Real talk: No one likes to be criticized. I don’t care how thick-skinned you are-- (and we all know, you need a thick skin in the service industry) everyone cringes in the face of criticism from customer feedback. You’re out there hustling, doing your best to build your business, and sometimes it can be scary to be faced with the fact that hard work isn’t always enough to keep customers happy.
Perhaps you’re worried the truth will hurt, or disillusion you. Perhaps you don’t want other people telling you how to run your business. Perhaps you just hate dealing with nitpicky customers (we don’t blame you on that one.) While an ‘if you don’t like it, that’s your problem’ attitude can help you deduce what characteristics of your business are most important to its integrity, customer feedback in its many forms can be an untapped gold mine--a way to measure the pulse of how you’re doing, see your business’s future possibilities, and how to maintain your trademark quality and excellence along the way.
It’s important to understand that one way or another, customers will find an outlet to air their feelings about your business and its services. With the dawn of social media culture and subsequent economy of sharing accounts of our experiences, any customer is going to need to rant about a negative experience--the only thing you can control is how your business responds. By soliciting the feedback in the first place, you are getting ahead of the criticism, and a patron is more likely to contact you directly with feedback, instead of posting a scathing review on Yelp. Additionally, soliciting feedback from customers lets them feel more invested in the business-consumer relationship. They know that their opinion is valued, they know that this business has integrity and is more than a money-making scheme, and this incentivizes them to stay loyal.
Customer feedback can be as productive and healthy to a business as an editor taking a look at an author’s book. When you have invested the passion and legwork to build a business, it can become increasingly difficult to see beyond your own perspective and experiences. Even though you too have been a customer in countless situations, you haven’t been a customer at your own establishment. You need to know what’s working and what can be improved on the client-facing side, and there is no form of data more valuable and authentic than straight from an average customer. Knowing ways you can improve your business is invaluable, and often this customer feedback comes at no added cost to your business.
Finally, allowing yourself to see customer feedback for what it truly is--a priceless value--can work wonders in the process of freeing yourself to develop a constructive, communicative relationship with your patrons. The fact that someone is taking the time to let you know how things can be improved holds an implicit respect for your business, and without this information, you would be in the dark about something that needs fixing. Operating your business with a fluid notion of how it serves is valuable in that it shows the customers that their needs can be met, and their voice can be heard. After all, while individual sweat, blood and tears make a restaurant, it’s the patrons that keep it in business. And those patrons are ultimately coming out to eat to feel a departure from the everyday, to feel special, to feel like more than just a number. They are not there to be told one more time that their needs don’t matter, that they can’t get what they want. Think of is like this--you are not their mom. You are their doting Grandma.
Let’s face it--the culture of public feedback and individualized interactions between customers and businesses isn’t going anywhere. That means, there will be businesses that cultivate these symbiotic relationships with their patrons, increasing loyalty, and subsequently visibility and public buzz, and those that refuse to. The grapevine is stronger than ever, and there are many businesses out there, many with great food or great products. What can set you apart is the way you build relationships, the way you accept and respond to customer’s needs, and the changes you make to better serve your patrons. Seriously, just get on board. You won’t regret it.