“How was your meal?”  “How was your meal?”

A well-intentioned assistant manager is wandering through the dining room asking that worthless question.

You have been there, we all have.  Every one of us has been through this irritating restaurant experience.

Finally, he stops at our table and asks, “How was your meal?”

What does he expect?

How do you reply? You probably do exactly as I do. I say, “Fine.” This is what most people do, even when the food is not fine.

We came to enjoy our meal and have a conversation with friends, not to be interrupted to participate in a worthless survey.

Not only is the assistant manager wasting time, the feedback is misleading. Customers are reluctant to make negative comments because they expect the management to be defensive or confrontational.

Remember the last time you actually told the truth when you were dissatisfied?  If your experiences are like mine, and I believe that they are, the person who asked the question went into defensive mode.  He told you about all of their problems, procedures, and policies.  He made you feel like the problem was really your fault.

At Chick-fil-A, I urged our Operators (franchisees) to talk to customers but to use a different approach. I wanted their questions regarding customer satisfaction to be effective and to invite useable feedback.

The question I prefer goes like this: “At Chick-fil-A, we want to constantly improve. What could we do to make your meal more enjoyable?” By asking for suggestions rather than criticism, we put the customers in the position of giving positive suggestions rather than negative criticism.

For the customer that is a big difference!

When asked for suggestions, customers are often pleased to provide valuable feedback.  However, they are reluctant to offer criticism, even when they are dissatisfied.  That’s why it is important to provide them with an opportunity to relate a negative experience as a suggestion of how to create a positive experience in the future.

No matter what the customers say, the proper response is to thank them sincerely for their suggestions and to urge them to continue to tell us what improvements they would like to see on future visits.

When asking for suggestions is not the time to defend your business or to try to educate the customer on your problems, procedures, and policies. It is not talking time; it is listening to time!

Truett Cathy, the Founder of Chick-fil-A, often said,

“You don’t need to know anything about it to be successful in the restaurant business. Just listen to your customers. They will tell you what to do.”

Ask for Suggestions Rather than Criticism

Have you ever given negative feedback and been sorry that you didn’t just say, “Fine,” and forget it?

How would you suggest that restaurant managers handle this?

How could they get more accurate and meaningful results?

Jimmy Collins

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