Surveys about customer service are useless

good.simple.openI just took a customer service survey for Healthcare.gov. It asked me 6 questions about the customer service I’d received. The customer service representative I’d spoken to moments before was polite, calm, and helpful. So in the survey, I graded her well. But using customer service surveys like this as a metric is useless.

A customer service survey can only tell you how that representative did at that time. She could be having an off day; she could be dealing with someone who doesn’t understand her; she could be dealing with an asshole. There are an infinite number of things that affect those moments in which that customer service representative is dealing with that particular customer. So a survey such as that shouldn’t be used to grade her performance. The managers who deal with that representative on a daily basis have a better understanding of how that individual performs.

But this leads to the bigger problem of these types of surveys: businesses think they tell them something about their business. They don’t. Asking 6 questions which I can only answer with a 1-5 grade doesn’t elucidate anything about the business or my experience. And the truth of the matter is that while Healthcare.gov’s customer service is friendly and capable, the user experience sucks.

In my book good.simple.open, I have a chapter called “Trump Customer Service with User Experience.” The thesis of that chapter is the same that I’m elaborating here: the politeness of the person on the other end of the phone doesn’t matter to me if my experience sucks.

Healthcare.gov–and all of the law surrounding the Affordable Care Act–is a perfect negative example of everything I discuss in good.simple.open. The law is too long and it is too complex. The myriad exemptions and exclusions and limitations for users of its programs confuse us. In my book I talk about how complexity creates power, complexity equals deception, and complexity makes things expensive. At every turn, the ACA bears out these rules.

I was calling today about getting an exception to their rules on who can buy catastrophic insurance coverage. Apparently, I was offered these plans the last time I checked (I don’t remember because the experience is so Byzantine). But what’s ridiculous is that I should have to check on these things at all.

I should be allowed to buy the plan I want when I want. I shouldn’t have to ask permission from the government to change my healthcare insurance plan and they shouldn’t be able to tell me what works for me.

Surveying me on how well the person who tells me what I can and can’t do is doing her job doesn’t give any meaningful insight on how the business is doing or what my experience actually is. If you want insight, ask about the overall experience, look into the reasons why customers call (if you’d presented the information I sought clearly, then why was I calling to find it?), examine all the complexities of your system and start simplifying. But don’t ask me if the person bossing me around was knowledgable. That is absurd.

And in general, don’t do anything Healthcare.gov does in your own business.