5 Rules To Stop Employees From Gaming Your Feedback System

When an employee asks a customer to “give me a 10 on a survey or I’ll get fired,” can you really count on the accuracy of that customer’s rating? This may be an extreme example of “gaming feedback,” but many versions of this behavior occur all the time.

To keep gaming feedback in check, it’s important to be explicit with employees about what the company considers to be unacceptable behaviors. Here are five rules that you should strictly enforce with employees:

  1. Don’t mention or refer to a score. You can not ask a customer to give you a score or mention any possible option on the survey.
    • Example of bad behavior: “Let me know if you can’t give me an excellent on any of the questions.”
  2. Don’t mention specific survey questions. You can not tell a customer about a specific question that they will be asked as part of the survey.
    • Example of bad behavior: “You will be asked to rate me on my knowledge.”
  3. Don’t mention any consequences. You can’t tell a customer about the positive or negative consequences that you or the organization will have based on the feedback that the customer gives.
    • Example of bad behavior: “If you give us a low score, then we will not make our bonus.”
  4. Don’t say or imply that you will see their responses. You can’t let the customer know that you will see the specific information that they put in their feedback.
    • Example of bad behavior: “I look forward to reading your responses.”
  5. Don’t intimidate customers in any way. Any attempt to affect how customers will respond in their feedback, or keep them from completing the survey, whether implicitly or explicitly, is not allowed.
    • Example of bad behavior: “Let’s grab a Cubs game after you fill out the survey.”
    • Example of bad behavior: “Don’t bother filling out the survey, the company doesn’t look at them.”

Of course, keeping this bad behavior in check also requires the company to behave appropriately. The biggest mistake I see is tying too much compensation to a score. When you heavily incent a specific metric, employees will do whatever it takes to improve that metric,  including “gaming” the system. Think about it, the heavier the compensation, the more you are implicitly asking the employee to improve the score at any cost (see why Staples employees stopped selling computers).

So make sure that your incentives are focused on driving the behaviors that you want from employees, not specific outcomes like scores.

The bottom line: Use feedback primarily to improve, not to keep score.

About Bruce Temkin
I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, marketing, interaction design, customer service, and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

5 Responses to 5 Rules To Stop Employees From Gaming Your Feedback System

  1. I have dealt with for many years in the automobile industry. You all can relate to the comments from sales or service people asking you to give them all “Excellents.” I have also done a lot of research on this subject and have found that customers who experience this lose faith in the integrity of the surveys and reduces response rates, as they believe that the results are not honest and there is no point in returning the survey.

    Look at the VA and the results of their incentive system relative to trying to achieve their goals. While in most business situations customers don’t die, in this case they did.

    It is my advice that customer satisfaction and quality surveys not be incentivized. These surveys should be part of a “Business System” that provides honest information from which to develop process improvements that will deliver the results you seek. The surveys should be purely informational with no penalties or rewards associated with them. Remember your systems is doing what it is designed to do. If you don’t like the results, then you need to change the fundamentals of your system. Ordering results, in no way instructs anyone on how to change their system to get the desired results. Without a path, then those operating the system are left to manipulate the metrics, the results or both (again, look at the VA problem).

    Process improvement methodologies, like Lean Six Sigma, are designed to provide organizations with an organized, systematic, scientific approach to achieve your objectives that avoids counterproductive gaming of the system.

  2. Jeff Toister says:

    This list is a very good start, but I think companies need to go further.

    Whenever survey scores are tied to rewards, consequences, or both, you’re likely to see some sort of effort at gaming the results.

    I advise my clients to steer the focus away from the score as an evaluation tool and use it instead to foster continuous improvement.

  3. Great list. Really great customer-centric organizations typically have extremely strong values. Integrity is normally one of those values. Gaming the system is a huge problem and goes back to compromising a core value. The best organizations walk the talk. Gaming the score is grounds for termination. It’s equivalent to cooking the financials or unduly influencing employee scores. Leaders need to be clear that gaming is unexceptable, ensure they can audit, and take action if they find evidence.

  4. Lee Mostari says:

    Good article and comments. Building on the audit point. Human beings could always be tempted to game the system, especially if they believe their job could be at stake or their financial rewards could be improved or even they want to be seen as winners within their community. Incentives and recognition are great tools to help organizations focus their workforce on Customer Experience, so shouldn’t be excluded because of a minority of people who might game the system. Having good audit controls are also needed. Something obvious like mystery shopping or call recording analysis are a great start. But I want to share 2 further examples from my experience; 1. look for employees with a ‘too good to be true’ performance – those that get perfect scores all the time. I have seen employees who try to game the system try a little too hard. And second, look for abnormal patterns of performance improvement. We all want to see people improve their performance, but the speed of improvement can be an indicator of gaming the system. To reiterate, with the right culture and values, these examples are rare, but organizations shouldn’t be overly complacent.

  5. Natalia Piggio says:

    As Manning stated “Targets are good servants but bad masters”. When companies put too much focus on the number, leaders start losing sight of those highly valuable soft elements, such as culture.
    To the great list of “don’ts” above, I would also add some “do’s”:

    1) Take a census approach to feedback (which makes it difficult for employees to game every piece of feedback)
    2) Link feedback to call recordings or shop floor observations to create a complete view of every interaction
    3) Have rotating questions in the survey so it is difficult for employees to know what the customer will be asked
    4) Empower your teams and lead from the front, rewarding employee behaviours that focus on continuous improvement rather than on a number
    5) Look for anomalies in scoring patterns and frequent changes in customer details (conducting interval validation checks on data can be a useful approach)
    6) Analyse sentiment on comments (do these comments often contrast with the number?)
    7) Follow disciplinary procedures on employees found to be “gaming the system”. If this disciplinary action is made in public it will set an example to other staff.

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