The Problem with Many Customer Experience Measurement Approaches

By: Michael Allenson

“It happens all the time.”Hotel Manager Note V2

Recently, I stayed in an upscale chain hotel that I often book when traveling.  when I entered my room, I found a card with a note from the hotel manager:

“My name is Karen M., the General Manager of the hotel.  Whether you are here on a planned journey or something unexpected, I want to make sure your experience exceeds all expectations.  My hope is that you will contact me directly to discuss or reflect on your stay at our hotel.”

The start of the note is really welcoming.  The GM wants to make sure my experience exceeds my expectations.  The second part is a little awkward.  Why does she hope I will contact her to discuss or reflect on my stay?  Is it to see how things are going for me?  Is it to help me if I run into any issues or problems? Or maybe it’s so she can identify any issues and continually improve the quality of the property and performance of her team?  Is it because she wants me to come back the next time I’m in town? My guess, and I don’t think I am alone in this assumption, is it’s none of these based on the rest of her note.

“Very soon you may receive a survey opportunity regarding your experience at the property.  If you can’t mark excellent for every question, I want to know about it.  As our guest, your feedback is central to our success, and we appreciate you taking time out of your visit to let us know how we are performing.”

Oh, I get it now! The reason she is writing the note and the upshot of her concern is not whether my experience has exceeded expectations, nor is she trying to address any issues that arise.  She wants to make sure I give her excellent ratings on the customer satisfaction survey because her bonus depends on it.  Sure, maybe she wants to make improvements too, but based on my experience, this approach defeats the whole purpose of what the customer experience measurement program and the attached incentives are trying to achieve.  Customers often do not take kindly to motives that don’t seem pure.

When I mentioned it to several of my colleagues, their response was “It happens all the time.”

This reminds me of an old story about two up and coming comedians.  One met the manager of the comedy club and told him all about how funny he was and his ability to make people laugh.  The second one told the manager a joke that made him laugh hysterically.  Guess which one convinced the comedy club manager he was funny?

The best way to show customers of a hotel, a bank, a car company, a restaurant, etc. that you care about them and want to exceed their expectations is by doing it, not by saying it and certainly not by making customers feel like they can’t or shouldn’t provide feedback on a survey if they think things were less than excellent.  In fact, for those who have experienced problems, this approach may make them angrier than they would have been otherwise.

There is nothing wrong with mentioning that you have a survey process or asking customers to participate in order to provide valuable feedback, especially if as a manager you want the unvarnished truth, both good and bad.  However, once you start mentioning that you want certain scores, you begin to cross the line. While there is no overt pressure in this note (there is plenty of overt pressure out there too), it introduces the idea that the score is important to the manager and makes me question her motives.

What should companies do?

  • Make it clear that any communication to customers regarding survey ratings and efforts to “chase” scores will result in disqualification from the bonus/variable compensation
  •  Design measurement and bonus systems to reflect larger business objectives.

Focus on three outcomes and align your incentive programs accordingly.

  1. Was our reputation protected?  Hopefully there were no major issues or problems or if there were any, the issues were resolved appropriately.
  2. Did the service/product deliver on our promise?  This is sort of a minimal threshold.  If a team isn’t delivering on the promise made to customers, the foundation of the brand is undermined.
  3. Were customers’ expectations exceeded?  It’s hard to grow a brand organically without continually doing things to impress customers, especially in industries that are mature, with well established competitors like upscale hotels.

So, why do companies tolerate chasing a score that seemingly “happens all the time”?  Some may think it’s ok.  Some think that simply getting great scores will result in business growth.  Others may be unaware or blind to the extent that score chasing is occurring.

Companies need to align measurement and reward programs to encourage their unit managers and teams to deliver awesome, expectation-exceeding service, instead of telling customers that’s what they do.

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3 Comments on “The Problem with Many Customer Experience Measurement Approaches”

  • Gary Selinger February 13th, 2014 2:07 pm

    Couldn’t agree more Michael! I run into this ‘all the time’ — most often at the Ford dealer where my car is serviced. Over the years I’ve seen them try several techniques to ensure they get all 10’s if I get a survey. They’ve used ‘pre-filled out’ surveys (“if your survey won’t look like this, let us know before you leave!”), simple notes taped to the counter explaining the survey and that they want all 10’s, and, most recently, just mentioned as I was leaving, “hey, take care of me if you get a survey”).

  • Julie Williams February 13th, 2014 2:14 pm

    While I have had similar experiences to the one my colleague describes (autombile service maangers are the worst), there may be another way to interpret the manager’s note. This is an a upscale hotel and most upscale brands are desparate for ways to develop a dialogue with their customers. Is it possible that this outreach is about customer relationship management rather than arm twisting? There is no obvvious quid pro quo mentioned (like the free oil change the service manager dangled). And is it possbile that mentioning “excellent” scores is the way the manager choses to tell customers about the high standards to which the brand holds itself?

    Alas, Michael is probably right and I naively wrong. What’s sad about that is the cynicism with which customers are judging customer experience efforts. Many–most–are legitmate and sincere. It’s a challnging environment in which to be a customer experience practitioner.

  • Michael Allenson February 13th, 2014 2:23 pm

    Julie- I totally agree that this is not an egregious approach to score chasing, however, if the manager has pure motives, she has no reason to mention the survey and getting “excellent” scores.

    The manager could just say, “We want to make every experience great. If you have any issues, suggestions or complaints please contact me. I’d love to hear from you. I’d also love to hear if any of my staff are doing exceptional work and should be recognized. Thanks so much for visiting us!”

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