The summer is rolling along, guests are flocking to your facility and you see the light at the end of a successful summer up ahead. You begin the process of evaluating your seasonal numbers, staff performance, and your personal feelings on your operational successes, but a critical stakeholder is missing: your customers. The age-old mantra of, “we wouldn’t have jobs if there were no customers,” still holds true today. Customer opinions are important to the overall success of your facility or program, more now than ever with the increasing use of social media for evaluating and discussing guest experiences through Yelp, Facebook Reviews, etc. The way we gather customer feedback on experience is an often overlooked component to our evaluation process. Below are a few ways to begin the process of developing informative questionnaires to truly evaluate the guest experience.
Do you really want to know?
Before you begin the quest for feedback from customers, you must ask yourself: Do I really want to know? If you have no process or plan to integrate the feedback into your operations, you are really just opening yourself up to the liability of being informed on issues without taking action. Depending on the feedback, this can result in legal issues if safety concerns are not addressed and continual customer complaints if service concerns are left unaddressed.
Length and Format
One factor to consider when developing your customer questionnaire is to keep it brief and to the point. Ask just the questions you really desire feedback on and give ample opportunity for customers to provide their own details with a comments section. How many times have you filled out an online survey and wondered if you would reach retirement before completing it? If it’s a paper survey, keep it to no more than one side of an 8.5” x 11” piece of paper, including the comment lines. If it’s an online survey, it should take less than 4 minutes to complete with a warning up front on the typical time necessary to complete. Questions should be worded as objectively as possible and always with an option for “not applicable” to ensure accuracy. Grouping the questions in sections like the example below allows you to ask more questions without making the customer feel bombarded.
I like asking specific questions that require the customer to name an employee tied to their answer. This encourages staff to develop and maintain relationships with the customers and allows you the opportunity to identify patterns with specific personnel and correct those issues. The customer can always skip that part if they do not know the employee’s name, but I have found that to be one of the most beneficial tools on a questionnaire.
Now that you have a great format and precisely worded questions, when should you make the “ask”? It’s best to get a diverse sample of your client base for the most accurate feedback. If you provide questionnaires to each swim lesson parent at the end of each session, you are missing out on the feedback of your waterpark guests, aqua aerobics participants, and fitness swimmers. Find a way to survey ALL types of users, throughout the year, at different times of the day. You may have a sparkling facility at 9:00am when the first swim lesson starts, but by the time rec swim ends and afternoon lessons begin, your restrooms can look atrocious, providing a much different experience for your afternoon customers. Sometimes, customers do not want to physically fill out the form. Sending staff members around to gather their results can mean an increase in survey results. Creating surveys specific to your special events can provide the opportunity to ask event specific questions. Aim to gather completed questionnaires from 5-7% of your customers to get a good sample of opinions.
If you leave it up to the customer to ask for a survey, then you will likely end up with a negatively skewed sample. The squeaky wheel gets the oil and people do not typically ask to fill out a questionnaire when they are moderately pleased with their experience. Encourage customers to give feedback in exchange for a coupon, free food and beverage item, chance to win a season pass, etc.
Compilation of Results
Once you have gathered all of your surveys, create a method for compiling the results. I have used a free online form builder to input all the results, which also allows me to run a report with the statistics for each question. This way, I can compare the results year over year. Any way you choose to compile the results, just make sure it is consistently followed and doesn’t become an end of season task. Most of the time, you will have lost many surveys and the opportunity to make quick easy fixes throughout the season.
Evaluation and Implementation
After the questionnaire feedback has been compiled, divide the results into categories. Assemble your management team to discuss the overarching categories. Evaluate whether policies can be adjusted, programs can be implemented, and do your best to address each “issue” listed. Once decisions have been made, introduce the results to staff. Sharing feedback with non-management staff can be eye opening, as they often do not understand the implications of their personal actions on the image of your park. Don’t forget to celebrate the areas where you are succeeding. Generating buy-in and psychological ownership over the great and troubling areas of your operations throughout your entire staff will pave the way for change and build a culture of success that will be unrivaled!