How a humble bread roll was the downfall of a business

Why hearing your customers voices can be the difference between success and failure.

This afternoon I’ve been recording a Podcast for Dom Hawes-Fairley and Simon Quarendon at Selbsy Anderson with fellow panellists Shane Redding of Think Direct and Nick Taylor of Emerson. Our topic to debate was “Customer Satisfaction Surveys are Garbage”. It was a fun hour+ of chat with some serious questions being asked.

The debate which got us all going was the conversation about a restaurant owner who despite surveying his customers with a “How was everything?” at the end of the meal, ultimately went out of business, because no one was prepared to tell him that his bread rolls were stale. They told plenty of other people and potential customers but not the restauranteur himself. He’s probably still wondering why he lost his business even now.

It provoked a couple of thoughts for me in that he was surveying his customers, but he wasn’t getting meaningful data. So why was that?

There are a few potential reasons for this:

1. Customers were not as invested with the restaurant as the owner, so they saw no value to themselves, in sharing honest feedback. We need to consider how we could help the customer to see the value in giving feedback.

2. The quality of rest of the meal didn’t make up for the stale rolls and there were other better restaurants available. Remember customers have choices and a purchase doesn’t always translate into a loyal customer

3. Giving feedback can be awkward and embarrassing especially if it’s negative feedback and has to be given face to face. Having to tell the owner that his bread rolls were stale may have just been too scary! We should think about how we gather feedback, so that the customer is relaxed enough to be honest. If we can gather feedback from the customer almost without them realising that they are feeding back, it will be much more honest. If only the owner had had a secret microphone at the table or been recording, he’d have picked up on the feedback as the customers mumbled and grumbled to one another!

4. The question is too generic and doesn’t allow customers to be specific enough in their feedback. If someone’s been on a 3-month cruise stopping in 28 ports and resorts, asking the traveller “how was the holiday?” won’t get you any closer to knowing what Barbados was like. Before asking customers survey questions, we should think really carefully about what is that we want to achieve / learn and what’s the best way to gather that insight. Perhaps a small card with the bill asking a few pertinent questions for customers to tick quickly and discretely, would have helped our restauranteur more than his only voiced question of “How was everything?”

5. The timing was wrong; the question posed appeared to relate to the whole experience which overall may have been ok. If the question had been asked after each course, so that each element could have been rated, the owner may have got closer to the root of the problem – someone may have been willing to be more specific if asked at the appropriate moment whilst they were still feeling the frustration of a stale roll.

6. Other data or ‘evidence’ was ignored – if customers are routinely leaving bread rolls or not finishing them, there’s a big clue in that. Gathering insight from multiple sources and touchpoints brings huge value.

7. The owner didn’t want to hear bad news. Maybe his customers were telling him, but he wasn’t listening. As business owners we need to remember that we are not the customer and our opinion isn’t most important. If we don’t listen to our customers, we will never hear what they’re trying to tell us through words or actions.

Dom and Simon are now busily editing the podcast and I’m sure it will be out soon. It was a really interesting debate, perhaps one to listen to over a bowl of soup and a bread roll . . .

If you'd like to hear the voices of your customers without bugging their houses or using secret video cams, then GET IN TOUCH. Our Customer Experience Audit could be just the thing you need.

Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash

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