August 21, 2002

Failing to Feed Back

What happens when feedback is available but there is no mechanism to collect it? That was the question that entered my mind recently as I had a less-than-stellar dining experience at one of the few sit-down restaurants in the less-than-stellar new Northwest World Gateway Terminal in Detroit.

During my 45 minutes in this restaurant no fewer than a half-dozen suggestions for enhancing the efficiency and satisfaction of the guest experience became apparent to me. Example: After 12 people stopped in a 20-minute period and picked up a menu off the table to see what food was available, it became fairly obvious that posting a large and visually interesting menu might no only meet a very apparent need for information, but also attract “restaurant roamers” aimlessly wandering through the airport in search of a decent meal.

For a brief moment, I considered taking time out of my rushed schedule to locate the manager and share my observations in the hopes things might get better the next time I connect through Detroit. But as I stood to seek out this individual, I took in the surroundings of the entire restaurant: the uncleared tables, the sullen servers, and the carelessly strewn personal items at the counter. And in those brief seconds, I determined this was a place that did not deserve my feedback because it was apparent the folks running the show just do not care.

It’s hard enough nowadays to get people to provide us with meaningful feedback. The customer comment cards, while de rigueur, are rarely taken from the stands. The cry to members of organizations to let us know how we can better serve them often go unheeded. And here I was, armed with several practical and easy-to-implement suggestions, but no longer interested in sharing them.

My friends will tell you I am not at all shy about offering my perspective on my experience as a guest at hotels or in restaurants. Having worked in the hospitality industry, I know the only way to bring about change is to expose the blind spots that may exist in the service or produce delivery.

It strikes me we need more contemporary mechanisms to engage the end recipients of our efforts in helping expose our blind spots. Sure Zoomerang surveys are more convenient than paper and pen instruments, but that still isn’t quite the right response. Seems to me we need to engage our members, customers, and stakeholders as collaborators in refining and enhancing the programs we are delivering and the guest experiences we are creating.

Imagine if the manager of this restaurant had joined me at some point during my meal and said: “ Sir, I know you are on a tight schedule as a traveler today, but we are really dedicated to ensuring you have an efficient and enjoyable visit to our restaurant. I’m wondering if I could chat with you for a few minutes about how well we’ve done with that today and in exchange I’d be happy to buy your dessert or give you a coupon you could use towards your next meal with us.”

I can’t say I would have jumped at this chance, but a personal pitch linked to a desire to improve is something I think has a greater likelihood in capturing our attention and energy than the other means we typically use.

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