When words speak louder: Comment Cards and Word-of-Mouth Advertising
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The creation of a feedback program is beneficial to any business. It allows the business to increase productivity and better serve the customer by learning what is or isn’t working. One of the most common forms of feedback is the use of comment card. It provides a quick snapshot of a customers experience and when designed properly can provide useful information to improve success. When developing a comment card program it is important to consider the needs of the business, client and employee as well as incorporate the most effective advertising strategies to ensure its success.
Comment Card programs are vital to business productivity in the hospitality industry. They provide a subjective view of customer experience and reveal actual impact that a manager can’t always see (ICC). Combining subjective data with objective experience, businesses can view the larger picture of what is and isn’t working and can take the appropriate steps to improve relations and increase success. An appropriate comment card will be “designed to measure overall satisfaction and relate to each applicable department providing support” (UniFocus). It is important when designing and implementing a comment card program to focus on your most effective forms of advertising. In this way, you can not only obtain feedback to improve customer service and relations, but also better advocate your product. The most valuable and often most effective form of advertising is word-of-mouth. Word-of-mouth advertising is “an unpaid form of promotion in which satisfied customers tell other people how much they like a business, product or service” (Entrepreneur). It is so important because it comes in second only to personal experience as the most influential source to perception and likelihood to use a product or business (Allsop et al. 407). Even more astounding is the impact of negative word-of mouth on a business. “More than 50 percent of Americans report that a negative shopping experience by a friend or colleague will prevent them from setting foot in a store all together” (Gale Group). Additionally, “a study conducted in Texas revealed that the average dissatisfied customer gripes to 11 people about his experience, and these 11 in turn each tell five others”, though you may have hundreds of satisfied customers those with a bad experience are more likely to talk about it (Misner). Word-of-mouth is difficult to directly influence and isn’t always triggered by exceptional customer service, but can be triggered by non-verbal architectural, kinetic or generous statements whose value can be measured and reinforced through the use of comment cards (Entrepreneur).
In developing a comment card program you first need to assess the needs of your business. What message are you trying to get across in the promotion of your product? In the hotel industry for example maybe you want to be known for being the cleanest and most detail oriented hotel chain. You may or may not directly advertise that to your customers, but it is the area you will focus on in daily operations and in your comment cards, so you can obtain the feedback to see if you are meeting and exceeding that goal. Second you need to “qualify or assess the needs of your demographic client, so you can tailor make each experience and ideally exceed their expectations which will increase their likelihood to recommend your goods or services to others” (Chenoweth). In assessing your client’s needs, you must also consider time and accessibility in their likeliness to complete a comment card for you. Cards should be brief and questions should be chosen to maximize usable feedback. Subjective questions should be used to create a baseline for future comparison and to develop quantitative results. Objective questions should be used to allow for a more personalized response from the customer and are vitally important in improving word-of-mouth influence. Accessibility is of higher consideration now with technological developments. Where the paper comment card has long been the standard, surveys are now being conducted via phone, internet or portable electronic device. In the hotel industry many people now avoid the checkout counter entirely having already utilized the in-room television checkout, rendering front desk comment cards virtually useless when bypassed. In this instance developing a survey built into the in-room checkout system is necessary. An alternative could also be an employee stationed at the exit doors specifically to obtain visitor feedback. Many museums now utilize this technique with paper or electronic surveys and where time is an issue they offer incentives such as future museum discounts, a museum store postcard or gift, etc. as a ‘thank you’ for sharing their comments (Chenoweth). Even when a guest may be too busy to fill out a survey on the spot they offer a postage-paid version or direct them to a way to complete a phone or online version (Chenoweth). Ultimately having alternate forms of the same card is important to cater to the needs of any customer if you can make it work with your budget.
In developing a comment card program for a hotel it is important to include hotel management and staff. Consulting the management about hotel goals will assist in developing the right questions to ask guests, they also may be looking to improve the service of specific departments and may want to include questions that will give them feedback on particular employees. They may even be considering a system of department specific feedback such as a separate card delivered with a room service order to rate that one area. Often times, guests are quite amenable to very brief (3-5 question) cards and would be more likely to fill them throughout their stay rather than one longer guest survey at the end. In this ‘along the way’ approach, time spent seems negligible to the guest and you are getting more specific department results that aren’t tainted by their overall feel of their stay positive or negative. In developing a comment card program it is equally important to include staff in the process. Dealing one-on-one with clients, they will have the best insight into consumer needs and immediate business improvements. Staff involvement also provides a sense of teamwork that will make employees more likely to gather feedback from visitors. Management may also want to provide an incentive program for improved performance, so it is important to consult employees on their motivators and to then develop the correct survey questions to measure improvements. Finally staff is the best resource for influencing word-of-mouth advertising by providing the best service possible and by observing and even alluding to those triggers that elicit recommendations.
Comment card programs are vital to maintaining business success. No matter how good your product or service is if you can’t fulfill the customer’s needs regarding its use than your business wont be around very long. Due to the importance and strength of word-of-mouth advertising it is also important to incorporate its focus into your program to further business growth. To create a successful card you must first consider your business objective by asking yourself how you want to be remembered. Next you must assess the needs of your target audience or the demographic of people utilizing your goods or service. While making your assessment you also need to consider the most appropriate technology to gather feedback. Offering multiple formats can be beneficial to reach different groups if it is within your working budget. Remember to get management and staff involved in its creation and implementation. They will supply the necessary emphasis and focus for your questions and have direct one-on-one contact with the client to gather feedback and implement improvements. Finally remember one of the strongest and most cost effective tools you have is word-of-mouth advertising, so be sure to incorporate questions that will draw out what draws people in and find out if they really would recommend your product or service and why.
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