Paul Butler: A few rules for better feedback

Paul Butler
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This daily dialogue stirred me to think of the uselessness of most customer surveys. It’s almost as if the questioner is asking, “How are you?” and yet doesn’t really care about the response given.

I experienced this recently with a local car dealership here in Awesometown. After a particularly disappointing and frustrating sojourn to the service center, I was asked a couple of days later to complete the online survey which I did. I was expecting to get a call from the President of the United States based on what I’d laid down in my survey answers. But nope, I got an automated response thanking me for completing the survey and affirming how pleased they were I’d had a great experience at the dealership.

I’m like, “What?” I’d answered the “How are you?” question and all they heard was “good” when in fact it was “bad” — I was “grumbling” and “complaining.” In fact, because of their dreadful service, I was “bearing up under the strain,” but I guess they didn’t want to hear that.

We’ve seen this play out with a couple of our clients over the last few years — they ask us to conduct an employee survey, but then do nothing with the responses. In effect, they’d engaged us to ask the “How are you?” question of the employees, and all the senior leadership really wanted to hear was, “good,” even though the employees were not “good.”

As an owner of a training and leadership development company and as a consumer of products and services just like you, I encourage survey-writers to consider these three practices to make the process much more meaningful:

Keep it simple — surveys can only be meaningful if they are statistically significant, meaning there’s a large enough response rate. My observation has been the reason why most surveys lack enough voice is because there are too many questions and the rating scale too complicated. Three questions max is my advice and just ask us simply about our satisfaction on a scale of 0-10. People get that.

Respond to their response — once the deadline for submissions has passed let the respondents know you received their comments and scores and provide clarity on what you will be doing with their input and by when.

Take action — ensure sufficient attention is given to the responses and act upon the corrections that need to be made to the product or service where practically-possible. If appropriate, let those responders who gave this input know what corrective action you’ve taken to address their concerns.

So, if all is “good” let’s amplify its “good” but with a capital first letter. If it’s not, let’s say it’s not. For all the satisfaction surveyors out there, please keep the surveys simple; respond to us genuinely not through automated disingenuousness and commit to taking action when we invest our time to talk to you about your products or services.

Either way as the locals say, “It’s all good.”

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Signal newspaper. For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected]

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