Four Keys to Eliminating BAD Customer Surveys, Forever.

Originally published in DEALER Magazine 

Frustrated with bad surveys?

Ever had a customer tell you they were “Completely Satisfied”, but then “trash” you on the satisfaction survey? Are your sales and service staff frustrated with the overall survey process? Ever witnessed how just one bad survey can spoil an employee’s mood for hours, days, or even the rest of the month? Are your survey response rates low? If so, you’re not alone and it doesn’t have to be that way.


There are many Dealers who receive consistently high survey scores without cheating or coaching customers. It is possible if you adopt the four keys to eliminating BAD Customer Surveys outlined below! More importantly, adopt these four keys and I am confident that you will see an increase in your customer loyalty as well!


Skeptical? Regardless of how you feel about customer satisfaction surveys they are not going away any time soon. So like the old saying goes, “if you can’t beat’em, join’em.” In other words, stop fighting a fight you cannot win and rather learn how to use the system to your advantage.


Here are the four keys to eliminating BAD surveys forever.


Key #1: Proper perspective.

Before you can fill your mind with new better thoughts it is necessary to empty the trash that has built up over the years and created your current perception. Then, let’s start at the beginning with why somebody invented the idea of a customer satisfaction survey in the first place. Imagine when the business was small and the owner was integrally involved with customers on a day-to-day basis. The owners knew their customers and could respond quickly to comments and concerns. There was no need for a survey. The owners got direct feedback. Then the business grew and the owners became increasingly distanced from direct contact with customers. Instead of having daily contact the owners noticed that even though their advertising was drawing in many new customers they were not retaining as many as they used to. In addition, as the business became more transactional and less relational the number of customer comments reduced as well. People just took their business elsewhere. As a way to bridge the gap between the initial sale and the time lag of a repeat purchase one brilliant entrepreneur came up with the idea of surveying customers soon after the sale to gain feedback from customers. Armed with this valuable information the owner could tweak the sales and service process to keep it consistently aligned with what the owner intended and what customers had come to expect from the business.


 In its proper context the survey seems like it would be a good thing for both the owners and the customer. Where, then, did the notion of a “bad” survey come from? Based on the original intention, the best survey would seem to be the one that gives necessary feedback to keep us at our best. Could it be that what we call a BAD survey may actually be the BEST survey? It’s all in the way you look at it. The proper perspective is that there are no BAD surveys, just GOOD feedback.


 Unfortunately, somewhere along the line the survey became more of a scoring tool than a feedback tool. As such people started looking at the bottom line score rather than the details that make up the score. In the process any score that was less than perfect became interpreted as a negative and the survey was labeled BAD. And naturally, if the score is all that matters, it is not surprising that effort and attention gets diverted from gathering valuable information to short cuts and all kinds of deviant behavior and manipulation to pursue a score.


I think a golf analogy will help drive home the point. Mulligans, gimmies, and foot wedges are certainly expedient ways to reduce the number of strokes recorded on your scorecard. They certainly make your scorecard look better, but the score is no longer a reflection of your proficiency as a golfer. Worse, this contrary behavior may actually be hurting your game. Instead of getting insights into which part of your game needs improvement you take shortcuts to puff up your ego. The proper perspective, assuming the goal is actually to become a better golfer [otherwise why keep score] is to look at the scorecard as a feedback tool to know where to focus practice efforts. And that leads us to the next key.


Key #2: Learn to love the mirror

Imagine how different society would be without mirrors. Try getting ready in the morning without your mirror(s). Try driving a vehicle without looking in the mirror – either rearview or side view.


A mirror is just a tool, a feedback tool. And the best feedback is the most accurate feedback, which means that the best mirror is the one that provides an accurate reflection. Used correctly, it helps us see things we otherwise wouldn’t see. A bent or broken mirror, on the other hand, provides a skewed reflection and a false sense of reality, which may be humorous in a house of mirrors amusement attraction, but is not helpful if we want to make important improvement decisions. Equally challenging is a small mirror that doesn’t show the whole image. Try shaving or putting on make-up while looking at a one inch size mirror.


So, think of customer satisfaction surveys as mirrors. Use them to help you see things you otherwise wouldn’t see or to remind you of things you do see but haven’t changed yet. Then tweak reality towards the image you would like to see. If you follow this approach the reflection in the mirror will eventually align with the image you intended.


