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Do You Lie about a Meh Meal?

Last night my wife and I went out for dinner. The food was fair, the service brusque and the ambiance lacking. As the meal closed, the manager wandered by and asked how our meal was. Without missing a beat, we said it was good using our most chipper voices.

Leaving, I felt a tinge of regret for the manager. He tried to “survey” how the meal went. He received positive feedback. It would be understandable if he felt like the restaurant did a good job. Except the customer felt otherwise. If he knew our true feelings, he might be able to work on improving the dining experience. Instead, we left him in the dark.

As a leader, you must expect a lack of candor from your customers. We did not share our true feelings with the restaurant manager because we did not want to spend the emotional energy talking to him when we had no attachment to the place. We left, we won’t go back. What do we gain from having an uncomfortable conversation about it?

As leaders, you should be aware of the “I most likely won’t talk about a bad experience” phenomenon. Asking “how is it?” will not get you valid information.

Instead, you need to spend time really considering what a satisfied customer looks like and using those metrics to judge your performance. In some businesses, the number of return customers is key or perhaps the average spend.

In the school business, we, of course, look at our retention rates. I would suggest we might also look at the number of applicants who are referred by current parents. We can look at the speed in which families re-enroll and how many alumni come to reunions. While the results of the parent survey offer some information, the percentage of parents who care enough to respond to the surveys may offer more. It is worth the time to have a conversation about good satisfaction metrics beyond surveying.

Perhaps anti-intuitively, if a current parent or student spends the time to complain about something, embrace rather bristle at them. This parent--I know exceptions exist--has the emotional investment to care and is no doubt informing you of a concern that is shared. (Though it is ok to discount the “everyone thinks like I do” mantra that accompanies some complaining parents.) It is so easy to become defensive when someone brings a concern; instead listen carefully and see if something can be improved. Most people will not take the time to share their concerns.

Customer satisfaction is important, spend the time to measure it well.


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