Customer feedback in the physical world is broken

Warning: this is going to be a self-serving post. (Who am I kidding? All my posts are self-serving.)

One of the most straight forward ways to improve your business is simply asking your customers what they want, or at least making it clear you are always open for new suggestions. On the internet, there are many technologies that make it easy to do so, even something simple like a web form, or just an email. That’s all fine and dandy, but the problem is that we (well most of us) live in the physical world. We still eat food and/or do stuff at physical establishments or businesses. So how do you collect feedback in this case? Here are your options today:

  • Either you or your employees talk with your customers
  • Have comment cards available
  • Incent customers to fill out a survey online after they get home
  • Display a phone number that your customers can call

All of these options are less than ideal. Here’s why:

Talking with your customers

This is probably the best option, but it’s not always practical, and there will always be a social filter censoring what information is passed on to the managers, or you as the owner. Sure, if you are talking to customers yourself, you know exactly what the customer said. What happens if it is one of your employees, who (perhaps unconsciously) doesn’t tell the full story or leaves out important details of what a customer said? Plus, there’s no good way to review all your feedback later on to actually make some changes, which is the whole point of talking with customers in the first place.

Have comment cards available

Okay, let’s be honest with ourselves: no one fills out comment cards, especially the younger (my) generation. Then there’s the logistics behind managing comment cards, making sure the necessary tools are available (a pen, the comment card itself, a box to deposit them). Once again, there’s a layer between the customer and you or your managers. We all know employees have been known to “misplace” certain (read: negative) comment cards. Also, if it’s something time sensitive like “Your bathrooms were dirty”, what good is that a few days or weeks later when you read it? Once again though, no one fills them out anyway.

Incent customers to fill out a survey online after they get home

Once again, very few people do this. Ever since I started my most recent company, I have been participating in some of these, but have yet to actually finish a whole survey because I find that the survey is too structured. While structure produces nice data to generate reports from later, it’s a pain in the ass for your customers, especially the ones who have one simple thing to tell you — they don’t want to rate the appearance of your employees’ dress or some irrelevant (to them) attribute of your business. Finally, the fact that you have to incent your customer to get feedback is a problem in and of itself. If I have something to tell you, I shouldn’t expect to get something in return. Oh, and, not to mention, when I get home, I’m not going to remember what I’m thinking. Wouldn’t you rather hear what I was thinking about the experience as I’m experiencing it?

Display a phone number that your customers can call

At a high level, this seems perfectly reasonable, but think about how involved this is for both you and your customers. Going back to the behavioral changes between generations, I, and many of my peers, prefer to email or text rather than call, granted there are times when a phone call is necessary. If I want to compliment your employee for exceptional service, a phone call isn’t necessary. So what are businesses to do? The answer lies in text messaging. Everyone (93% of Americans to be exact) has a cell phone and it’s safe to assume that all cell phones are capable of texting.

The benefits of text messaging:

  • Low involvement for both you and your customers
  • Instant, real-time and two-way communication
  • Easy to archive for later review
  • Mass acceptance — in June 2010, 173 billion texts were sent

Even with companies embracing social media as a way to engage customers (which I’m not against), text messaging easily wins out:

90 percent of smartphone users send at least one text message per day, compared to only 40 percent of smartphone users who utilize social networks like Twitter and Facebook at least once per day. Source

Ready to realize the potential text messaging has to offer? Contact me or Email me.

Originally published at on March 21, 2011.