How was the service?

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How was the service?

By Tony Samson

IN CHANGI Airport in Singapore, the toilets have a small touch screen by the entrance with emoji symbols for users to rate the quality of the facility — from grouchy to jubilant in a scale of five to one. The customer just presses the appropriate symbol to register his rating. He is assured that the screen is regularly cleaned to be properly hygienic, considering what the fingers have just been up to before the voting. This instant feedback, tracked digitally, serves to evaluate customer feedback.

Enlightened companies like Walmart consider customer feedback essential. The complaints department is part of this information loop. It records customer dissatisfaction, even when expressed with expletives and raised voices. Perhaps, failed customer experiences provide an unadulterated assessment of service.

Restaurants here have embraced the need for customer feedback. There may be a store manager (or even the chef) coming to your table to ask how the food was. This personal inquiry can be overdone and disrupt the privacy of diners — and is your mashed potato lumpy or just right for your mastication efforts? You should try our anchovy dip with the lettuce.

The customer rating form is routinely inserted in the black folder along with the bill.

The form covers marketing efforts, like how one heard of the new restaurant — whether from a radio ad or the person on top of the escalator handing out flyers. It’s a bother to tell the truth — I haven’t heard of this restaurant before today. I just wandered in as there was no queue outside.

Other questions cover service, especially the responsiveness of the waitresses. (Did your order arrive before your vacation leave was over?) Another category involves product offering — what do you want us to add to the menu (aside from what was not available on it)?

What happens to all this customer feedback?

Not all customers are willing to spend two minutes to accomplish the feedback form, even when a short pencil without an eraser is provided. The customer went there to eat. He orders what he wants from the menu. He expects to be served, eat in peace, pay his bill and get on with the rest of his day. He doesn’t want to be pestered afterwards — please give us your email address and mobile phone number; also your date of birth and TIN.

So, who fills up these forms? They fall into three categories: a) those with time on their hands waiting for a meeting at 3PM; b) those who are unusually peeved by the service and need to rant; and c) those with a perverse sense of humor — your washroom has no toilet paper. So, here you have what statisticians call a biased sample.

Do the servers and store managers peek at the written comments?

One can only surmise the tug of war between management systems (this will go straight to upper management) and self-preservation in case of bad ratings. Guess how this trade-off is resolved. So, what percentage of the forms reaches head office for customer satisfaction evaluation.

Is there a bias for positive feedback? (Your workers see customer service as an opportunity for sanctification. Where do you get such dedicated human beings?) Check the handwriting and the grammar.

So if the ballots are pre-screened, how reliable can the survey be? Maybe the conclusions will involve higher compensation for an overworked but motivated (almost bursting into song) workforce. Perhaps, the menu can do with some pruning, involving the removal of seldom available offerings (like soft-shell crabs).

The important insights are sometimes not found in the form, simply because those who have not eaten in the restaurant (or bothered filling up) are unaccounted for. The non-customers (or potential new business) are not heard from in the on-store survey.

The most significant metric in gauging satisfaction is repeat business, and waiters who recognize regular customers and remember their order — whole wheat pasta for your vongole, Sir? Still, customer intimacy needs to be reined in — I see you’re with a new dinner companion, Sir. This one looks younger.

“Word of mouth” and customer ratings in social media can provide the best information, when these are not being manipulated. Thus, it’s more important when friends are the ones asking — how was the service? The answer to that can attract new customers or lose old ones.


Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda