledge required to meaningfully improve is in each and every piece of qualitative customer feedback…it is not in a monthly average score.
* This behaviour has been reported in many other similar service situations. My hotel experience is but one example. Put in general terms: the employee quietly tells the customer that their feedback score will be ‘used on them’ by their company and pleads for the customer to be kind. As humans we can’t help but want to help them out yet also feel annoyed about this manipulation of us.
Just in case you hadn’t got the picture at the top: it is of a chocolate teapot…which is worse than useless…a bit like linking contingent rewards to customer feedback.