Constant comments

Constant comments

What drives excellence? Culture, first and foremost. Always. Without fail. When Lou Gerstner Jr. took over the failing IBM, he first considered culture an aspect of an organization’s focus along with vision, strategy, marketing, financials and the like. Shortly thereafter, he said, ” I came to see at my time at IBM that culture isn’t part of the game — it is the game.” 

Much goes into creating culture. And if not consciously created, we get a “default” culture (and that may take a long time to clean up). What we choose to measure and how we measure it is one aspect of culture. I’d like to illuminate one specific measurement: the guest comment card.   

The view of the comment card has not progressed much since the first caveman hung a hotel shingle outside his cave, and upon departure of his guests asked: “Was it clean? Was the dinosaur soup hot?”

I was talking to a potential client the other day. We were discussing how the compelling need to quantify everything determines the questions we ask and the growth we attain. As with everything we measure, we often control the questions, which skews the response. Nothing wrong with quantifying things per se, but it is an extremely limited view of the way things are. Maybe that’s why they call it feedback instead of “feedforward.”

We all know that a majority of guests fill out comment cards if they are blissfully possessed or really mad. Then there are the others that get confused if “1” is better than “5” or vice versa, and the choice of scoring 1 through 5 is colored by a person’s outlook on life. 

Then we created cultures that had some GMs “work” the system in order to raise their scores on their metrics dashboard. Some GMs created programs that rewarded employees based on how many times their names appeared on cards, so now the employees become peddlers of the cards to the guests: “If you enjoyed my service, please fill this out. My name is Lucca.”  

One company I worked for had a culture of distrust. The corporate team did not trust the hotels to handle the cards, so all cards were sent to the corporate office. It could be a month before you got your comment card batch. That doesn’t go a long way to getting things handled for past and future guests immediately. After that we went to ambassadors in the lobby to ask guests about their stay upon checkout. Those programs usually didn’t last very long.

Then: hello, technology! Along came the email version. Now everyone can view the guest experience. And, we can send our guests 20 minutes worth of work to get an extra 100 loyalty points. Not guest-centric.  

Here’s the big, hairy, audacious point: We should know if our rooms are clean and not have to ask someone we just took $300 from. We also know that people return based upon how they “feeeel” about a place. Yet, we only measure the quantifiable, the tangible. It’s not an either/or question to use the left (logical) and right (creative) side of our brains. We use both. Why do we leave out the intangible?   

Years ago, I created a comment card at a hotel that simply read:

What I love about this hotel is ______________.

If I were the GM, what I would change immediately is _______________.

It annoyed the corporate office, but we innovated our way to number one in the market. Nice tradeoff.  

“I’m just saying … “