business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Author Garrison Keillor described the virtues of his imaginary Lake Wobegon as the place where: "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average."

Keillor was away ahead of his time because in this age of grade inflation everybody is above average including anyone and everyone in customer service.

In the last month I have twice brought in cars for servicing and twice—at totally different locations—got the exact same request. I was told I would soon get an online evaluation and it would really only matter if I gave the facility the highest ratings of 9 or 10.

I’ve gotten similar requests elsewhere. In short the message is this: please rate us really, really highly or don’t rate us at all.

Talk about a great way to gauge customer satisfaction…well, this isn’t it.

As a parent I’ve suffered through the years of grade inflation and trophies for all. While I appreciated my children getting recognized for their efforts, I also bemoaned the practice because it deprived them of any sense of accomplishment or need for improvement. If everything everyone does is special, then how do we actually know when anything really is special?

But that’s behind me now. My kids are grown and have quickly come to realize that the world doesn’t applaud the mere act of showing up. In the best of circumstances, good work, hustle, caring and innovation get rewarded. Attendance never does.

Yet this isn’t a soapbox moment. I think this practice of service employees urging customers to give extraordinary ratings is a problem that business need be aware of and stop immediately.

First off, as a customer the entire process is off-putting. When I get this request for only the top grades, I hear it as: “Don’t give us a bad grade because those don’t matter.” In other words, you only want my feedback if my feedback is glowing, when I’d argue that just the opposite would be more insightful. Ask me for input on where my expectations were left unmet and you might learn something.
Second, it makes me wonder what message leadership sent to these employees because at times the request for “a 9 or 10” is amplified by the desire to demonstrate excellence to management. Yet what kind of management would see an ocean of only the highest grades and find any value in that?

If the ratings are to be believed, the front-line crew must be simply blowing away sales and profit projections and killing the competition. Anything less has to raise endless red flags.

Instead of getting any kind of instructive or insightful feedback it’s like getting an endless parade of ribbons for “participation.” Only rather than delighting small children, these prizes could mislead a business into thinking its customers are far more satisfied than they really are.

What makes this grade grubbing so silly today is that consumers are now permanently linked to countless avenues to provide authentic feedback. Social web sites like Yelp and the like aren’t perfect gauges, but they are far more effective than response cards from consumers pushed to grant inflated scores.

That is ... if you actually want feedback.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
KC's View: