Let me contrast two approaches to responding to customer feedback. The first comes from my recent experience with a hotel chain that engages in predatory pricing for long-distance calls made from its in-room phones. I invested the time to complain to the headquarters staff. In response I received a two-page letter from the general manager of the hotel explaining that their pricing was no worse than competitors. Moreover, he noted, providing phone service was far more expensive than I might think.
The letter went on to bemoan the large fixed costs of operating the phone system and argued that even-higher pricing might be required as more and more customers defected to their cell phones. Instead of listening to my feedback - that I was offended by phone rates more than 200 times standard landline rates - the manager missed an opportunity to increase my loyalty. I won't recommend the hotel to friends, and I will certainly not bother investing more time providing feedback to that hotel.
Now, contrast this to the experience of a marketing manager from Johns Manville Corporation, who attended a speech of mine. My talk emphasized the value of customer feedback. I said that when customers invested their most precious asset, their time, to provide constructive feedback, this was evidence of true customer loyalty. This manager reported that he had recently been disappointed by a new Chick-fil-A restaurant near his Colorado home. A transplanted southerner, this fellow was a connoisseur of biscuits, and he felt that the biscuits at this new Chick-fil-A were not up to the standards he had enjoyed during his younger days in Georgia.
So he decided to send an email to Chick-fil-A headquarters noting the biscuit deficiency. In less than 24 hours he had received a return email - not some automated apology from headquarters with a coupon attached, but a real message from the store manager of the location with the biscuit problem. Unlike my hotel manager, who defended the phone pricing policy, the Chick-fil-A manager explained that getting the biscuits just right was more art than science - and was particularly challenging at the high altitudes of his Colorado store location. The manager did more than make excuses, though: he invited the Johns Manville exec to visit the restaurant on a convenient Saturday morning when they could schedule a biscuit-tasting. The restaurant managers said that would help him and his staff refine their process to ensure that their biscuits rated an outstanding score from customers.
Why does Chick-fil-A continue to grow and prosper when so many other fast-food concepts stall? For one thing, the company realizes that customer feedback is a precious gift, but only when front-line managers use it as an opportunity to learn. When front-line managers really care about listening and learning, they help convert customers into promoters. These customers won't just come back for more and bring their friends, they will contribute even more of their precious time and creativity to help the business improve and grow.