A typical scale; scales are important in employee surveys, too


I don't currently drive an Audi, but I remember this survey experience as if it were yesterday.

On a Tuesday, I took my car in for scheduled maintenance. The next day, Audi sent me an email requesting that I complete an online survey.

So I did. I’ve taken these surveys before, but never noticed the odd response scale Audi used. 

Audi uses a 10-point scale that goes from 1 (Unacceptable) to 10 (Exceptional). Right away, the 10-point scale is a problem for me: I always wonder if 10 is a good idea for a survey scale. From the survey respondent’s point of view, 10 presents a large number of choices—maybe too many. And it’s hard to get the balance right, with an equal number of positive and negative responses.

And that gets to the crux of the problem with the Audi survey. The scale was set up with 1 on the left and 10 on the right. Above it, not exactly aligned to the numbers, were the descriptive terms: Unacceptable (roughly above numbers 1 to 2), Average (above 3 to 5), Outstanding (above 6 to 8) and Exceptional (above 9 and 10).

What’s wrong with this picture? First, there’s a math problem: 10 is not divisible by 4, so some descriptors seem to be assigned more choices than others; for example, Unacceptable has two, Outstanding has three.

Second, depending upon how you define Average, (which I would say is mildly positive, at least), the survey gives respondents three positive choices and one very negative one. (Unacceptable is such a harsh term that it would take a very unhappy customer to choose that one.)

Third, the words “Outstanding” and “Exceptional” are exuberantly positive. As a matter of fact, one word is practically a synonym for the other. (Go ahead, try it: Tell me the difference between “Outstanding” service and “Exceptional” service. Bet you can’t.) So the survey is further biased toward positive.

Since I found my Audi service experience only somewhat positive (but certainly not outstanding or exceptional), I had trouble answering the questions. If the survey had asked, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate this particular aspect of our service?” I would have chosen 6 as the response to most questions. But right about 6 was the descriptor “Outstanding.” My service experience wasn’t outstanding. It was just a 6. I wasn’t in love; I was only in “like.”

Someone at Audi (and at my dealer) was probably happy reviewing my survey response because I seem to be satisfied. But wasn't that happy—as a matter of fact, I felt somewhat manipulated—and the company missed an opportunity to get genuine, unbiased feedback.

All in all, I’d rate the survey Below Average . . . but because that’s not an option, my rating is: Unacceptable. 

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