Should I Bother with Feedback?
As an business owner, you know that customer feedback is valuable. Specifically critical when determining a customer’s needs and tastes, and if the business is delivering on them. It can also help improve the services and products and develop strategies for customer loyalty. But, there are many competing methods for collecting feedback. Some deliver valuable insight – but many do not, and perhaps are even a waste of time.
One type of survey is the comment card. It is widely used but most common in the restaurant industry. Despite their legacy, there are advantages and disadvantages of customer comment cards. We will be reviewing the pro’s and con’s of this historic method and delivering a verdict on whether it is a worthwhile customer initiative.
Even better is that we will share a comment card guide – so you can see how to implement this type of program.
What do the Experts Say?
Before we move on to the definitions and use case – we must look at the scholarly work. In this case from: “Customer Comment Cards – A Critical Evaluation” – Alex Douglas, Lindsey Muir and Jacqueline Douglas – Liverpool University. They say:
The long term success of any service business is reliant on satisfying customers. Therefore it is important to find ways to accurately measure their service quality and to do so in a non obtrusive manner. Assessments of the service should occur as close to the encounter as possible so that the feedback is more reliable. One of the most common methods is the comment card.
What is a Customer Comment Card?
The academics suggest that the customer comment card is a way to gather customer feedback for a business in the form of a review, comment or suggestion from the customer base. These comment cards are most often found in retail stores, but are also used in other industries, such as banks, restaurants and hospitals. Always accessed and collected at the business location (perhaps even with the POS invoice or guest check) – so not an online customer interaction.
Customer input is at the location, using a pen and paper to fill in the card, which is then placed in a box, mailed or just handed to staff. The information on these cards can be anonymous and usually in the form of a survey. Business owners use the data to improve the guest experience. At least, that is what they should be doing!
What Does a Customer Comment Card Look Like?
A typical example is below:
Note that the design or template is critical. We have seen some truly shocking designs – Common design errors will decrease the value of any feedback received.
What is the History of the Customer Comment Card?
It is hard to know when were the first attempts at customer service measurement. Some speculate that it may go back to 1750 BC. In this case, the written complaint is on a clay tablet (not card!) from the ancient city of Ur, now part of southern Iraq. It is part of British Museum’s collection. The letter is a complaint about the wrong grade of copper delivered. Who knows if this represents a typical customer experience back then, or whether the tablet represented the views of a standard customer!
So the comment card has been around for a while! BUT does this legacy mean they are effective? Specifically, what are the advantages and disadvantages of customer comment cards?
Advantages of a Customer Comment Card
When it comes to customer feedback, the comment cards are one of the most popular ways to get a message across. The restaurant industry relies on them more than any other method. Many businesses cite the following advantages:
- The cards are not only simple to use,
- They can also be easily customized.
- And are cheap to produce.
- Comment cards are familiar to customers so can help enhance service quality (f used wisely!).
- You can ask for opinions on any aspect of the business and by doing so will likely increase customer engagement if the customer believe change will result.
- In addition, a business will receive customer requests, and customer ideas, on how to improve the service and offering.
- These new ideas can improve operational efficiency and customer satisfaction.
So the bottom line is that they are easy to administer, cost effective and may lead to performance improvement. But do they have issues?
Disadvantages of a Customer Comment Card
Comment cards are not a replacement to customer satisfaction surveys. They are simply an easy way to get customer feedback and a quick way to address any concerns. Instead of the customer having to take the time to write an email, you can just hand them your business’ reply card and have them fill it out and send it back to you. It seems like such a great idea, but unfortunately, not everyone is a fan of comment cards.
- Impersonal – Some people feel that comment cards are too impersonal – lacking in any customer engagement.
- Inconvenient – Others feel that they take too much time to fill out, especially when there’s no incentive to do so.
- Excuse to spam – Customers believe comment cards are just an easy way to collect contact information (spoiler alert – this a really bad idea).
- Inaction – No change – This release for customers without action means no improvement in business success is even possible.
(For the restaurant business – they are particularly unhelpful. With defection rates in double figure restaurant owners need immediate reports on guest experience and insights on relationships with customers. Restaurant comment cards are just a bad idea – see our previous blog)
There are even bigger issues.
There are more strategic problems, including the following:
- Not representative of the real customer. Specifically, the business receives extremes in a stream of customer feedback – either very positive or outrageously damning. This means that the business may receive plenty of responses, through a bunch of surveys but unlikely these views represent the average customer.
- Extremes in customer scores will paint a false picture and often not a representative sample of the real customer base.
- Missed Engagement Opportunity. While positive comments can encourage future business, it is far more likely that negative comments will do the opposite. Customers complaining on social media because they feel the comment card is not being read will have a disastrous effect on the business. Whereas if the business could intervene and correct the issue while the customer is still at the location, this would improve customer relationships and customer loyalty.
- Comment cards, like other feedback forms, don’t provide instant customer feedback – because there is a lag from filling out to collection, reviewing and processing. This means that negative feedback ill not reach the decision makers in time before the customer complains on social media.
- Many cards rely on open ended questions which means no analysis or actionable insights. Some cards are have too many questions so it is a chore to respond which results in low response rates.
- Opportunity to destroy brand value. Perhaps the biggest insult is for the Customer Service Department to use business reply mail and expect the customer to pay for offering an opinion!
- No real business change. Guest comment cards get collected from the card box, analyzed, distributed and actioned – yet this is hard and time consuming. Any rating systems developed will be primitive and late. This means that few business metrics are consistently measured and business analytics dashboards are even rarer. Business decisions tend to be reactive, so future business practices will largely remain unchanged.
- Expensive. Comment cards are a much higher dollar investment than you might think. We have an online calculator that works out how much a comment card program will run you (spoiler alert – it is much more than you might think)
Learning What Customers Really Want and What People Say About Us.
You’ve spent months developing the perfect business. You’ve studied your target customers. You have identified the features that would be most appealing to them, and prepared a launch that you’re sure will be a hit. But how can you know for sure? How do you know whether the business you’ve developed is really going to deliver the customer interactions that they are looking for? How will you find out? In this article we have reviewed the advantages and disadvantages of customer comment cards.
Unfortunately, it is often very difficult to find out what your customers really want. Comment cards, like other feedback forms are a traditional method to gather data and ultimately improve customer relationship management through improved performance. They are simple and have other advantages, but these are massively outweighed by the disadvantages. We think that for this essential process – there are more effective alternatives including a digital version.
There are no disadvantages of customer feedback, but huge issues using the comment card for collection.
Customer feedback began with the stone tablet and evolved to the cell phone delivering real-time feedback. Don’t get stuck on paper. For crying out loud use a digital customer comment card.
The advantages and disadvantages of customer comment cards are critical knowledge. More thoughts on this are in our Ultimate Comment Card Guide.