Sometimes I wonder why people even try. Years ago I was dealing with a vendor I was forced to use as part of a companywide contract. They were awful. They showed up late, did an inadequate job and weren’t friendly to me or my staff. Complaints to my superiors did not help, as the decision was out of their hands as well. One day I got a phone call from a representative of that vendor. She was conducting a satisfaction survey of their customers. I was practically drooling when I learned of the nature of her call, and couldn’t wait to let them have it. My bubble pretty much deflated when I heard the first question.

She said, “Overall, would you say our service is Excellent, Very Good, or Good?” And she stopped. I waited a moment for the “Fair” or “Sucks the Big One” options, but they did not come. After a brief pause I said “That’s it? Those are my only options? What about Completely Incompetent, or Worst Service on Earth?” She said, “No, those are the only answer options they gave me.” And with that, the Customer Satisfaction Survey was done. We proceeded no further.

I don’t get the point of taking a survey or inquiring about satisfaction if you are not serious about hearing the answer.

I’ve noticed this shift in restaurants recently, where the server, in checking on my meal, does not ask if everything is ok, or if everything is to my satisfaction. Instead they have started to ask, “Is everything excellent?” I don’t like that. They stand there nodding suggestively and feeding me the appropriate answer, while I feel like I am supposed to respond like one of Pavlov’s dogs. Despite my aforementioned propensity for drooling, I find myself confronted with a dilemma. My “inner Bob” wants to be a jerk and ask them to “define excellent”. He wants to criticize them for this condescending and demeaning approach. He wants to let them know they should inquire about quality without providing a pre-defined answer intended to guide the subject to a pre-determined result. He wants to say “Everything was excellent up until that stupid question”. My outer Bob, however, just starts drooling like a bell has rung and mutters “Everything is fine, thank you”.

And now, of course, we have the ubiquitous customer survey on every receipt.

I was running errands just a few days before Christmas. My wife was attending a Holiday function with her father, so while I was out I stopped at a fast food restaurant for a quick dinner. I will change the name of the location to avoid getting anyone in trouble. Let’s just it was a fast food Mexican restaurant called Burrito Bell.

I never said I was very good at concealing things, I might add.

There was no one at the register as I approached, and there seemed to be a fair amount of discussion going on in the food prep area. After about a minute or so, a man, who had not seen me arrive and whose name tag indicated he was the General Manager, approached and apologized, saying “I hope we did not make you wait too long”. Being a quintessentially patient person, I told him it had not been long.

Ok, I am not a quintessentially patient person, but it had not been too long and his apology seemed more than sincere.

I ordered and paid for my dinner, and this very friendly chap presented my receipt, taking time to point out the online survey information on the back. He indicated that I could be eligible to win $500 from a random drawing if I complete the survey about my experience that night. Then he did something unexpected. He turned slightly, pointed at me with me two waste high “finger guns”, and said “I’ll give you a little clue. The better the things you say about your experience here, the better chance you’ll have of actually winning anything”.

Indeed. Happy campers get the gold, while whiners get the shaft at Burrito Bell, eh?

One of several possible scenarios was occurring here. One, we had a General Manager simply trying to assure better survey scores, and is stupid enough to believe his customers will act accordingly. Two, his customers ARE actually stupid enough to act accordingly, or three, the international chain Burrito Bell actually does weight the answers as described in a stupid attempt to curry positive feedback.

Either way, one of us described above is pretty stupid. I am just not sure which one it is.

Let us assume for a moment that neither the Burrito Bell General Manager nor I are blithering idiots. That would mean that a corporation had gone to the trouble of establishing a comprehensive customer satisfaction survey, only to undermine it by weighting all results to the positive. While “Tell us something bad, and you don’t win a prize” makes for a pretty crappy marketing slogan, it also seems very hard to fathom that a company would want to avoid negative, yet useful, information; but there is precedent for this. It has happened before.

In the book “Rude Awakening: The Rise, Fall and Struggle for Recovery of General Motors”, written in 1989 by Maryanne Keller, it is indicated that by the 1980’s, employees were forbidden to mention product quality problems on that company’s vaunted 14th floor, where the top executives resided. You could talk about a myriad of reasons why a car or truck was not selling, but it could never be attributed to product quality. That was strictly verboten, and violation of that unspoken rule could cost the perpetrator their executive washroom keys.

As the former owner of a 1979 Pontiac whose loose and rattling brake housings could be heard long before the car was seen, I would say that was a mistake.

Can we imagine, for a moment, what a “post closing” Customer Satisfaction Survey would look like for workers’ comp? We start the claim relationship at a point where no one is happy. There is a worker injured and an employer's assets are at risk. If the worker doesn’t heal quickly and perfectly, we are likely to end the relationship at a point where no one is happy. A worker is not fully restored and the employer is footing the bill. Seems like a perfect time for someone to pop by the settlement talks and ask “Is everything excellent?”

As it turns out, my Burrito Bell experience was fine. The place was clean, my food was prepared quickly, and it was good. I don’t actually take those surveys, but if I did it may be possible that my chance of winning would be greatly enhanced just by telling the truth. Imagine that. I sincerely hope that truth is what Burrito Bell is actually after.

After all, it makes no sense to ask the question if you are not truly interested in the answer.

As for my General Motors example, a personal experience with them in 1981 was so bad that I vowed to never again own one of their vehicles. I’ve maintained that vow to this day. In that situation it was clear they weren’t interested in the answer, so they never even asked the question. I was left to stew while waiting patiently for the bankruptcy I knew would ultimately befall that bloated and unresponsive bureaucracy. I just didn’t know my tax dollars would be used to bail their incompetent asses out when it happened.

I’ll be damned. It seems I just might be the stupid one after all.

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