Can't Get No Satisfaction
My satisfaction level was adequate-until they started measuring it.
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This is a story about a car, a white Volkswagen Golf, standard shift, to be exact. It is not a story about how the car is a lemon (it's a dream) nor about the sleaziness of the salesman (at least not entirely). It is about the unsatisfactory way my satisfaction was measured.

The story goes like this: I want a white Volkswagen Golf, standard shift. The dealership doesn't have one, but after a week's wait, the salesman calls in triumph. He has located just the car I want.

He calls at 6:00 p.m. and begs me to come and sign the paperwork immediately. "Today is the last day of the month," he explains. "If you sign today, I can get my bonus right away." Nothing like putting the customer first, is there? I forgo dinner and spend a few hours at the dealership.

Driving Off
The next day I take possession. As I sign the last papers, he explains how the customer satisfaction survey will work. The survey consists of 10 questions, including "Was your salesman knowledgeable?" "Did your salesman explain the car's features?" "Did your salesman introduce you to the service department?" "How would you rate your salesman's service overall?" As if talking to a slightly slow child, my salesman coaches me on how to respond, repeating, "All you have to say is `Yes, Yes, Yes, excellent.'" The survey must be filled out immediately, under his eyes (with the portrait of his wife and young son staring down at me). And, he says, someone will be calling later to ask the same questions all over again.

My salesman tightens his grip on my sympathy by explaining that his bonus is based on my answers. His family portrait jumps before my eyes. Who am I to sow discord in that happy family? I uneasily check the "Yes" boxes and then the "Excellent" box under his watchful supervision. I do muster up the courage, however, when I come to "Did your salesman explain the car's features?" to point out that he hasn't. "Oh, don't worry," he says, "I'll do that when we go outside."

He seems in a hurry. He asks hastily if I know the service department. I do, because I brought my old car to be serviced here. So we can dispense with that formality. Once outside, in 30 seconds he explains how to use the key to open the doors and start the car. That takes care of "Did your salesman explain the car's features?" As I drive away, the salesman waves, repeating his mantra, "Yes, Yes, Yes, Excellent."

A few days later, the phone rings and a bored-sounding woman informs me that she would like to ask me a few questions about my buying experience. She starts in with the, by now, familiar refrain.

"Yes, Yes, Yes, Excellent" echoes in my brain. But this time, as I answer each question, I try to embellish on the monosyllabic answer. I say, "He may have been knowledgeable, but I knew more than he did." "Yes, he explained the car's features-in 30 seconds." "I didn't need an introduction to the service department." "Overall, the salesman seemed to be focusing on his needs rather than mine." But the woman isn't interested in my qualitative evaluations. All she wants to do is fill in her boxes and move on. "I'm just completing this survey," she says. "There's no space to write down additional comments."

So I'm in a customer service straightjacket. I can't truthfully answer "No" to the questions, because the salesman craftily made sure that he did, cursorily, everything he was supposed to. I picture my survey fed into a computer, becoming just one statistic in a pretty graph destined for the desk of the regional sales manager. Service is great, he'll think, never guessing the reality of the situation. I admit defeat. After all, I have my car, and it's just what I wanted. I'm not willing to waste my time complaining about survey methods.

The moral of the story: It's important to measure customer satisfaction. But if you let quantitative measures win out over qualitative just because they are easier to measure, you'll risk getting just a pretty, not an accurate, picture.

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