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It’s time to rethink transactional surveys

Jim Tincher Jim Tincher 04/08/2015

Greensboro_MarriottAs a CX profession we’re addicted to surveys.  We want to know more about our customers, and a survey is our first response.

A survey by itself is neither good nor bad.  But what we forget is the unintended side effects of our surveys.  Remember – how you survey your customers is another part of your customer experience.  It does no good to learn how you’re doing if the result of your survey is a worse customer experience.

What Did They Want?

Take my recent stay at the Greensboro Marriott.  It’s a nice hotel, and I probably would have given a 9 or 10 on their survey.  Until I received this email (emphasis theirs – not mine):


On behalf of the Greensboro Marriott staff, I would like to thank you for choosing to stay with us on your recent trip to beautiful Greensboro.

I am writing to you in hopes to gain feedback regarding your recent stay.  We work very hard to accommodate every request and exceed our guest’s expectations.  We also pride ourselves on providing our guest the true spirit of Southern Hospitality. If at any time we fall short to create that unique and exciting experience, or you could not say that you had a fantastic stay, please let me know so I may address these concerns not only with you but with my staff as well.

Marriott has created new guidelines regarding our guest satisfaction surveys. This new survey has been modified to make it more convenient and less time consuming for our guests. One new exciting feature is that you can now take the survey with your smart phone. With recent changes on our new electronic survey entails, now only 9’s and 10’s are considered a passing score, because we have decided to raise the bar even higher, in hopes to ensure that all of our guest’s expectations are exceeded.

May I also ask if there was anyone that you would recognize for a job well done?

Once again, thank you for choosing to stay with us and I hope we have the pleasure of welcoming you back again in the future.

Best Regards,

Terry Harrelson, General Manager, Greensboro Marriott Downtown

This is the unintended side effect of our customer experience efforts. We place a lot of pressure on our front-line staff to receive high marks, so they game the system.

What else can we do?

First of all, I don’t expect surveys to go away. But they shouldn’t be the only way to measure how we’re doing.  Operational data needs to rule – the surveys should just provide color commentary to help us understand the operational data is what it is. Your business doesn’t rise or fall based on survey scores. It’s the true experience that matters.

Second, be very careful about tying front-line staff’s bonuses to survey scores.  That’s when they game.

Third, base compensation on operational data that can’t easily be gamed.  This general manager should worry more about whether he’s making me want to return than what score I give.  But I suspect his compensation plan focuses more on the survey score.

Last, to help understand which operational data really matters, look to your journey maps.  Then focus on those scores, such as ease of registration, than this overall score, as they’re harder to gain.

That’s the best way to kick of survey habit.

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