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Is Customer Experience Just About Chasing a Great Score?

A couple of years ago, on a day I had taken off from work, I took my car to the local dealership for some routine servicing.  When I arrived the dealer said they did not have my appointment logged in their calendar and were completely booked for the day.  The dealer was very apologetic and said they would check with their other service location to see if they could work me in.  I was frustrated with the change but impressed how they worked hard to make it right.

Upon arriving at the alternate location, I was immediately greeted by the service technician who echoed the apologies for the mix-up, offered me a free loaner car for the day and a token for a free car wash.  I am thinking, “Wow, these guys really care about making me happy.”  I also noticed a gentleman standing off to the side who eventually came over and introduced himself as the service manager.  He too iterated their apology for the mix-up and offered to do anything to make the experience better.  As I declined needing anything else and started to get into the loaner car he lingered nearby and finally approached me one again and said, “Hey, if you get a survey about your experience with us please remember that it was the other location that screwed up, not us.”  My feeling of being impressed with their care and attention to me suddenly turned into feeling as if this was all about just getting a score.  I wanted to give them a “10”, but now it felt as if doing so would re-enforce that his request earned the score and not the service I received.  This is certainly not an isolated example or even the least direct illustration of asking for the top score, but it always resonates as organizations not understanding what CX is truly about.  It’s like forcing my kids to apologize to each other.  They may say sorry, but it doesn’t create genuine feelings of remorse.

A Widespread Problem

Over the past year, I have observed more and more organizations placing an explicit focus on the importance of delivering an exceptional customer experience.  With this is a growing acceptance that the customer experience an organization provides is the difference between greater financial successes or losses.  While most companies still struggle to align all of their organizational efforts around CX, the momentum is headed in the right direction.  Unfortunately, with this momentum has come an increase in the number of requests for customers to “give” the company, agent, service rep., sales person, etc. the highest score.  “Anything less than the highest score is like saying we are failing” is a common statement.  In the past 12 months, I have personally experienced this in hotels, satellite installation, airline cleaning crews, insurance agents and of course my automotive dealer.  If the end goal of improving the customer experience is to improve business results, then the promotion of artificially inflated scores will not help in this effort but rather hurt it.  I wonder how many people give the top score because they were asked, because they worry the person they are evaluating would see a lower score, because the employee is waiting for you to give them the survey card before they leave or simply for fear that it could impact the future service you would receive.

Who receives the benefit of such tactics?  It is certainly not the customer who may now have an altered perception of the company.  Customer relationships with these businesses will turn awkward or cynical at best and perhaps end all together.  It is not the company, who is likely to see an erosion in the connection between CX and financial outcomes since the scores may not represent reality.  As they lose customers, they will also lose the ability to understand why they are experiencing a downturn.  They may also end up overpaying on CX related incentives tied to inflated survey responses.

How to Reduce Gaming the System

So what can you do about this?  I am the first to agree and support the practice of connecting rewards with strategic goals.  Tying rewards, whether they be salary, bonus, promotions, incentive trips, recognition or other, can and will drive results as they help the organization align strategic goals with personal incentives.  The challenge comes in when the personal incentive outweighs the corporate goals and leads employees to game the system.  While I would like to say there are some foolproof ways to avoid gaming the system, there are too many examples in the marketplace where actions far more unethical than asking for a high score have taken place.  However, here are a couple of ideas.

  1. Balance the rewards against each other. If you make new sales goals too important, you are likely to generate poor quality sales and experiences that will hurt you down the road.  Same goes for customer experience scores.  If they become too significant aiming at the score will be the focus, not the behaviors.
  2. Include longer term measures in the rewards criteria. Asking for a better score may lead to a short-term lift but is not likely to help you long term with retention and new sales.  Include incentives that are based rolling metrics tied to downstream measures of CX – retention, cross sale growth, referrals, etc.
  3. Keep company performance in the incentive equation.
  4. Include measures which have a tested impact on CX and are hard to manipulate. This means asking your customers questions about whether or not they experienced the basic behaviors you expect from your employees.  Think of “Were you offered an annual financial review this year?”, “Were you offered a free upgrade for being a loyalty member?”, “Were you greeted within 30 seconds upon arrival?”, etc.  These are questions which are much harder to game because you either did them or you didn’t; there is no subjective scale involved.
  5. Educate employees about what is appropriate behavior related to surveys and what is not. Help them understand the implications of their actions for both the short and long term.  Consider this a check item in mystery shop programs.

Keep Incentives Tied to Customer Experience

These are not foolproof solutions but are ways to curb the impact on trying to game the system to elevate scores.  In the end, you want to keep incentives tied to the delivering a good customer experience, but you’ll need to carefully manage how you keep the actions as pure as the intent.