The insanity of surveys

Recently, I took a trip to Salem, OR, and chose to stay at a La Quinta Inn. I didn’t choose it for any reason in particular. It was priced right, and the reviews online through Expedia and Trip Advisor were reasonable.

After completing my stay, I received the typical follow-up survey to rate the hotel. I figured I’d go ahead and complete the survey since things went fairly well during the visit. The rating scale was 1-10, and knowing that companies use these surveys for evaluation, I’m pretty liberal in my grading scale unless some egregious event occurs. Nearly all of my responses on the survey were between 8 and 10.

After completing the survey, I received the following email:

Survey response from La Qunita

As it turns out, I must have answered 8 to “Would you Recommend this hotel?”, which meant I would “most likely” recommend. Answers of 9 or 10 fell into the category of “definitely” recommend. There wasn’t anything wrong with the hotel that made me answer 8. Since I haven’t been to Salem before, I didn’t know if the La Quinta was above or below average compared to other properties, so I answered the question honestly.

A day or two after receiving this email, I received a call on my mobile phone during work hours asking me to call the Salem La Quinta to discuss my visit. I figured that the survey responses should have been enough, so I wasn’t interested in returning the call to discuss the subtleties of answering a questions with an 8 instead of a 9 or 10. In fact, I was particularly annoyed that they would call me during work hours to discuss such a trivial issue. So much so, that I probably won’t select this property on my next stay to the area. In other words, their over zealous outreach has likely cost them a repeat customer.

This behavior reminds of what happens when I have my car serviced at the dealership. I am bombarded when leaving with pleas of please rate us a 5 (on a five point scale) and let us know immediately if you cannot so we can fix it. Then I receive a letter in the mail days later reminding me the same in case I am called by their independent survey company. In other words, the dealership is clearly gaming the system to make sure that they are rated a 5 by all of their customers. I know for a fact that these ratings are used to punish dealerships. In other words, if they do not receive high marks, car inventory is reduced, held back, or given to dealerships with higher ratings (or who are better at gaming the system).

Customer surveys should not be used to punish people. When this happens, managers are encouraged to game the system. It defeats the purpose of the survey, which is to identify areas of improvement. Instead, La Quinta’s behavior has encouraged me to do one of the following: 1) lie on future surveys to avoid being bothered with follow up, 2) ignore the surveys, providing zero feedback, or 3) stop staying at La Quinta to avoid these situations all together. As mentioned above, after the most recent episode, I’m inclined to number 3 when I have alternative hotel options for an area.

The bottom line, customer surveys should be used as a constructive tool to identify areas for improvement and not to punish management. Otherwise, there is no point in conducting them. The results will be gamed by management and therefore rendered useless.

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