I’m pretty sure you’ll have been handed one in the last year - I know I have. Along with your bill, and a smile, the waiter delivers a little card asking for feedback on your meal. Normally it’s a link to a survey, often with an incentive - perhaps a free side or entry to a prize draw.  Seems innocent enough.

But a recent conversation with a leading casual dining brand confirmed my thinking - that this type of survey recruitment is actually doing more harm than good. At a time when this restaurant chain was closing down sites across the country, they were simultaneously gaining a +50 Net Promoter Score from their customers, using this type of recruitment. In fact, the results suggested customers still loved their dining experience and wouldn’t change a thing, when business performance was showing the exact opposite.

When you dig a little deeper, this recruitment method is hugely biased. So survey results create a false sense of security for hundreds of retail brands (it’s one of the sector’s most common ways to gather customer feedback).

Just a few reasons I’d never recommend this approach:

The questionnaires only tend to be taken by your happiest customers, creating a ‘glass seatbelt’ effect - a false sense of security.
Any incentives tend to be free products for the brand you have recently visited - why would anyone who’d just had a bad experience participate?
Staff are often incentivised based on good feedback, so it’s more likely they’ll only highlight the surveys to customers who had a good experience. Another leading dining brand even told me they’d discovered staff tearing off the perforated slips with the survey on before handing the receipt over, if they felt they wouldn’t get good feedback.
There have also been instances of waiters filling them out themselves - up to 30% of one retail chain’s surveys, according to one brand.
They also rely on heavy participation to get a decent sample size.

If research isn’t representative, it’s pointless. There’s a far superior way for the sector to garner useful feedback.

We’ve found that by automatically collecting user details at the point of purchase or usage, and contacting them shortly after online, the sample is far more representative and responsive. Their data could be from a card swipe (for a gym card, for example), an intuitive data capture method or an online purchase, to name a few. The data source needs to be tailored on a brand-by-brand basis.

This way all customers are targeted across the board and staff don’t see responses, so can’t influence them. The senior brand team can see real-time results via a clear online dashboards. So what yesterday’s customers really thought, today, enabling them to make fast, accurate brand decisions. 

Using this methodology one brand we work with has seen over a million recipients and 100k respondents during the course of a year. More importantly, brands are seeing a clear correlation between customer satisfaction and financial performance. For one of our clients, every 5 point movement in their Net Promoter Score equates to 1% movement in like-for-like sales. So it’s vital research. 

So let’s put an end to chasing respondents or force-feeding brands only their happiest (or grumpiest) customers. Instead, let’s focus on targeting all types of customer and getting quick, actionable data. Time to rip out the glass seatbelt once and for all.

-By Roger Perowne

First published on Research Live 28/04/16