AT&T;: How Not to Do a Survey

Tuesday, May 5, 2009 by Tripp Babbitt
Recently, the AT&T guy stopped by my house to inform me that "the new fiber-optic cable had been installed in out neighborhood."  Of course he was trolling for business.  I hadn’t updated my phone plan in a while so I decided to see the latest plans.  By the time we had ended I had an upgraded internet connection, free long-distance from my land lines and signed my cable from Comcast to U-verse.  Oh and by the way, I saved myself a few bucks.  It was a ridiculous process that took the poor AT&T guy over 2 hours to complete the paperwork, phone calls and whatever else he was doing on the phone while I blogged and ate dinner while he sat on my porch.  That is probably a whole separate blog that I will complete after my service is installed, gotten the first bill and have settled into what is a bout to really happen to me.

The part that got my attention was the survey that I was shown as a precursor to a phone call (I’d be getting) about the service I had received during his visit.  I had seen this little "trick" at Hilton Hotels and other Fortune 500 companies.  Here is how this goes: He shows you a copy of the survey and you rank the service from 1 to 5 (1= very satisfied to 5= very dissatisfied) and instructs me that his pay is based on what you give him and anything less than a 5 = Failure.  How in the world are you going to learn anything of value with this survey approach?  If my service was bad, it wouldn’t likely be from his individual performance as those that read my blogs know 95% of performance is attributable to the system, not the individual.

Further, I am not ready to judge the service by the visit.  I will judge the whole service not each individual part.  I want to know how AT&T performs with regards to the 4-6 hour installation I am going to have, the first billing understanding and accuracy, the quality of the equipment they are leaving me, how well I understand how to use everything to get my work and play accomplished, etc.  To the customer, they see the whole service not just the parts.  If one part fails . . . the system fails (meaning all individual parts). 

Do you hear that AIG?  If one part loses a $100 billion and other part makes $10 billion, you are a part of that system that lost $100 billion and you should receive no bonus.

AT&T is a command and control system that has a customer management process based on scientific management theory.  The sales department can walk with their head held high if I give my AT&T sales guy a "5" across the board for a service that is not completed in the customers mind.  AT&T obviously doesn’t get it, which makes me concerned about the rest of the service, but great blogging material.

The systems thinking organization seeks out issues to fix and not manipulated surveys to broadcast their World Class service (that isn’t) or meet a bonus target.  They are focused on what matters to the customer and gather metrics relevant to the customer.  In service, they understand that each customer is different and has different demands that don’t fit into a "standardized process."  They understand that value is determined by the customer and lower costs and better service result from this thinking.

AT&T you are not the only one guilty of this . . . but thanks for the example.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  He is focused on exposing the problems of command and control management and the termination of bad service through application of new thinking . . . systems thinking.  Download free Understanding Your Organization as a System and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at [email protected].  Reach him on Twitter at

Comments for AT&T;: How Not to Do a Survey

Friday, May 8, 2009 by Grant Thornley:
I enjoyed your short blog and agree with you regarding pointless surveys. Grant

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