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Can we over-pursue customer satisfaction?

Is it possible to ask our customers if they’re satisfied . . . and then put them on the defensive for their opinions? Absolutely, and it’s not good contends Sean Silverthorne in his post: “Stop Badgering Me with Customer Satisfaction” for Harvard Business on bnet.

Silverthorne writes: “I never thought I’d complain about a company trying to bathe me in customer satisfaction, but the time has come.” He goes on to describe a series of contacts by his car repair shop after getting service there.

A week later, a customer satisfaction survey arrived via e-mail from the repair shop and Silverthorne took it seriously – he wanted to give them honest input. So, he did the survey in which he graded most of the people and services between eight and 10 (10 highest.) But, he rated the cashier who took his $1,800 check only four. “It was closing time. She was obviously eager to get out of work and I didn’t even get a smile. She was doing her job, nothing more. That’s a four – a little less than adequate – in my book,” he added.

He also rated the service advisor a seven. Again, he did his job but not much more. Comparably, a previous service advisor had pointed out a 10 percent discount coupon Silverthorne was eligible to get. Completing the survey, he sent it off thinking the repair shop would be glad to receive his input. Think again!

First, the service advisor sent him a note: “I received your survey with a score of 68.8 out of 100. If you have a chance, could you please elaborate on a few questions for me. This will help myself and the dealership improve our process.”

]Seemed like a fair request, so Silverthorne spent 15 minutes replying to his questions. But, he also included an excellent point: namely, he assumed the data would be used by management in private and was surprised the people rated were informed and allowed to contact him.

You guessed it – an e-mail from the cashier’s supervisor arrived next. He took five minutes to reply to that one. Yup – shortly after, an e-mail from the area manager arrived! So, he answered that one, too. Overall, Silverthorne figures he gave 30 minutes of his time, faced a little embarrassment and has decided he’ll never fill out their survey again. Moreover, he finally concluded: “I don’t really think the survey was about making me happy; it was about the dealer being able to report good customer sat numbers back to corporate.”

Silverthorne’s story raises some questions worth consideration by all dealers who survey customer satisfaction. For example, should employees know who sends in the survey? Should they be allowed to directly contact the customer? When and how should a follow-up survey be used, if ever? Is that forcing the customer to defend his opinions? Are there really any universal CSI benchmarks for rendering judgments?  Won’t everyone’s opinion of satisfactory service be a little different?  Out of respect for the customer, should there be strict limits on conducting any satisfaction surveys?

When is enough, enough?


3 comments on “Can we over-pursue customer satisfaction?

  1. Full Sail

    I’m not surprised.

    Most companies lack the ability and whereall for owners/management to full understand their values, mission statement and goals and effectively communicate those to the employess and staff. Their lack of understanding prohibits the “service” tech and cashier from being empowered to truely communicate value to any customer. The blame should be placed at the feet of management. If the employees don’t embrace the vision of the company then it is impossible for them to feel as if their behavior and actions matter. The simple step of the service tech to take a few moments to explain what repairs were made and then LISTEN and UNDERSTAND if the customer was informed would have made all the difference. If the cashier had taken a few moments to explain (as much as she was knowledgable) the bill, I have no doubt that this customer would have left felling much better about spending $1,800. But, the blame is in management not being a leader to the most important shareholders in his organization…his people.

  2. Jim

    Well said Norm. Too many manufacturers are guilty of pushing too hard on their dealers to force buyers to respond positively to surveys no matter what. Dealers are actually coached as to how to push their customers into doing this.
    Maybe a simpler survey, without all the in depth details, would be more in order; not to mention more likely to get a quick and honest response.
    After all, what we really need to know is whether or not we are treating our buyers properly; and if not, what we need to do to fix it.
    In my own case, I rarely fill out a 3 page multiple choice questonnaire; but a single page with a few questions is never a problem.

  3. Chad

    Continuing with the auto dealer example, after getting my truck serviced, I always get a phone call with a pre-recorded message from the service manager. I find it annoying and impersonal. If the service manager really cares, he should call me and talk to me.

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