My Local McDonaldsI’m a big fan of customer surveys.  Not of giving them because mostly the results are skewed by the apostles and terrorists – I’ll explain later.  I’m a big fan of filling out the surveys for several reasons.

First of all, so few people actually fill out the surveys at any that are filled out are given disproportionate weight.  Second, there’s usually an incentive and I like getting a little more.  Third, I know that I skew the results because of the way I fill out the survey.

Let me first discuss apostles and terrorists.  These are terms that are used in the quality field to describe people who are passionately for or against something – you probably thought I was going to discuss the intersection of religion and terror, didn’t you?  Traditionally, an apostle was someone who would rave about a product or service – usually telling 5-10 people how wonderful it was.  A terrorist was someone who would tell 10-20 people how terrible the product or service was.  That was before the advent of social media where now you can tell thousands of people how great or terrible someone treated you.  And people do!  Just look at your Facebook or Twitter feed.

The real problem with surveys is that they are designed wrong.  It’s not the fault of the survey designers alone but a fact of human nature.  I’ll use McDonalds customer survey as an example.

I’ve been a customer of McDonalds for over 50 years.  There’s little about McDonalds that I haven’t experienced.  When I spent two months in Bremerton at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, the only real option for warm food was a McDonalds just outside the main gate.  I actually calculated how many combinations of sandwich, side and drink there were so I could have something different each day!  So, when McDonalds starting offering their customer survey recently, I gladly filled them out.  Besides, you get two sandwiches for the price of one if you do.

I noticed immediately that McDonalds wanted me to explain why I wasn’t Highly Satisfied if I marked anything less.  And I rarely mark anything Highly Satisfied because I expect Highly Satisfied to incorporate a WOW factor – Some service or extra that was totally unexpected.  But if I go to McDonalds and order a large drink, get the cup and immediately fill it with what I want, where’s the WOW?  I got exactly what I wanted in the timeframe of what I expected.  So, I’m Satisfied.

But my local McDonalds has set themselves up for disappointment and their employees for failure.  Because they state – on the door where you can’t miss it as you’re leaving – that they want you to be HIGHLY SATISFIED.  Is that even possible?

Consider for a moment that you’ve never been to McDonalds.  You enter and order a Big Mac, fries and a drink.  They are served within a few minutes and the fries are to die for.  (Note: Julia Childs considered McDonalds’ french fries the best!)  You’ve never had such speedy service and great tasting food.  You’re likely to rate yourself as HIGHLY SATISFIED with your visit to McDonalds.

But now, consider what you would expect on your hundredth trip to McDonalds.  You order the same items as on your first visit and they’re delivered just as speedily.  Are you HIGHLY SATISFIED?  Likely not, because you have become accustom to what McDonalds delivers.  You expect the service to be quick.  You expect the food to taste the same as before.  You are no longer surprised and, therefore, you’re likely to be SATISFIED but not HIGHLY SATISFIED because there’s no WOW.  So, I always put in my explanation, “I got what I ordered in the time frame I expected.”

What McDonalds should be asking is WHY I choose McDonalds instead of something else.  No one can continually produce surprises and that’s a good thing because it makes interactions easier.  Imagine coming home and finding out that your spouse has changed their look – every day.  Most people would find it stressful because you never know what to expect.  Your home would become a source of stress in your life rather than a refuge.  This is not to say that things should never change – McDonalds is always trying new menu items.  But continual change is stress-inducing.

So, that is why my local McDonalds is setting themselves up for disappointment – they’re never going to get HIGHLY SATISFIED from every customer because no matter how wonderful you are today, it will be expected tomorrow.  HIGHLY SATISFIED becomes SATISFIED.  And SATISFIED will become NEUTRAL, then DISSATISFIED over time.

And they are setting their employees up for failure because who do you blame when things aren’t going the way you want them to?  I’ve never met a manager that blamed themselves for their employees’ inability to achieve a goal.  It can’t be the manager’s fault.  So, the culprit must be the employee.

Creating impossible goals – called stretch goals by some – may create a short-term boost in performance, but as people come to realize that the goal can’t be reach, performance will suffer – why try when you can’t succeed?

Sometimes, SATISFIED is the best that you can achieve and you should be satisfied with that.

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.