CUSTOMER FEEDBACK is part of the marketing process. Most companies want to know how the customer finds the product or service, and how he can be served better, preferably at no additional cost.
Restaurants routinely solicit customer comments. The waitress looks sheepish when handing out the small card with the questions. She knows she is intruding on someone trying to get further into a conversation with a lunch mate on the possibilities of dessert somewhere else. But she has a job to do.
A short pencil with no eraser is provided for the feedback exercise, ensuring that no one is going to pocket a thin unbranded piece of wood, even as a souvenir. The form includes far-fetched questions like where one has heard of the restaurant — was it online? Maybe, the answer is not among the choices — I just walked in from the rain. Such honest answers are seldom among the multiple choices for checking.
Most questions involve product quality (Did your salad come with the dressing?) or speed of delivery (Did your order arrive before your vacation leave expired?). Another category may involve the menu (Did we offer enough healthy choices for you?).
What happens to these customer feedback forms?
Not everybody is willing to spend five minutes to complete a survey form. The customer came to eat. He orders what he wants from the menu (Sir, we don’t have tripe today). He expects to be served, left alone to eat in peace, chat with his companions, pay his bill, and get on with the rest of his day — what time’s the next meeting?
So, who fills up these forms? They fall into three categories: a) those with time on their hands waiting for a meeting at 3 p.m.; b) those who are unusually peeved by the service and the type who writes letters to the editor on the long lines at the airport; and c) those with a perverse sense of humor. So, here you have what statisticians call a biased sample. Those who have blogs and consider themselves “influencers” will reserve their comments for their posts, usually nasty. And they don’t even have any followers.
Do the store managers look at these comments? One can only surmise the tug of war between propriety (Top management must see this?) and job security (This will affect my rating). Guess which side of the rope wins this tug of war. So, what percentage of the forms actually reach market research as part of customer feedback? Are they sent in their original form? Are there ghost survey respondents? The introduction of digital feedback using the mobile phone and a QR code may have improved the feedback system and avoided the removal of the negatives. But the process just becomes more tedious for the respondent.
Hostile reactions, such as food poisoning in a restaurant or an unauthorized debiting of an online bank account from an ATM withdrawal that did not give out the requested cash, are handled differently. Customer complaints or negative feedback are dodged by on-premises staff — “Sir, here’s the number to call for your complaint.” It’s called a “hot line.”
Companies are shifting to chat bots or AI programs to handle queries and complaints. This makes the exchange less emotional. Presumably, the remedies are handed down the line for the concerned departments to fix. Robots have no feelings and do not stress out like real people (Please don’t shout at me). But how do customers feel when they talk to some disembodied voice (Can you say that again?)?
The important insights from customer feedback are those not found in the form, simply because those who have not eaten in the restaurant (or bothered filling up) are unaccounted for. The nonrespondents, who are part of the target market, are missing in any survey.
Customer feedback as a basis for retaining customers, or even adding new ones, has limitations. Maybe the old-fashioned way of physical observation by the owner or manager of customer reactions to slow delivery of food from the kitchen or the walking out of already seated patrons can be more informative. The routine dropping-by of the store manager surely helps — How was the service? And hope they come back for more.
Tony Samson is chairman and CEO of TOUCH xda