A Peek Behind the Curtain: The Myth of the Perfect Score

As a participant on many author email lists, I’ve been perplexed at some of the requests I’ve seen from my fellow list members. stars“Please go to this-book-site dot com and review my book. I need more five star reviews!” Please go to my Facebook page and like me. I need 500 likes today.”  “Go to so-and-so dot com and vote for my short-story.” “I’m #4 today. If you go to blah-blah dot com and vote I can make it to #2 by nightfall.”

This type of self-service review system is designed to help consumers make decisions about what book to purchase. If a group of people who read the sorts of books you enjoy give a book the highest accolades, you may be more inclined to buy it. Unfortunately if a percentage of those ‘consumer ratings’ are made by friends and family (who have been persuaded to give it a glowing review), the information is not reliable. The five-star review is transformed into a meaningless artifact, and your customers have been misled.

scoresI’ve experienced a similar phenomenon in the business environment. Several months ago I purchased a new car. When I left the dealership, the salesperson said to me, “In a few days, you’re going to receive an email about the level of service you received. Please take the time to complete the survey. And please rate me with all 5’s. If I get anything less than a 5, it doesn’t count.” A few months later, I went with a friend to buy a new cell phone. Before we left, the customer service representative told her that she would be receiving a survey by text message, and asked her to take the time to complete it. He went on to say the same thing that the car salesman said: If he doesn’t receive 5’s it doesn’t count. Just recently, when paying the bill at a pizzeria, the waitress pointed out their online survey, She said that taking the customer satisfaction survey would enter us into a drawing for $1000. And by the way, she continued, please rate her 5’s on every item because she would get in trouble otherwise.

Many businesses conduct consumer surveys, usually assessing product satisfaction or customer service. The information derived failfrom these assessments should be used to increase quality throughout a business, creating better products and fostering exemplary customer service. It can also be effectively used as data in employee evaluations to improve performance, determine training needs, etc. However, creating a system that rewards employees for perfect scores but penalizes them for anything less not only defeats these important purposes but undermines them.

Of course it is often helpful to offer incentives to your employees, even foster a bit of healthy competition among them. The first employee who solicits 450 surveys gets a gift card. (The more surveys, the more data you have.) The department with the highest effectiveness rating gets a continental breakfast (builds teamwork and shared accountability). Emphasize performance? Yes. But emphasize honesty and integrity too. It will be better for your employees, and for your business.


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