Recently, at a meeting with a new client, I was reviewing her transactional survey script.  I suppressed the urge to say, “These questions are wimpy.  They don’t get to the heart of what customers expect from service delivery like you provide.”  Instead, I asked her to explain to me the history of how the script was developed, when it had last been updated, and how the results were being used.  Her answers to these questions were so mind numbing I had to fight a reaction to scream.  Here, in summary form, are the answers:

  1. How the script was developed – About 10 years ago they wanted to find out how their front-line people were doing so 4 people sat around a table and guessed what was important to customers and then did what committee’s always do – they agreed on questions that everyone liked.
  2. When was it last updated – never.
  3. How are the results being used – to bonus the front-line employees.

In August 2009, I wrote a guest blog for Vovici titled “Jumping into the Pool before You Know the Water Depth”.  In that post, I talked about identifying the most important customer touch-points before starting to craft a survey instrument to use as part of a continuous customer feedback collection process.  The advantage of this methodology is that your survey focuses on experiences that really matter to your customers.  You wind up with real questions about real drivers of loyalty, not the results of a committee decision made by people who have no experience being your customer.

Naturally, as people gain experience with your business, they come to expect the things you do well and want improvements to the things you do not so well.  The implication of this set of circumstances is that you have to periodically update your survey based on customer feedback.  In other words, find out what touch-points are at the top of your customer’s minds and make sure you are either exceeding their expectations or, at least, making good progress towards that objective.

Now comes the real fun!  For years we have heard:

“What gets measured gets managed.”  – Peter Drucker

“What gets measured gets done” – Tom Peters

Based on these well-used quotes, many companies decided that the ultimate use of measurement is compensation.  My client decided to incentivize their employees to improve the experiences they deliver to customers.  And the quantification metric of improvement was the survey results.  They created a bonus plan tied to CSAT numbers, improvements lead to customer’s reporting being more satisfied, and employees took home more money.  But then a strange thing happened – CSAT results leveled off, customer complaints increased, and employees kept taking home their quarterly bonus checks.

The logical solution was to raise the target, which makes sense but the survey results were already at very high levels.  The better choice is to update the survey instrument to make sure that the important factors are being measured and then improved.  But managers resist this option because they know that CSAT scores will drop, along with bonuses, until the company is able to figure out what needs improving and what to do.  Meantime, employees will be very upset because their compensation took a hit without any change in behavior on their part!

If you find yourself in this position, you need to be creative.  One clumsy solution is to add new questions to the survey but, for a short period, continue to bonus on the original set of questions.  You can then transition away from the old after the employees have a chance to start working on the new feedback.

Another approach is to switch baselines “cold turkey”.  There may be pushback but the business will get the employees focused on the real job – making customers more satisfied. Here are three reasons I think this is the better approach:

  1. Everyone knows you are serious about customer satisfaction, especially if your income is also affected by the decision.
  2. You get any whining and complaining out of the way all at once.
  3. Your customers and the business quickly begin to enjoy the benefits of the knowledge and follow-up actions.

Of course, the real winning approach is to periodically update the survey and change the baseline quickly and as frequently as needed.  I believe most mature professionals will understand this approach and get on with the task at hand.

Remember, when dealing with negative changes to people’s incomes there is no silver bullet!