Then think of each survey like a small mirror. One small mirror has limited benefit, but put lots of little mirrors together and the reflection becomes increasingly more insightful. To this point most dealers are only getting surveys back from about 20-30% of their sales customers and 10-15% of their service customers. On top of that most customers are coached on how to fill out the survey, thereby skewing the data and rendering it somewhat useless. It is like bending the mirror. It doesn’t change reality it only changes the reflection.


So, stop being upset with, or frustrated by, your mirror. Rather be thankful for the insights it provides. You will be amazed how this simple change in perspective will help change your outcomes.


Key #3: Build emotional trust (i.e. truly care).

In the car business our short and long-term success is tied to three customer behaviors: today’s purchases, repeat purchases, and referral purchases – all of which are directly impacted by trust. Most people will acknowledge that, but don’t know why that is the case or to what extent. To better understand the impact of trust we need to look at the inner workings of the brain.


Did you know that trust has two important components – a rational component and an emotional component – just like our brain has two parts that are involved in the decision making process and directing behavior? How we respond or react is directly correlated with how our brain works.


Without getting too scientific (although feel free to dig deeper and validate this further on your own), amongst other things, our brains have a rational component and emotional component. The rational part of our brain, the neocortex, is responsible for logical and analytical thinking. It also happens to be the part of our brain that controls speech. The emotional brain, the limbic system, is responsible for how we feel, but has no capacity for speech - hence why we can easily recite data and statistics, but have a hard time putting our feelings into words. The important point here is that the limbic [emotional] brain has three times more influence over our decisions and behaviors than the neocortex [rational brain]. To make up for this lack of influence the neocortex has even came up with a word to make our emotional decisions seem more rational – we call that rationalization.


Rational trust is established when we prove ourselves to be competent and reliable. Being capable of doing what we say we will do, or at least creating the perception, is a way to establish rational trust. And when we actually follow-through and do what we said we would do we build rational trust. This all works fine as long as experience matches with expectations.


Rational trust is where most people focus their efforts (quality, price, speed of service), probably because it is more comfortable, controllable, expedient, and involves little need for vulnerability. It is based on what we do. Unfortunately rational trust only accounts for 25% of what influences decisions and behaviors.


The real influencer, however, is emotional trust, which accounts for the other 75% of what influences our decisions and behaviors. Emotional trust is established when we are authentic and display true care (i.e. putting the other person’s interests ahead of our own). Being based on who we are - our character, our motives and attitudes – it is harder to fake. And while the limbic brain may not have the capacity for speech it is the part of our brain where “gut feelings” come from.


So, Key #3 is to be genuine and display true care. This is accomplished by being transparent, vulnerable, and putting customer interests above ours. We need to care more about the person than the sale. Work more for the customer than for the commission. Invest in long term relationships than today’s gross and you will be amazed at how today’s gross will improve as well.


People will give us a tremendous amount of forgiveness and grace when we establish emotional trust, but that does not mean that we can neglect the rational elements. Hence, it is important that we follow through with the fourth key.


Key #4: Do something.

Knowing is not doing. So if you want different results you need to actually adjust your behavior, environment, and processes in response to the feedback.


Develop a cadence of review and correction. Decide how often you are going to review customer feedback, who needs to be involved in the discussion, and then systematically adjust behaviors, processes, facilities, etc to provide a consistently excellent product and/or service.


If you continue to improve your offering in line with the feedback you receive the quality of your offering will improve and eventually mirror what customers are expecting.



  • Change your attitude towards surveys – there are no bad surveys, just good feedback.
  • Stop coaching customers on how to fill out the survey – rather get the most accurate feedback possible.
  • Get as many surveys returned as possible – more surveys will provide a more accurate reflection of reality and the things that need to be worked.
  • Connect with customers at both a rational and emotional level to build greater trust
  • Develop a cadence of review and correction – use surveys to reveal what is not matching with the reality you would like to see and then systematically make changes.



Herb Mast is a leadership and teamwork coach and consultant dedicated to the auto industry. He is President of COHESION, inc ( where the focus is on leadership, teamwork, and organizational health to release the real potential of an organization. Herb also provides free advice to Automotive Dealers and General Managers in his blog at

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