I came across an interesting item in Chris Bell’s blog Customer Think that made me think. He points out that most “customer feedback” mechanisms are tiresome formalities. Customers usually have no real incentive to tell the truth, and the business frequently cares very little about the answer anyway.
That “how is everything?” from the restaurant server is a classic example. Most people, even if they had just found a golf ball in their guacamole, would simply smile back and say “fine.” Most of us don’t like conflict, and after all, we rationalize, it’s probably not his or her fault!
And the server, who has been told to make this inquiry, isn’t expecting a real answer, either. Unless you send something back or demand to see a manager, it’s doubtful your comments make it to the kitchen door. Everyone just moves on, and no actual information has been exchanged. The restaurant gets a false sense of security.
This has a parallel in marketing, I think. I’ve worked at ad agencies that annually asked each client “how are we doing?” On more than one occasion, the requisite “fine” was followed weeks later by an agency review. I think the main thing we should be asking our customers is, “how can we do better?” We’ll get a deeper, more accurate reflection of what those customers really think, and perhaps learn something we really can use to improve our services. Even from customers who are happy with us, but could be happier.
I’m going to try harder from now on to get real feedback from my students, freelance clients… even readers of this blog. So, how am I doing? No, wait — what could I be doing better? I really want to know!