Driven to Perfection

Personally, and in addition to fighting a daily battle to feel in control, I am a perfectionist. When I was an undergraduate in college I used flash cards as a study tool for exams. I would take copious notes in class and then transfer terms, concepts and equations to lined recipe cards that I would then run through multiple times until I had all of the facts down cold. I would go through the cards one-by-one, dividing them in to two piles: One pile for those that I correctly identified and one pile for those that I missed. I would continue to go through the “missed” pile until there were no cards left. With the technology of today this method feels antiquated but in the late-90s it worked just fine for me. What is not described in this process, however, is how long it took me to make my flash cards.

I wanted (almost needed) my flash cards to be perfect. If i misspelled a word, left out a word, or just simply did not like my handwriting on a particular flash card I would tear it up and start over again. What drove me to such exacting standards for flash cards? I honestly do not know. All I knew then (and still struggle with a bit today) is that it felt wrong to leave a mistake uncorrected as a blemish on my work. Some people would view this at drive to achieve excellence. Others would simply think I was a bit off my rocker. Either way, it is who I am and this trait (along with others) have helped me become the person I am today.

I was reminded of this personal quirk (one of many) last week as I had two separate experiences with car-related companies. One was the Toyota dealer in Franklin and the other was a body shop, also in Franklin, that was removing two door dings from my Acura.

Mandy and I purchased a new minivan (what other choice did I have with 4 kids short of a mammoth SUV?) and as I was signing the paperwork I was told by the salesperson that I would be receiving a customer satisfaction survey after I took delivery of the van and that nothing less than a score of 10 (on a scale of 1 to 10) would help him or the dealership in terms of the customer satisfaction scores. He then told me if there was any part of the experience that I could not in good conscious rate a 10, to please let him know and he would make it right. I appreciated the earnest desire to make sure that the overall experience was positive and promised to let Larry know if I needed anything.

Customer Satisfaction Survey

Customer satisfaction survey with the recommended answers filled out and highlighted.

The body shop then took this concept to another level. The salesperson I was dealing with, Debra, told me the same thing about their customer satisfaction survey as I was inspecting the work then had done on my car (which was great, by the way). Debra then handed me a copy of the survey I would be asked to take with the answers she needed me to give already filled in and highlighted. This was a first for me and left me feeling a bit confused.

On one hand, I understand the message that the two companies are trying to send to their customers: We want your experience with us to be perfect and we will not rest until it is. On the other hand, however, perfection is never achievable but the subtle message is that you will be letting your salesperson down–perhaps even damaging their career–if you rate them anything less than a 10. Additionally, when the company sets the expectation with their employees that perfection is required, where is the potential for growth for the individual?

A parallel is with employee annual reviews. Many employers rate their employees on criteria that are judged on a sale of 1 to 5 with either a 3 or 4 meaning that the employee is meeting expectations. If you have ever given an annual review that uses such a scale you have probably experienced an employee that is upset when they are judged to have met expectations. All employees believe that they have exceeded expectations and may even warrant a perfect score of 5 but they fail to recognize that meet expectations is just fine; That meeting expectations means that you are doing exactly what I need you to do. Nothing more. Nothing less.

As leaders, we need to use tools such as customer satisfaction surveys and annual reviews to appropriately and accurately measure how are teams are performing and to provide motivation to always improve. One could argue that setting the expectation with customers that the employee wants to earn a 10 could bring to light any issues with the experience or product sooner, but I believe that it also impacts the scores that the customer will provide because the customer does not want to be the cause of the employee’s failure. Good feedback–feedback we can use to grow and improve–is feedback that is objective and free from inappropriate influence.

Leave a Comment