Surveys in the hands of salesmen

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?

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5 Responses to Surveys in the hands of salesmen

  1. Don’t let sales people anywhere near the survey process. I think this is a shameful process – for the very reasons you point out.

  2. Every car dealer does this (Toyota, Honda, etc.) and it’s starting to creep its way into other areas. Grocery Store has a big sign at check out “We strive for 5 stars” and then when giving the receipt basically shouting at you to give me 5s as our stores future depends on it (gee, I don’t want them to go away, I’d better give them 5 stars) Horrible practice, not going away anytime soon.

  3. Annie Pettit says:

    I’ve been in the exact same position, in my case with a vacation as opposed to a car. One more reason to keep marketing and marketing research separate. It’s a slippery slope.

  4. Ann says:

    It’s unfortunate for all parties involved. No real data is collected, the customer feels pressure, and the salesman is in a difficult position.

    I was in a similar position as the salesman – as a software trainer, my classes filled out surveys about the class in its entirety, not just my performance, yet I was rated for raises or marked for reprimands based on the entire score, including things like the facilities – most of which were cared for by a party that wasn’t even my employer. I wanted them to rate inferior things truthfully so they could be fixed (well, known about), but when it’s at the expense of your pocketbook or being called to the carpet, that’s a hard call to make.

  5. Steve Quirk says:

    Thanks everyone for your comments. I wish firms would not even mention the survey at all. If a company and it’s employess are doing their job well, is there a need to mention the survey? If they aren’t meeting expections they will still hear about it via the survey results. I also wish I had received a telephone survey or some sort of moderated interview. I feel I could have given better feedback than the paper survey and Ford would have collected better data about my experience and satisfaction. I realize this is not always feasible and cost-effective.