Soliciting Customer Service Feedback: Motives Matter

Ginger Conlon, over at The 1 to 1 Blog,  writes about an excellent midtown New York meal tainted by a flawed customer service feedback process.

When the check arrived it came with two comment cards, encouraging our feedback. [But] the only way to give your feedback was to give the card back to the server. I could walk up and hand it to the host; but perhaps I would like to have mailed it in? There was no address (or email address)…

… if I was to have given negative feedback (I didn’t, the food and service were terrific) and drop that card back in with the check, what’s to stop the server from tossing it in the trash? If this restaurant, or any other establishment, really wants feedback – good or bad – it should make it easy and comfortable to give it.

In this particular case, I think the comment card was really more of a way to get satisfied customers to opt in to the company’s email list.

Agreed, Ginger, and let me pile on.  Not only is this a bad service evaluation process; it also ruined your dining experience (badly enough that you’re blogging about it, and I’m amplifying it).  It made you think about:

a. a mildly uncomfortable and totally unnecessary interaction;
b. the possibilty of gaming the system
c. the (possibly nefarious) motives of the restaurant.

And the worst of these is the last.

Let’s go from bad to worse, to worst.

Bad:  when was the last time you filled out a paper service evaluation form at a hotel, airline, restaurant? Probably only when something went really wrong?  Data quality with such low and skewed participation rates is low.

Worse: such low participation rates cause cynicism in customers and employees alike. Bad data can’t support quality decisions.

But the worst—bad motives—can sound very much like good service improvement theory. The theory goes:

• Carefully measure what’s wrong
• Figure out the desired new behaviors
• Reward people on the basis of improved data.

This is management 101, right?  Tell people what you want, then reward them for doing it.  (It’s also Pavlov 101 and Skinner 101, but never mind…)

Unfortunately, when you put such weight on the rewards, you can ruin the motivation for good service. It becomes about money, not pride.

The really good waiters, servers, etc. know how to subordinate the goals to the process—they succeed in spite of, not because of, those following service improvement theory.

But its worst, this approach produces begging. “May I put you down as having received excellent customer service on this call?”  Try saying “no” next time and see what happens.

Here’s what happened with me.

CSR: May I say I provided excellent customer service for you today?
ME: No.
CSR: But—what did I do wrong?
ME: You didn’t do anything wrong, but you weren’t able to solve my problem.
CSR: (Sputtering) But, that wasn’t my fault; it’s the system.
ME: Whatever.  I still didn’t get my problem solved, so I didn’t receive “excellent customer service.”
CSR: But I tried.
ME: Thank you. But is this about your trying, or about my results?
CSR: But this could hurt my ratings and cost me!

This is a bad customer service feedback process, providing bad data.  It ruins the service as well.  And it creates cynicism about bad motives.

But when it turns decent employees into pathetic beggars—abjectly beseeching the very customers they are supposed to be serving—then the process has achieved something truly twisted and dehumanizing.

And all in the name of measurement and reward.

Hey Ginger—any reason not to provide the name of the restaurant?  It’ll be our little blow for improved service analysis.

8 replies
  1. Ginger Conlon
    Ginger Conlon says:


    You make a great point about "be careful what you measure" or you may drive behaviors that detract from instead of improve the customer experience. In fact, we recently wrote an article about this, called "Is Your Compensation Strategy Costing You Customers?" (

    To answer your question, I guess I didn’t put the restaurant’s name because the food and service were good; I assumed that it’s the management company that insists on the comment cards. But, hey, since you asked: It’s Dos Caminos (on Third Ave in NYC), which is owned/operated by B.R. Guest Restaurants.

    Now my question to you: What happened next on your call? And what company was it? 

  2. Charlie (Green)
    Charlie (Green) says:

    Thanks for the info Ginger, and thanks for the second article reference.

    Re my phone call, I’m pretty sure it was Verizon (though it might have been AT&T), and it ended with the CSR whining and me disgusted.  Not a good ending for anyone, including Verizon. 

    Good article on "compensation costing you customers."  I’d add one broader point.  If a company’s first instinct in designing execution programs is to adopt an incentive compensation system, you’ve killed customer service right off the bat.  If people do things mainly because they get paid for them, you lose the serving-for-its-own-sake mentality that makes all greater servers great. 

    Your article suggests that if you don’t hire good service oriented people in the first place, it’s all for nought.  True, and important, but not the whole story.  You can hire great customer service people and proceed to contaminate them and pollute their natural inclinations by turning it all to money.

    Incentive schemes should make comp a natural outcome of doing the right thing–and not let them be perceived as the reason for doing the right thing, or the sole basis of evaluation for doing the right thing.

    Motives matter.

  3. Charlie (Green)
    Charlie (Green) says:

    KJ, I’ve seen promo and reviews on a few of them, but haven’t read any of them–hence I don’t really have standing to comment on them.

    But that’s why we have other readers.

    Please, chime in and give KJ the benefits of your wisdom.


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