The Ugly Secret Behind Retail Receipt Surveys

I took my truck in for routine service the other day. As the young kid at the service desk went to hand me my keys he asked me to fill out an online survey grading his performance.

“You did just fine,” I offered.

“Well, if you fill out the survey, make sure to give me a perfect score. If I get anything lower than a perfect score, it goes against my performance review,” he explained, “I need a 10 out of 10. If you give me a 9 out of 10, I might not get a raise.”

“No shit?” I asked, “So you are either Bo Derek or the ugliest girl at the dance? No in between?”

“Yup,” he smiled, though I am not sure he really knows who Bo Derek is.

“How does that make you feel?”

He laughed softly and gave me my keys without answering.

If this were the first time I had heard this story, I would think he was pulling my leg, just trying to game his score. He was a nice kid, and he did his job competently with a smile on his face, but it was an ordinary transaction. Average. Just like every other transaction I have had at the dealership over the last fifteen years, and the very reason I keep coming back. Consistent competence. A 10 out 10, a perfect score, is like seeing a woman who is so beautiful or a man who is so handsome, that you actually give yourself whiplash when you snap your head around for a second look. That is 10 out of 10. On a scale of 1 to 10, the average person is a 5.5. I would give this kid a 6 out of 10, and feel good about it. To have this kid tell me that, if I generously give him a 9 out 10, his boss will put a bag over his head because he is just too damn ugly seems a little wacky. Nobody is that big a dick, are they? The kid has to be lying, right?

Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have heard this story. As a matter of fact, just about every shop I do business with has the same sort of survey request on the bottom of the receipt. Whenever a cashier mentions the survey, the story is always the same. Their scores have to be beauty-pageant perfect, or they will suffer some sort of consequence. A bad review. A demotion. No raise. Get fired. That sort of stuff. As a matter of fact, some poor sap begs me to give them a “review” almost every day. If I log into some web account or another, they are always wringing their hands, asking me to “take a minute to rate their performance.” I get these desperate, attention seeking requests in my e-mail all the time (one just popped into my inbox as I am typing. I cannot even write in peace without some drama queen CEO shopping for compliments). I get literally hundreds of survey requests every year. It is as pervasive as garlic and heavy perfume at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Get me some fresh air, please! And if I applaud the employee, but criticize company policy in my review, it is the employee who gets hurt because the score is not perfect. So when this poor kid at the auto repair shop begged me to give him a good review, he really meant it. His livelihood will be on the line if I do not tell his boss that this $11.95-an-hour kid could star on Broadway and that the boss is the most handsome devil west of the Mississippi. Crazy, huh?

I have a lot of empathy for that poor kid. Sympathy and pity, too. It is hard to have someone with whom you have such a close, personal relationship put such unrealistic expectations on your performance every minute of every day, then berate you on a daily basis when you are not cover-girl beautiful (those photos are always airbrushed and photo-shopped, by the way). It is even harder when the person telling you that you are ugly is in a position of authority over you, and threatens your future as a punishment for failure. So now I have to make a decision. Do I lie and help this poor kid with the cooking and the chores, and get him cleaned up for dinner… making him out to be better than he is… so that when the Old Man comes home drunk the kid does not get a beating? Or do I tell the truth, and screw the kid? Do I punish the boss by taking my business somewhere else on principle? Or do I walk away and say nothing, refusing to play the game at all?

Well, I am no liar, so any review I give will be an honest review. Unfortunately, an honest review will result in a good kid getting punished for treating me decently. I cannot be a party to someone being punished for basic decency, therefore I cannot, in good conscience, give any sort of feedback whatsoever. If I take my business to the dealership down the street, their boss is also using the same review process to browbeat his employees (true fact! I know guys at both shops), so that would be like robbing Judas to pay Pilate. The only choice I have left is to not play the game at all. That poor kid is on his own. I am not going to hurt him, but I cannot save him. Nor can I save any of the other millions upon millions of $10 an hour employees just like him.

What I have noticed in recent years is that corporate America has become obsessed with being told they are beautiful.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most beautiful of them all?

If you say ‘tis other than me, I will punish my employee!”

It is as though these companies know they have a history of not being good citizens and are so desperate to put lipstick on the pig that they are attempting to coerce our compliments so they can report to the world that they are truly loved. It is a sort of Wonderland madness, really. Instead of them worrying about getting 10 out 10 on their surveys, perhaps they could start doing right by their employees and their customers instead of treating them like property. (Hey, stop laughing! I am being serious here!)

As for me, I am everyman. I do not complain. I do not fill out surveys even if you offer me free tacos, coffee, or car washes. If I come through your door, you have already passed the test. If I don’t come backif I am spending my time at your competition… I guarantee you it has more to do with your culture at the top than with some poor kid at the bottom, so stop being “that guy.” Your employees might actually learn to like you, instead of being terrified that the beatings will continue until morale improves.


ps. I just have to add this – I was just driving home a few minutes ago and my phone rings. Luckily I was not in Beaverton city limits yet, so was able to use my hand-free system and answer the call. It was a robo-call asking me to rate the service of business I had recently used, “Were you satisfied with our service? Please answer YES or NO,” so I roll my eyes and say loudly, “YES!” The robot computer (think free labor and zero personal touch) responded, “I am sorry, I did not understand your response,” so I hung up. Sorry there, boss man, the service was fine, but I am only going to give you a 1 out of 10 for being so flipping needy and annoying, and, according to loads of researchers and investigative journalists, the vast majority of your customers feel the same as I do.