The Uselessness of Granularity in Feedback Management

Warning, we are embarking on another of my pet peeves: granularity.  What?  You don’t know what I am talking about about? Let me explain myself.  Granularity is how detailed of a scale you use when ranking feedback.  For example, you could use a simple Boolean scale, like Yes or No.  You could also use numeric scales, say between one and five.  Finally, you could use word scales, like Horrible, Bad, Neutral, Good, Excellent.  Either way, the concept is that you give the respondent a scale of choices to base their response to a specific feedback question.

What could possibly be wrong with that?  Well, it is not the concept, but the implementation that gets me.  Same as with customer satisfaction and loyalty (you could click on these links for my previous rants on loyalty and satisfaction). The concept of giving people choices is good, as it creates way for them to express opinions on any topic.  It allows organizations to prioritize their efforts and focus on those that need more attention — a Horrible rating needs more attention than a Bad one.  Same thing for Good and Excellent.  See, the logic is good

The most common used scale until recently was one through five.  That is not that bad, really, except for the odd number of options (more on this later).  However, some “genius” somewhere decided that five options is not enough.  We need to give the customers a scale from one to ten for them to grade us.  They call that granularity and the flawed assumption is that more options will give the organization a deeper understanding of the true feelings of their customers.  There are two problems with this logic:

First, there are too many options. Customers are already hard to reach for qualified feedback, do you really want to add time to the survey – and so many choices for each question?  Consider a typical, not a good, customer satisfaction survey.  It has 12-15 questions.  Let’s assume that only nine of those questions have granular scales for answer.  In the time it takes a customer to decide whether questions number four and six deserve either a six or a seven the most likely outcome is that they will abandon the survey, or choose an answer without cause.

The worse part of this, when you get the responses you cluster the answers because there is no real difference between six, seven, and potentially eight – they all become one!  So the time you asked your customer to take to choose the best granular-scale response was wasted, and the decrease in response rates is actually justified.  Customers realized long before you did the uselessness of granularity – and they stopped responding to granular-scale questions.  Not really worth the unlikely benefit of getting better definition of their needs and demands.

I know what you are asking yourself: what scale should I use then?  A four-option, word scale: Poor, Bad, Good, Excellent.  Why four?  Remember when I said you did not want to have an odd number of options?  If you give customers five options, they will pick number three more often than not.  This is called, informally, fence-sitting and fulfills the purpose for customers to give you feedback but not take a position.  Was my service good? It was Neutral…what does Neutral mean?

Anyway, I am now getting off my soap box.  Let me part with some statistics.  Among the people I recommended using this scale, and adopted it, customer satisfaction was up an average of 8 points, and response rate scored consistently higher – not with just one survey, but over time with returning customers.

What do you think?  Are you going to try this?  Let me know your thoughts…