Stop Badgering Me with Customer Satisfaction!

Last Updated Jul 7, 2010 7:42 PM EDT

I never thought I'd complain about a company trying to bathe me in customer satisfaction, but the time has come. And the problem comes from an unlikely source: my local car repair shop.

Earlier this year I had brought my car in for a repair, and they did their usual nice job getting my rumbling ride back on the road. The trouble started a week later, when I received a customer satisfaction survey in my e-mail box.

On a scale of 1- 10, 10 being the highest, I graded most of the people and services I received between 8 and 10. But I rated the receptionist who took my payment a 4 -- it was closing time, she was obviously eager to get out of work, and I didn't even get a smile for my $1,800 check. She was doing her job, nothing more. That's a 4 -- a little less than adequate -- in my book.

I gave my "service adviser", the chap who writes up your trouble and calls you when the car is ready, a 7. Again, he did his job, was a little personable, but nothing more. (My previous adviser, for example, had pointed out a 10% off coupon I was eligible to receive.) I also gave a 5 on the question of whether I received an appointment on my day of choosing (I had to wait three days).

I hit the submit button, privately thanking the company for being so diligent to get my opinion. Then the problems started.

My adviser sent 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."

I took 15 minutes replying to his queries. I also expressed surprise that the people I rated were informed of my grades and allowed to contact me -- I had assumed this info was used by the dealership management in private.

Then I received a similar e-mail from the boss of the cashier, the person I graded a 4. That was a 5 minute e-mail reply, and hope on my part that they didn't drag her out behind the garage for a sound thrashing.

A few days later I received this e-mail from the area manager. "Your recent survey feedback indicated that we may not have delivered on all commitments during your recent experience." I was asked to answer if the team had contacted me personally to resolve any problems.

I'm sure many of you reading this would be impressed by the effort my dealer was going through to ensure my satisfaction. But I had to spend more than 30 minutes taking the poll and handling the follow-up inquiries, as well as undergo a little embarrassment. What's more, I don't really think survey was about making me happy; it was about the dealer being able to report good customer sat numbers back to corporate.

One thing I learned, I certainly won't be filling out their survey again.

Tell me, am I nuts about complaining about this? Isn't there a less intrusive way to make sure customers are satisfied?

(Frustration image by Zach Klein, CC 2.0)

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.