Sunday, October 24, 2010

High Five

Have you noticed the recent development in customer service?  I’m sure you have heard something like this:

“You might get a phone call asking you about your satisfaction with our service today.  Is there any reason you can’t give me the highest score of 5?”

There are other versions of that conversation, some referring you to the web to complete a survey, some asking you three different ways if they answered all your questions and then asking if there is anything else they can do for you, explaining you might be surveyed.

I have known for some time that this was common practice with a few service related companies but it is expanding rapidly.  Companies implement these ratings in order to improve the service to customers.  They believe it allows them to give employees incentives to do better and to discipline or “weed out” employees that are not performing up to expectations.  In theory, I would support that and I have seen it work.

I used to hate dealing with a certain cell phone carrier.  The customer service in store and on the phone was horrible and I was considering terminating my contract for that reason alone.  I complained to a family member that works for the company and he shared with me that they had started a rating system as described above.  The kicker . . . if they receive less than a 5 on a customer survey, they fail.  If they fail a certain number of times, they are terminated.  And their plan worked.  I no longer dread my interactions with employees in the store or on the phone and I have happily stayed with the company.

But there are many companies using this plan now and I have begun to dread the questions at the end of every interaction where they explain the survey.  I call it the Can You Give Me A Five? conversation.  It drives me crazy.

A few weeks ago I was in Atlanta opening a bank account with my daughter.  The woman that helped us was completely competent and did her job.  Her interactions were awkward at best and she seemed a little stressed.  She was friendly but just seemed naturally awkward or uncomfortable talking to people.  At the end of our time, she shared the following:

“You may receive a phone call asking about how I handled your business.  If you don’t give me a 5, I fail.”

I was surprised she phrased it that way.  Again, she was kind of awkward.  I said something like “Wow, that’s harsh”.  She went on to explain their system and that if they receive 2 fails, they are terminated.  She shared that they get the results once a week on Fridays and that one of the girls in the office gets physically ill on Thursday nights, worried about how she will do.  She asked if we were happy with the way she handled our business.  What the heck was I supposed to say at that point?  I just said “Yes”.

My issue with this whole thing is the fact that I never give the highest or lowest scores on surveys unless I really feel it’s warranted.  I must be terribly impressed or unimpressed to give those ratings.

I think this puts the employee and the customer in such an awkward and unfair position.  Companies are putting employees in the position to ask for the highest rating.  But what if I feel, although they did nothing wrong whatsoever, they don’t deserve it because it was not exceptional?  The companies are putting me in the position of deciding whether or not that employee should keep their job.  As a result, the survey is not effective if people are not rating service accurately and it becomes worthless.

A customer’s rating isn’t always about how the job is done.  It could be about the way an employee looks, what country they are from, what kind of mood the customer is in, or some other uncontrollable factor on which people base their opinions of others.

I would not have given the woman at the bank a 5.  As I said, it was awkward but she adequately did the job so I would probably have given her a 3 or 4.  I would have hoped that her supervisors could coach her into feeling more comfortable with people but it may just be a personality trait that cannot be changed.  But it would not have, in any way, caused me to not return to that bank.  In fact, if not for her explanation of the survey, I would have completely forgotten the interaction with her that day.  And I would have returned to that bank and branch as I needed to as a loyal customer.

What do you think about this practice?
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Joy Page Manuel said...

I loved the paragraph you wrote on how the rating may depend on the customer's mood or the employee's ethnic background and other such 'irrelevant' factors. I completely agree that this system is totally unscientific and unreliable. (I'm trying not to use the word 'stupid' here). How can a company terminate its employees just based on such a system, given the hard economic environment we are in now?? If I were in customer service and had to go through this process, I can see myself getting stressed over this as well. I'm naturally introverted and I'm Asian. What if I encounter racists? What if I'm in a business that exposes me to highly stressed and highly strung customers all the time? Should I lose my job even though I know I am competent, know my business, but I'm just not somebody's 'type' or 'preference' because of my skin color or accent or other physical features???

I have no 'mercy' for customer service ppl who absolutely suck, like when they're rude and unbelievably clueless. But when they're just 'in between' or average, like you, it would be difficult to always give a '5' as well. But with the compassion factor, with the knowledge that someone was 'okay' and did her/his best in giving me the service I needed, I could see myself giving '5s'.

Thanks for sharing this! It's good to know.

Laura B said...

I am with you, Tere; a top score should be for exceptional, over-and-above service. I would give someone who gave me perfectly fine, above-average service a 4, not a 5; but I don't think it's fair for a company to terminate employees for being 80%, not 100%. I like that it's encouraging employees to put forth their best service skills possible, but it's still not fair. It's basing a person's entire livelihood on one subjective opinion of their performance. Hopefully, this practice will backfire and companies will find a better way to evaluate their staff.

Ruth D~ said...

This reminds me a little of kids who would say to me at report card time, "Mrs. D, my parents say if I don't get an A in math, they'll make me quit baseball." Or something else. I never let it influence my grading, but I hated to know.

Andie, aka Andemonium said...

I totally agree. I've been encountering this a lot lately, too. In fact, I've spent numerous hours on the phone with my cable company in the past month and a half, and each time we have the conversation about rating from 1-10 at the end. BUT...unlike what you're encountering, I'm actually asked "Based on this phone call, what would you think you'd rate me?" Um...well...uh...10? But I'm just saying that, because I don't want to get into the fact that I'm frustrated with the company, I hate the script you have to use, you lack personality, etc. Of course, I never take the surveys so it doesn't really matter. But it is SO awkward to be asked something like that, and I hate it!

And that's another thing - if the company is relying on these ratings...why shouldn't they take into account that some people are just assholes and treat ALL customer service reps (store clerks, waitresses, etc.) like crap? They would never give anyone a perfect score because of their nature, whether that rep was the best in the business or not. Or that I was put in a bad mood because this is the 5th time I've called about this issue, so no matter what, I'm not going to like talking to the person on the other end of the phone? So if I don't have the self control to realize that I'm just frustrated and it's not her fault, she gets fired? That's craziness.

But also, I think customer service across the board, in all industries, has gone down the tubes in recent years. ESPECIALLY the food service industry (or maybe it's just in L.A.) So something has to be done, right? If this works, whether it's unfair to the employee or not, I guess makes for a better experience for customers (like you said about the cell carrier). So how much do I care about those strangers' jobs, vs. how much I care about my experience in dealing with a company I give tons of money to? That's tough.