People often act as if the aim of a customer satisfaction survey is to get a high score, or hit a target, rather than to improve how customers feel about the organisation. Here is our 10 step guide to faking a high satisfaction score without the hard work of satisfying customers.
1. Ask customers about things you know you do well
In order to measure satisfaction properly you have to use the “lens of the customer” rather than the “lens of the organisation”. This partly means language, partly means customers not caring about your internal hierarchies and processes, but most importantly means which aspects of the relationship you measure.
If you come up with your own questionnaire, without involving customers, then by definition you will be asking customers about the areas you focus on. These are likely to be things you are good at, but they may not be the most important things to customers.
The [Building Society] has sent her a customer satisfaction questionnaire. Does she like the decor of her local branch? How long does she have to wait in line? Do staff smile? She has responded positively to each question. There is no opportunity to do anything else.
Suddenly she writes at the bottom, “But I hate you.”
Geoff Ryman – 253, a novel for the Internet
2. Use a positively weighted scale
After all, we know that customers are mostly satisfied, right? So we must need more positive response options. Let's go for the old “Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor” and count everyone who doesn't say “poor” as satisfied. Organisations focusing on their customers rather than the score might make the mistake of opting for a long enough balanced scale to pick apart the scores of satisfied customers, but that's dangerous. What if they all score us 6 out of 10?
3. Force customers into a score you can misinterpret
Well apparently the board don't like that scale. Someone seems to have read a book that said it was “biased”. Oh well, at least if we go for a short enough verbal scale we know the vast majority will give us a “courtesy 4”. Never mind whether that would be a 6 or 9 on a ten point scale, we can still count them as satisfied, and that's what makes the press release.
4. Pretend that “satisfied” is a good thing
“Satisfied” is such a useful word. On the one hand it sounds pleasingly positive—“90% of customers are satisfied”, excellent. And yet at the level of the individual customer, it's so easy to make people satisfied—all you have to do is meet their basic needs and expectations. After all 6 out of 10 is satisfied.
5. Only talk to happy customers
It's much more fun to talk to the customers who like us, why don't we ask them to do the survey for us? They know us much better, after all. Anyway, you shouldn't really worry too much about what Bill says—he's always complaining. Can we delete that score? Excellent.
I think the actions of almost all marketers say, “we’d rather you were happy, but if you can’t be happy, please go away.”
6. Find an easy benchmark to compare yourself against
This one is 100% bullet proof. No one in your organisation will ever question that your market is completely different from every other market (and yes, you do have the most demanding customers). That means that no benchmark from outside your market is fair, particularly if you don't emerge well from the comparison. The really clever bit is that you can define your market exactly how you want to—genius!
7. Use mystery shopping or internal KPIs as measures of satisfaction
This is like an extreme form of technique number 1. By measuring yourself not only on the things you think are important, but using your own criteria, you can almost guarantee a good result. Companies that were not just focused on getting a high score might use these tools in addition to a measure of customer attitudes, rather than in place of it.
8. Pick your timing
Just made a big change? Don't survey.
Something went wrong? Don't survey.
Rainy day? Don't survey.
England just won the World Cup? Fill your boots.
9. Make sure they know you're watching
Offer to help customers with anything they don't understand on the questionnaire. Stand over their shoulders as they fill it in with the pen you've lent them. Why not offer to fill it in on their behalf, after all it is a bit of a hassle isn't it? Make sure you understand any reasons for dissatisfaction by challenging any low scores, preferably in a slightly aggressive way.
Offer customers an incentive for filling out the survey—if it's good enough the warm glow should carry over to the scores they give. It's a shame you can't make the incentive conditional on good scores, really (though see point 9).
All of these things are much easier than the prospect of, gasp, actually improving the products or services we offer customers. You may feel that I've ladled the sarcasm on rather thickly here, but you come across these mistakes on a regular basis in current satisfaction measurement. Many organisations take the path of least resistance and adopt the comforting appearance of a high score they don't deserve.
Companies that do this are living in a fool's paradise, and they'll be rudely shaken out of it as initiatives like the UKCSI increasingly provide a published, objective, and stringent measure of customer satisfaction. If you're serious about measuring and improving customer satisfaction you need a tough measure. Find out more in our Improving Customer Satisfaction course.