I’ve been Umamified: Gather and respond to customer feedback

On a rare rainy day in Santa Monica, Calif., I stopped in at the local Umami Burger for lunch. As I entered the restaurant, I noticed three large jars at the entrance. I was curious as to why they were there. I asked our server, “What is the deal?”

She informed us that this was their way of generating customer feedback. Once you finish your burger, which by the way are the best in L.A., you are presented with an Umami token with a color that is assigned to your server. On the way out, you select which jar to drop the token in based on your level of satisfaction with the service and the food. The green jar is captioned, “I’ve Been Umamified,” the yellow jar is captioned “About Average” and the red jar is captioned, “We’ll Do Better.”


What an interesting way of receiving customer feedback.

Usually a restaurant or a retail store will provide you with a feedback card at the table or a website to visit printed on the receipt. TJX Companies Inc., which owns Marshalls, T.J. Maxx and several other retailers, offers a financial incentive to comment on your service and the cashiers normally request that you visit the site. I have posted numerous comments and have never won a gift card, but I still post my comments on a regular basis. Fox Restaurant Concepts in Scottsdale, Ariz., provides a feedback card with the charge receipt. Some establishments never ask for feedback, which intrigues me. How do they know they are providing the level of service the customer desires?

My experience at Umami Burger got me thinking, “What is the best way to gauge how well you are doing at meeting your customers’ expectations?” Whenever I did a training session or a seminar, either the client or I circulated a rating sheet to be completed by the attendees. When I taught graduate school, there were end-of-term evaluations on how well you presented the material and conducted the class. These tools have provided me with a great deal of information and the ability to improve my delivery of material to my clients and to my students.

When the brain does not receive feedback from the environment, when there is sensory deprivation for an extended period of time, we begin to hallucinate and we lose touch with reality. How does a business operate without asking for and receiving constant feedback from its customers and suppliers? An entire field of engineering has developed in the past 20 years called “supply chain management,” with a goal to ensure that when the components are delivered to the customer, they are perfect and free of defects. These talented engineers visit their suppliers and assist them in correcting any design flaws, which could negatively impact the final product.

So I pose two questions. First, “What are you doing to generate continuous customer feedback at your organization?” Second, “Who processes these responses and what happens with the results?”

Years ago at Gimbel’s Midwest, we had a system that processed customer complaints and comments. When a letter was received, it went to the president’s office and he in turn would send it to the appropriate department head for action. You had 24 hours to respond with a solution that would resolve the problem. In many cases, a letter congratulating your department on a high level of service was also circulated. Store managers had an employee-of-the-month club and the winner was taken to lunch to thank him or her for a high level of customer service. Customers respond very positively to immediate feedback; it builds loyalty and enhances your position in the community. Poor service is like the flu; it spreads quickly and can be deadly to your brand.

It’s time to look at your feedback channels, both internal and external, and ensure that the feedback reaches the right person who can take the necessary action. You cannot operate in a vacuum and succeed. Make sure that you have a way of measuring your customer’s level of satisfaction.

Tokens in a colored jar seem childish, but I watched as each customer voted after enjoying a gourmet burger. The votes are in and the tally shows that I was Umamified.
Cary Silverstein, MBA, is the president of SMA LLC and The Negotiating Edge. He leads a group that provides services in the areas of strategic planning, negotiation training and conflict resolution, with offices in Fox Point and Scottsdale, Ariz. He can be reached at (414) 403-2942 or at csilve1013@aol.com.

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