Foodservice and Hospitality, April 2002. David Lipton
When it comes right down to it, a hungry customer looking for more than a place to eat needs nothing more than a clean restaurant and a decent meal. And since most establishments can provide that, the one thing that differentiates a restaurant from all the rest is how the staff treats its customers.
To truly satisfy a customer, a restaurant must make sure it knows what guests need and want from their dining experience. Traditionally, restaurants have used guest surveys, comment cards, and 1-800 numbers to obtain guest feedback. But as technology continually evolves, methods of market research evolve with it. In today’s fast-paced high-tech world, finding out exactly what satisfies customers is more important and easier than it ever was before. Here are some new ways technology is being used:
- Online comment cards and surveys: Customers are directed to a website such as commentscafe.com, where they will find a restaurant’s comment cards. Customers can fill in the information over the Internet at their leisure. The information is instantly transformed into report format, with both the individual cards/surveys and statistics transmitted to the appropriate managers.
- Automatic online surveys: Now managers can prepare online surveys using a step-by-step process. Once the survey has been developed, it can be automatically sent to targeted individuals by e-mail. After the survey is completed, the results are instantly tabulated and disseminated via the Internet.
- Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs): A company can instantly beam a survey to guests’ PDAs (or the company can supply its own handheld devices) and the survey can be filled out immediately. Once completed, the information is downloaded directly to a database, where results are instantly accessible by the authorized managers
- 1-800 IVR (interactive voice response) numbers: A twist on the traditional 1-800 number allows guests to complete surveys by phone using interactive voice response technology. The guests are given a card with a personal identification number. Once the guest completes the survey, the card acts as an incentive, with the PIN number being all they need to collect a reward (for example, 10 free minutes of long-distance calls). The information collected ends up on an Internet server from which it is easily disseminated to the appropriate personnel.
- Mystery Shopping: Technology now allows mystery shoppers to fill out evaluation forms online. The inspection forms are then edited and assembled into customizable reports that can be viewed by operators.
There are numerous benefits to using technology when assessing guest satisfaction. For instance, it offers flexibility for operators and customers – operators can view the data and results in a variety of formats whenever it’s convenient for them, and can easily analyze the results in a variety of ways; and similarly, customers can provide feedback at their own convenience.
Online feedback programs also significantly reduce the need for printing, postage, data entry, and tabulation. Timeliness is another benefit – the turn-around time from when the survey is filled out to when the results are calculated is virtually instantaneous. This translates into quicker implementation of ideas for improvement.
While the steak at one restaurant may be just as tender as it is at the one next door, customers will keep coming back to the restaurant that focuses on guest satisfaction. The faster guest satisfaction survey information is collected, analyzed, and made available to those who provide customer service, the easier it becomes to stay ahead.