Even as increasing numbers of retailers actively seek out customer feedback through online surveys or follow-up telephone contacts, experts are questioning the value of such reviews. In particular, customers who assess their retail experience after they get home and log on to a survey may feel less empowered by their input, and rightfully so, because their responses may be less likely to reach the employees who provided the service, good or bad.

Article 2The rationale for soliciting more feedback is reasonable. Retailers worry that if customers only complain about poor service to a salesperson, the information will never move up the hierarchy to managers, which means that the problem would not be resolved. In addition, by gathering greater quantities of feedback through a single system, companies can aggregate the information to get a better sense of the overall level of service they provide.

However, the downsides of such practices seem equally problematic. Customers who are angry about poor service or impressed by great service often want to express their strong emotions immediately and be able to see the change that it invokes, whether an apology or a manager’s recognition of a superlative employee. Furthermore, the feedback gained through post-sale surveys conducted at the firm level might not move back down the hierarchy to inform store managers or the relevant employees. Finally, this firm-wide perspective implies that the desired outcome is always homogenous service levels, whereas many experts recommend that service provision should be personalized to meet the needs and preferences of different customers, some of whom might be happy with relatively minimal, and perhaps more efficient, services.

Although in theory, tip-based service settings can resolve some of these challenges, in that tips give immediate feedback to service providers, studies show that the level of service often is not closely correlated with the tipping percentage provided. For example, diners tend to leave around 18–20 percent for restaurant servers, regardless of how attentive the waiter was. Furthermore, according to Benjamin Schneider, a workforce analytics expert, tips are inefficient as motivators of good service.

Nor do customer complaints offer perfect signals of service quality. Some customers express inappropriate biases in their complaints, related more to the person providing the service than the level of service actually provided. Other customers simply like to complain, regardless of whether the service was good or bad, or whether a service failure was due to the actions of the frontline employee or a situation outside of her or his control.

Discussion Questions

  1. Are quantitative surveys a good way to measure customer service? Why or why not?
  2. Should tips be used to measure customer service? Why or why not?
  3. Should retailers attempt to give the same level of service to everyone? Why or why not?


Source:  Knowledge at Wharton, April 23, 2014