Let me begin by making it clear: Nancy’s service to us was excellent. Bear in mind, we were a couple who marched into a major retailer knowing full well we would be walking out with a receipt for four major appliances. From our first words, Nancy knew she wasn’t going to be wasting time on window shoppers, for whom she appears to have developed the patience of a biblical character. All things considered, we spent more time at the register trying to get all the coupons and discounts straight than committing to models and handle styles (if you have ever experienced true love or a kitchen remodel, you know about the struggles of commitment).

As the 36-inch register tape was stapled into the little folder containing our assurances of delivery and extended warranty information, Nancy slipped in THE request, as she circled a URL on the paper. You know the question: “Would you mind taking a few minutes to visit this site and provide an evaluation on your experience today?”

Then Nancy added the little hook that landed her story here. “You know, anything less than a 10 is a failing grade for me.”

First of all, on what planet is 9 on a scale of 10 “failing?” Second of all, and more importantly, what is the value of the data gathered if the call to action predisposes the participant to only give the highest rating? Third, what is the likelihood that Nancy or her colleagues remind customers to complete the survey if it seemed like the sales process was less than stellar?

This isn’t an uncommon or even new situation. I get the same comments from my service advisor at the car dealership. Having worked in the late ‘80s with dealers on “CSI ratings” (Customer Satisfaction Index – common to all the leading brands), I know the evolution to Nancy’s request began a long time ago. That doesn’t make it sensible or right.

The real irony is for service people like Nancy. She would have gotten mostly 10 scores from us without the request. Assuming her colleagues make the same plea, this only serves to mask the really excellent performers – clouding and/or lowering the bar of expectation overall.

Not sure that’s what the people analyzing the data had in mind.

Dr. Michael C. Porter, APR is director of the Master of Business Communication Program at the University of St Thomas Opus College of Business.