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The Elbert Files: Don’t ask


One of the more insidious spinoffs of digital technology is the customer satisfaction survey.

I regularly receive emails from merchants, mechanics, medical professionals and others I do business with asking me to rate their actions. My wife even gets them from her hair salon. 

These surveys, I should note, are separate from the emails and phone calls we receive from scammers telling us that we’ve won a new set of cooking pots, a new iPhone or a free cruise.  

Nor are these communications from Nigerian princes or Medicare “representatives” who appear to call from Iowa area codes, using names like “Steve” and “Mary,” but who have accents so thick it is nearly impossible to understand what they are offering.

My beef today is with bonafide local people and businesses. 

Often their emails ask me to share my experience on Facebook, Google, Twitter or some other digital platform, which is a tipoff that they aren’t really interested in improving service. What they really want is for me to join their army of unpaid public relations agents. 

I never do. And most of the time they should be happy I don’t, because my experiences are usually not worth repeating and would do little to help their businesses.   

The shameful truth is customer service is not what it used to be. Sadly, instead of working to improve it by making sure employees are helpful and happy, the tendency now is for managers to focus on squeezing more effort from every worker and more coin from every customer. 

That is not good for your employees or for me, your customer.   

Most surveys arrive a day or two after the service or product was purchased, when there simply has not been time for me to know if your product or service met my expectations. 

Let me give you a couple of recent examples. Both involve automobiles, and both transactions were with what I consider highly reputable local dealers. 

Ultimately, things worked out fine, but in both cases the dealerships needlessly annoyed me by sending repeated requests to complete their one-sided customer satisfaction surveys.

I say one-sided because the surveys did not include options for an honest expression of the problems I encountered. They only asked: “How good of a job did we do?” on a scale of 1-10 and “How likely are you to refer someone else to our business?” again on a scale of 1-10. 

In the first case I wasn’t happy because I took my car in at 9 a.m. for an oil change that had been scheduled more than a week in advance, and was later told at 4 p.m. that the car would not be ready that day because they didn’t get to it. 

The service department’s short shrift led me to call a manager, who is a personal friend and who assured me the work would be finished by 5 p.m., and it was. 

More recently I took my other car to a different dealer on a Friday for an oil change and a couple of other problems, one of which was resolved the following week and one of which is still pending. 

Here’s a tip for car dealers, medical professionals and all others who think that customers know immediately how good a job they did. 

We don’t. 

A day or two after the service was provided is not enough time to know whether the job you did was adequate or not. More than once I’ve had mechanics who failed to put all the parts back together properly, with one result being a broken belt a couple of weeks later; another time a wheel nearly fell off.

The same applies for dental and other medical procedures. Patients won’t know for at least a week or more, after the swelling goes down, whether your procedure worked. 

So don’t bug me with satisfaction surveys until at least a couple of weeks after we do business.   

Better yet, don’t ask at all. 

I have a hard time believing customer satisfaction surveys tell you anything you don’t already know, assuming you are paying attention.


Dave Elbert

Dave Elbert is a columnist for Business Record.

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