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If you’re like 90% of most customers, when you have a bad experience at a restaurant, you usually won’t complain. You just won’t go back. I know this was true for me (although I’ve gotten better about speaking up recently). My wife seems to be among the 10% of people that do speak up when something is amiss. She argues that ethically, it’s better to let the business or restaurant know if they have a problem (like wilted lettuce), so that the organization can correct the issue. Without this valuable feedback, the wait staff, dishwashers and others stand to lose their jobs (or see less in tips).

One of the main reasons people don’t give feedback is that they don’t want to be confrontational. They don’t want to rock the boat. It takes a lot of guts to tell someone that they didn’t do a great job. You don’t want to hurt their feelings. You know it’s not really the waiter’s fault the food was lousy… it might have been a bad supplier in the distribution process.

1. Make it easy. Make sure that you give people an easy, low-committment, low-stress way to give feedback. People are much more willing to share via email or a web-based form than to say tough things in person or on the phone.

2. Keep it short. Recognize that you are asking people for one of their most valuable assets: their time. So make sure you keep it short. Remember: the more questions you ask, the less likely people are to complete the form.

3. Ask the right questions. There is “nice to know” information. And there is “need to know” information. We’ve found that the four questions we really need to know are (rated on a scale of 1 to 10) We also give people the opportunity to give comments in a form too, but that’s optional. The most important piece of information you need to know is how likely someone is to refer others to you. If someone is willing to stake their reputation to recommend you, then they have a high opinion of you.

4. Timing is key. We automatically send out a survey each time a project is closed through our system. We’ve found, through the helpful guidance of Nancy and Judith of Brains at Work, that right after we finish a project, we have a critical window of time to address work-related issues. If the timing is right, people will give good feedback. If you wait too long, they have likely moved on and won’t care to spend time giving you information that you can use to improve your processes.

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