Nothing is less sincere than our mode of asking and giving advice. – Francois de la Rochefoucauld (1613 – 1680)
Actually, that quote above the title block is only partial. Here's the entire quote:
Nothing is less sincere than our mode of asking and giving advice. He who asks seems to have a deference for the opinion of his friend, while he only aims to get approval of his own and make his friend responsible for his action. And he who gives advice repays the confidence supposed to be placed in him by a seemingly disinterested zeal, while he seldom means anything by his advice but his own interest or reputation. – Francois de la Rochefoucauld (1613 – 1680)
It's with that context in mind that I'd like to discuss so-called “customer satisfaction” surveys.
If you use Microsoft Teams, you've certainly seen this pop up after ending a call:
If you give them 5 stars, you see this:
Aw, that's nice. However, if you give them 4 stars (or anything below 5 stars), you get this:
If you click on one of the “Audio”, “Video” or “Presenting” links (I selected “Video”), you get this:
And after checking the box that best describes your problem, you get this:
TRANSLATION: “Thanks for the feedback! It's been saved somewhere for someone to look at someday – maybe.”
The most cynical (or paranoid) interpretation of this is that they are trying to train their customers to either give them the highest possible rating or skip giving feedback altogether. “If you give us 5 stars, you can move on with your day. Anything less than 5 stars, and we're giving you work to do.”
A kinder interpretation is that they didn't really think through their data collection method, as it's clearly flawed and unlikely to give them anything useful.
It should be noted that I'm not picking on Microsoft here (and if I were, they would hardly care). Their feedback collection has actually improved recently by at least trying to make it easier to get something useful from their users.
More often than not, the only option after giving fewer than 5 stars is something like: “Oh, we're sorry to hear that. Please type a short essay into the box below explaining your problem and NOBODY will get back to you.”
But it's not just online. At my favourite grocery store (which I won't name), every cashier has started asking me “Did you find everything you were looking for today?”
If I reply “Yes”, the cashier will respond with something like “That's good to hear!”
If I reply “No, I needed black beans for a recipe, but you're all out”, the response is something like “Oh, I'm sorry to hear that.”
That's it. End of conversation.
If I were more of a jerk, I would ask them “Aren't you going to write that down? Don't you want to know the brand and size I was looking for? Aren't you going to call a supervisor to talk to me about it?”
Of course, I'm not going to do that – the cashiers are just doing what they've been asked to do. I imagine this extra little task at the end of each transaction opens them up to abuse from people who ARE jerks and don't understand that the cashier has zero control over stock availability in the store.
Now when I get asked this question, I just say “Yes”, regardless of whether it's true or not.
Okay, so now that I've done my complaining, I'll propose a couple of nominal solutions:
- If you don't care about my feedback, don't ask. I'm actually being sincere here. I find not being asked preferable to feigning interest in my experience for the sake of having an interaction, while making it quite obvious at the end of the interaction that you really don't give a shit.
- If you actually do value the feedback, then do SOMETHING to show it other than saying “Thanks for that, now leave me alone.”
Just spitballing here, but in the MS Teams example, what if they linked you to a simple support page that describes the most common causes of the problem you indicated with some quick fixes to try?
Or at a minimum, they could tell you exactly what happens to your feedback after you hit Submit and send a follow-up message whenever they've actually done something on their end to address the problem you raised.
As for the retail store example, the most obvious sincere remedies for a customer expressing dissatisfaction at the checkout (offering to switch to a higher priced brand, providing a discount on the order or a gift card for a future trip, etc.) are all admittedly very costly and/or rife with the potential for abuse. But could you at least have a tally sheet next to the cash register where a cashier can record which department is logging the most customer complaints to see if there's an operational issue?
Or better yet, provide me with an app on my phone that allows me to scan and report the empty shelf for the item I wanted to purchase. Then you could follow up with me electronically later to let me know when it's available, maybe send me a discount coupon for it, etc.
Look, every customer feedback mechanism has its flaws, but if you're just fishing for compliments (or punishing customers for lodging complaints), then you're not really collecting any useful information anyhow, no matter how “cheap and easy” it was to do.
And when a customer gives you negative feedback without any follow-up, then that's just one additional thing you've done to annoy them today.