customer service: if you want a 10, do 10 work

You want your employees to do well, right? Of course, and you know that you can’t manage what you can’t measure so you set up some way of measuring their performance. And then you discover that you truly get what you measure, regardless of whether that’s what you actually wanted or not.

A salesperson recently revealed the disconnect between measured and desired outcomes when a co-worker purchased a car a couple of weeks ago. The salesperson’s parent company has a big focus on customer service and providing an outstanding experience. Each customer is surveyed after the sale and any rating lower than a 10 (the highest possible) drew negative attention for both the sales person and the dealer.

On the surface this sounds great. You can just imagine the company saying that they want every customer to have a 10 experience so that’s what they will measure and reward for. The problem – for this salesperson, at least – is that the focus shifted from providing an 10 experience to getting a 10. This is key: the focus shifted from the customer’s experience to the salesperson’s ratings.

This sounds similar, but it is very different. Because the salesperson was so worried about his ratings, he never bothered to provide service worth rating. I need to mention that she is one of the kindest, non-confrontational, charitable people one could hope to meet. She does not gripe or complain maliciously, yet had little good to say about the salesperson. Some highlights of my co-worker’s experience:

The car was being shipped because what she wanted wasn’t in stock the day it was purchased. Rather than keeping her posted, she had to constantly hunt down and badger the salesperson to find out the status of her order.

Whenever she pointed out his poor efforts, he blamed other people. In fact, it sounded like he spent the entire time saying, “You are going to give me a 10, aren’t you? It was never my fault things went wrong. You need to give me a 10.”

She was told that if she gave the salesperson and the dealer a 10 on the survey they would give her a free oil change.

The salesperson said that if she wasn’t going to give him a 10 it would probably be best if she didn’t do the survey at all.

She had to endure a bunch of whining about just how hard his life is and why she really needed to give him a 10.

He was so obsessed with getting a 10 that she hesitates to give less out of a mild concern of some type of retribution.

The whole thing sounded boring, repetitive, insulting, and possibly immoral. If you want a 10, do 10 work. If you can’t do 10 work and your career hinges on it, find another career.

I wonder if the company knows how much their dealers and salespeople are aggressively gaming the system? Punishing for anything less than a 10 seems counterproductive because if forces people to be short-sighted and silly and ultimately creates an experience that discourages repeat sales. People make mistakes, things go wrong, customers can be unreasonable, some people will never give a top rating except at gunpoint, etc. Insisting on continuous very, very high performance is fine, but it places much greater emphasis on outstanding hiring and very thorough training.

A top performer will still stand out and rise above when things go bad and try to make it right because they are focused on delivering a great experience, regardless of the circumstances. Marginal performers will retreat into fear and self-preservation. Their well-meaning system forces these extremes.

How would you set it up differently if you were the parent company?


  1. Broc…. to me, the underlying issue is the sales people started to worry about just getting a “10”, and lost focus on just taking care of the customer as you eluded to. When they start to press, it is never a good thing, and results will diminish. You can see from your example why this was the case. As I manager, I would have been very wary of implementing a program like this.

    When I was at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, their focus was getting customer surveys filled out with “completely satisfied” responses, which was more generic, and typically did not affect our service levels.

    At the end of the day, sales people need to have as few distractions around them to perform at a high level. In this case, the type of pressure was not conducive to over achievement. If the company refused to change this “service indicator system”, I would do my best to just block it out of my mind, and service the customers like I normally had before I new that I had to “push for a 10”!

    I know, easier said than done, but just like sales incentives… if you sell the customer what they really need, rather than what is the most beneficial to you, it will all work out in the end for the customer (and your wallet)..

    Thanks again!


    1. Tim, I really appreciate your thought and perspective on this. I see it as a well-intended program to increase the quality of their sales that did not do well in the light of the real-world. I guess my takeaway from it is that there is an inherent contradiction in gathering data for improvement (measuring where we are so we can get to where we want to be) and tying it to rewards/punishment. It’s ironic that when we focus on the measure we can miss the point.

      I like your thought that sales people need to have minimal distractions to perform at a high level. It makes me wonder where the fine line between motivating, data collection, and distraction is.

      Interesting stuff and I really appreciate your perspective.


      1. Hey Broc… It was my pleasure to comment. Once again thanks for your insight on this fantastic post.

        It truly is a slippery slope, and I wish there was an easy answer. At the end of the day in this scenario, I just think this metrics are detrimental to the long term success of the sales associates.

        Thanks again!


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