Sweetening the Pot or Souring It? The Impacts of Score Begging and What CX Pros Can Do About It

By Gabe Smith, CCXP posted 12-12-2019 12:41 PM


It was hard to miss the yellow hand-written sign posted directly above the cash register. “Chance to win 1 of 3 gift cards,” someone had written in green magic marker.

Three cards were in the offing, two $10 cards and a $5 card, and the sign’s author had detailed a two-step process to be entered in an in-store drawing:

“Step 1-Take online survey + rate highly satisfied before leaving the store.”

A hand-written sign imploring customers to give top scores in exchange for off-the-books gift card drawingUh-oh…

“Step 2-Tear off survey portion of receipt and write your name + number after verifying with cashier completed survey.”

Now my CX alarm bells were ringing loudly. I’ve long known that “gaming” was a thing and had been on the receiving end of such efforts myself (‘ask us why an 8 is not great!’) but this seemed to cross the line into out-and-out customer bribery.

Why do individual stores and employees resort to such tactics? What are the impacts of this behavior? And what, if anything, can CX professionals do about it? I posed these questions to a few experts to get their take.

Gaining Control

For April Ryan, Vice President, Client Services at Second To None, Inc., employee efforts to influence customer evaluations happen because of one reason. “I’ve been with the company now 23 years and worked on nearly 100 different programs across numerous industries,” Ryan says. “And what I’ve seen over the years is that employees are trying to feel a sense of control.”

When performance metrics and financial bonuses are tied to survey scores, attempts to gain control can become extreme—even unethical. “I encountered a situation where there was an area manager who was taking receipts that he had not handed out to customers and was giving them to his buddies who were in his bowling league,” says Samuel Jones, CX Practitioner. “They were then taking the surveys online and giving top scores.”

And efforts to gain control over evaluations aren’t limited to surveys. Ryan sees them in mystery shopper evaluations as well. “We’ve seen locations review security video footage,” Ryan says. “They’ll try to figure out ‘Okay, well, if the person says that they worked with this employee, on this day, let’s go back through the footage and see what that employee did and who they worked with throughout the day…then we can figure out if the woman in the red sweater is our mystery shopper.’” Identification of the mystery shopper fuels a simple goal, according to Ryan. “They’re asking, ‘can we try and get ourselves up to 100% simply by damaging the perception of the person who gave this observational experience?’"

Negative Impact to Customers—And the Business

Lynn Hunsaker, CCXP, PCM, and Chief Customer Officer at ClearAction Continuum, doesn’t mince words when asked how she feels about what some have called ‘score begging.’ “Asking customers to give a certain rating in surveys is a horrible practice,” she says. “It gives your surveys zero statistical validity, and therefore makes customers’ investment of time to participate a complete waste. It insults customers by implying they’re not able to make sound judgements and you’re not interested in their pure feedback.”

Score begging example that says In addition to negative customer impact, these behaviors can distort a business’ view of itself, says Luis Mello, CCXP and Head of Solutions Delivery at Capventis in the U.K. “They are indeed fooling themselves if they think they’re doing great because they have high scores,” Mello says. “The truth is they start being centered on themselves, even patting themselves on the back for having higher scores than the competition, and they lose focus.”

Stephanie Thum, CCXP and Founding Principal at Practical CX, says that ‘score begging’ is about marketing, not CX. “Your metrics are no longer about customer experience when you have begged for or incentivized the score by offering compensation or free services.”

And yet, despite the harm being done, the problem persists, and tying financial compensation to an outcome metric can make it a more difficult one to solve. “If you’re talking about an hourly cashier, and you have some type of financial incentive tied to a mystery shop or survey, you’re talking about potentially taking away a resource from someone,” says Jones.

The Path Forward—Implications for CX Pros

Hunsaker believes that companies must stop penalizing managers and employees for low scores. “Instead,” she argues, “best practice is to tie internal rewards and penalties to performance standards within employees’ workflows.” This must begin, Hunsaker says, with a key driver analysis that examines the relationship between individual survey questions and the overall NPS or CSAT rating. Then, a Pareto analysis can reveal key themes. Finally, a root cause analysis can be conducted—during which practitioners ask ‘5 whys’ to determine why the company is allowing its customers to have specific perceptions. “Your answer to the fifth ‘why’ identifies the performance standard you should track internally,” Hunsaker says.

In addition to determining the root cause of customer issues and tying incentives to employee behaviors rather than customer outcomes, Thum says that CX professionals play a key role in affecting organizational culture change. “It will likely be a difficult conversation,” she says. “But you need to clarify the landscape for colleagues who think it’s a good idea to use these scores to get an honest reflection of customers’ actual experiences. Meanwhile, make sure your CX governance framework is strong with administrative policies surrounding customer surveys that include the notion of score begging.”

Closing Thoughts

I didn’t enter the gift card drawing, but my conversations with my fellow CX professionals made clear that my experience was all-too common. Fortunately, there are strategies we can deploy to stop these behaviors within our companies.

I’d like to hear from you. What experiences have you had with score begging, either as a customer or within your organization? If from within, how did you combat the issue? Add your voice to the comments below.

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12-13-2019 10:49 AM

Hi Gabe - I should have said these results came from a probability group of consumers in the U.S. - We absolutely need to reduce bias from feedback, so that outcome metric can be accurately used to drive improvements in customer experience.

12-13-2019 10:42 AM

Wow, Carol. That's fascinating that over 40% knew how NPS is interpreted and that the number who felt influenced was similarly high. It seems we have work to do in this area--some of these challenges are systemic.

12-13-2019 10:34 AM

Hi Gabe-

Two years ago, we did a research on research study at Qualtrics looking at how many people have participated in responding to surveys that had a gaming aspect to it.  Results were that just slightly under 30% said that they were influenced by an overt gaming or social desirability request when responding to a survey in the past year.  Over 40% knew how NPS would be interpreted in terms of % promoters - % detractors, and used that information to change their score from a passive (7or 8) to a 9.   Both aspects seem to fall in the social desirability bias bucket.