Research Group reveals effective ways to improve customer feedback cards
By Dr. Kenneth R. Bartkus, professor of marketing at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business
One of the oldest methods of collecting customer feedback is the comment card. These short pencil-and-paper questionnaires help management identify critical incidents (both good and bad) and serve to enhance service quality. Unfortunately, our initial research revealed that comment cards are often criticized for being poorly designed and administered. As a result, companies may not be getting the most out of their customer feedback.
Part of the problem, we believe, was that there was no specific set of guidelines for comment-card design and administration. To address this issue, scholars from The Research GroupTM at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business reviewed the relevant literature on questionnaire design, including published commentary from industry experts. This information served as a basis for developing valid guidelines. The guidelines were then applied to a sample of cards from 63 major lodging chains to determine if they were being met. What we found was surprising:
- More than half of the cards had too little space for customers to write comments. Acceptable space was defined as one half of one side of a standard postcard. Anything less, we reasoned, would hinder the guest’s ability to make a meaningful comment.
- More than 50 percent of the cards lacked a secure response mechanism. In many cases, the card simply asked guests to return it to the front desk or leave it with a member of the staff. This procedure should be avoided, as it increases the potential for employee tampering. We recommend a locked drop box located in the lobby or near the reservation desk and/or a mail option.
- Less than 16 percent of the cards offered to respond to the guest’s comments.
- More than 70 percent of the cards used unbalanced response formats for closed-ended questions and virtually all were biased in a direction that favored a positive response. An unbalanced response format is: Excellent - Good - Poor. The response format is unbalanced because there are two positive options and only one negative option. This can be corrected using the following criteria: Excellent – Good – Poor – Awful.
- Double-barreled questions were common. A double-barreled question is one that contains two questions in one. For example: “Was the pool area clean and in good condition?” Because it is impossible to determine what part of the question is being answered, double-barreled questions should be avoided.
Requests for comments were often negatively or positively worded. Examples include: “Were there any problems with your stay?” or “What did we do especially well?” Prior research has shown that when you ask for a positive or negative response, guests are more likely to provide one, even if they had no predisposition to do so. To avoid biasing responses, it is best to use neutral statements such as: “We welcome your comments” or “Please share your comments.”
The good news is that it is not difficult for most companies to make significant improvement in the way they utilize customer comment cards. Companies can help maximize the quality of customer feedback by simply following appropriate guidelines. More complete details on these guidelines can be found in the article: “The Quality of Guest Comments Cards: An Empirical Study of U.S. Lodging Chains,” soon to be published in the “Journal of Travel Research,” by Kenneth R. Bartkus, Stacey Hills, another professor at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business, Roy D. Howell, a professor at Texas Tech University, and Jeanette Blackham. This research was the result of a collaborative student/faculty project sponsored by The Research GroupTM in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business. Jeanette Blackham was an undergraduate marketing major at the time of the study.
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