The perils of rewarding staff on scores

Satisfaction surveys should be about understanding how well you are meeting the needs of your customers. Once you know this, you can continuously improve how you deal with them.

Satisfied customers will keep coming back. Dissatisfied customers won’t come back and they’ll tell their friends to avoid you like the plague. That provides a simple and hard-nosed message about how satisfaction surveys can drive revenues and profitability.

In reality, a lot of customer satisfaction surveys have steered a long way from that simple ideal. They have become wrapped up in numerous business metrics, audits, incentive payments and benchmarking, which may have little to do with understanding genuine customer satisfaction.

Whilst the mantra of ‘What gets measured gets managed’ is true, most surveys have extended that to include ‘What gets incentivised gets managed’ – resulting in rewards and penalties being paid on the results to the surveys. The unintended consequence of putting money on the scores is that people ‘game’ the system. They manage the scores, not the underlying issues.

Tom Goodwin, the Head of Innovation for Zenith Media, agrees. In Raconteur’s Future of Advertising publication, Tom talks about Five Mistakes Marketers Should Avoid. Number one on his list is “Measuring precisely the wrong thing”:

“Inboxes today, even after a short trip, look like a paranoid mess: “How did we do? Was your trip OK? Tell us how to improve. We want to hear back!” I’m sure I could take a dump in a petrol station forecourt and I’d soon be asked to rate it (the location that is) by text.

The thing is, requests for feedback are rarely exactly that. “Please tell us how you feel” comes from a noreply@ email address and what’s really been sought is one thing – the net promoter score. What’s happening is that marketers’ bonuses are being calculated about the rise and fall of a very precise, but entirely pointless, score. To make matters worse, the actual labour is done by the most valuable customers there are – frequent users.

The digital age has created endless, abundant, fast, free-of-charge data that is both easy to measure and absolutely and entirely useless. Reviews tell you only how people are, not what they experienced. Scores are barbell shaped to represent delight and anger. The only scores that matter are soft, qualitative, emotional, anecdotal and slow to change; they are hard to measure, hard to attribute, and there are many unknowns.”

One of the most successful approaches Feedback Ferret has seen for shifting away from rewarding the scores is to reward the follow-up communications that help to build the relationship between a brand and their customers. This is about closing the loop after the survey has been carried out.

First, make the survey customer-friendly so that it focuses on customer feedback, not an audit. That should give the customer scope to say openly how they felt about their experience. Then, following up on any issues enables problems to be nipped in the bud early on, as well as thanking customers for positive feedback.

This type of approach has demonstrated continuous rises in Net Promoter Score ratings – without any financial reward on those scores – at the same time as substantially reducing goodwill payments and calls to customer services departments.

We have many instances of clients saying the verbatim comments from customers are the most valuable part of any feedback programme – it helps them understand what needs to be done to actually improve customer satisfaction.

Find out more by downloading our White Paper “The Dangers Of Rewarding Dealers On Their Scores“.