To get the answers you want, you need to ask the right question

As a frequent traveller and a compulsive shopper I am often confronted with questionnaires asking me to rate the hotel, store, airline or whatever on a variety of scales. Sometimes these scales are simple smiley/grumpy faces; sometimes they are specific measures of excellence i.e. very good, quite good, good, etc. I have even come across a few questionnaires that only allow positive responses (and while I am all for positive thinking I do find this somewhat presumptuous).


Being a market researcher I feel a certain obligation to fill in such questionnaires with my honest and considered opinion. Sometimes though, I find this extremely difficult to do (even as a market researcher). This is because the attributes I am being asked to rate just do not seem relevant to me as a customer. Such questionnaires seem to list factors that may be important to the company but have little to do with how the customer feels about the service provided or whether they will be back for more of the same. Take for example a standard hotel questionnaire. This might ask you to rate the quality of personal care products such as shampoo and the mint on your pillow. What they don’t seem to want to know is how long it took you to check in/out, how frustrated you feel about that hair drier that doesn’t blow and how you can’t find the hotel telephone number on any of the stationery in your room when someone you’re calling asks for it. While it is nice to have a mint on my pillow I really would rather have a proper blow-drier. Which is my point exactly.

Because these questionnaires list factors that the company places a special emphasis on, it is easy for such firms to be lulled into a false sense of security. Managers can take pride in the high ratings for the attributes listed on the score-cards. But what if they are scoring themselves on things their customers find trivial or standard courtesy i.e. did the bank teller greet you when you approached the counter?

While I am all for customer feed-back and recognise that such questionnaire have their place in measuring performance, I can’t help thinking that the companies are missing a golden opportunity to find out what their customers think and feel about the service they have just received. Why don’t they try asking some basic questions like; what did we do well? What did we not do that you would like us to do? And, what would you like us to improve?

Only by asking questions such as these will firms be able to develop the competitive edge that will help them succeed in the 21st century.

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