I recently purchased a 2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid (one of the best-built cars I have owned – but that is for another blog). With the recent spike in gas prices, the supply for Fusion Hybrids has been low in the Minneapolis market. I purchased the car from a dealership I have no connection with – it’s not near my house nor will it be where I have my car serviced. I purchased from that particular dealership simply because they had the car I wanted.
After the transaction was completed, the salesman pulled out a sample of the Ford survey I would receive in the mail. Then, he did the same thing that usually happens to me when buying a big-ticket item: He walked me through the survey, coached me on what the questions were intended to evaluate and told me, “If there is anything that you cannot give a perfect score on, please let me know beforehand and I will fix it.”
This time, however, was a bit different. After the salesperson gave me the regular spiel he implored me to give him a perfect score on the survey because his performance bonus is based directly on the results of the survey. He went on to say, “If you don’t give me a perfect score – even because the bathrooms are dirty – I don’t get my bonus.”
Yikes! That’s a lot of pressure, especially because the dealership was far from luxurious. I left the dealership feeling pressure to give this guy a favorable “performance review,” as if I were qualified to do so? I only spent two hours at the dealership and didn’t feel I had enough interaction with him to merit that kind of authority.
A few weeks later the survey came in the mail. I put off responding to it because I wasn’t sure how I was going to answer. The fact of the matter is that my overall experience didn’t warrant high marks for the dealership. So do I give a perfect score and help the guy with his bonus or do I answer it truthfully? I chose to answer it truthfully. Being in the marketing research industry, I wanted Ford to know my true experience more than I wanted the salesman to receive his bonus.
This situation raised a number questions about the customer satisfaction survey process. How many bad responses is Ford receiving just because the customer was informed to respond a certain way? Are top-box scores given because of the experience or because the respondent doesn’t want to disappoint the salesperson? Is Ford (or any company) spending enough time coaching employees on how to administer the survey? Is this what happens when research is taken out of the hands of researchers?
It seems that something has to change. How can manufacturers safeguard against this compromise of survey integrity?