The curious case of customer feedback

Customer FeedbackMr. Iyengar is a second generation businessman and runs a South Indian restaurant in the heart of Chennai. He inherited the restaurant from his father and aspires to turn it into a chain that has presence across all parts of Chennai.

Having seen his father run the business, he understands the importance of happy customers and building customers for life. To religiously follow this mantra, and understand what attributes of service are important to consumers, he recently instituted a 10-point customer survey that is presented to each customer towards the end of their meal at the restaurant.

A month ago, he asked his manager to collate the responses to all surveys and found “Cleanliness” as the top priority in the list. Not the one to procrastinate, he immediately asked his manager to explain the processes that was followed to keep the restaurant clean and a plan to make it better.

The manager came back to him the very next day suggesting that they should start sweeping the restaurant every 2 hours ( instead of twice a day ) and start adding phenyl to the cleaning solution ( apparently they had been using plain water ). Mr. Iyengar felt really pleased at the plan of action and asked it to be implemented the very next day.

The week that followed, however, wiped off the smile from his face. The customer turn out gradually  reduced to half by middle of the week and dipped even more sharply over the weekend. It was the week of Pongal and he reasoned that customers may be traveling out of the city, leading to low footfalls. Next week was not any better. The turn out remained low and now this was beginning to worry Mr. Iyengar.

One fine day, he noticed that a customer who was about to come in, stood at the door for a moment and then turned around. At that sight, Mr Iyengar got out of his chair and ran like a mad man, like a man possessed. He had to find out why the man turned around at the door. At that pace, if he had participated in Olympics, he might have given Usain Bolt stiff competition.

When he finally caught up with the customer, he was panting so heavily that he could barely speak. Once he got a hold of his breath, he asked the customer:
Why did you turn back at the door?“.

And the customer responded:
My friend recommended this place to me for the excellent food you prepare. But it was reeking of phenyl. I would not have enjoyed my food with such a strong smell of phenyl.

At that moment, all the dots were connected and the events of the past 2 weeks were streaming down in front of Mr Iyengar’s eyes. Yes, that was it! It was all so obvious! Why did it not occur to him earlier?

He thanked the customer for opening his eyes and requested him to come back the next day for a meal he would never forget.

Moral Of The Story #1

While building a product or adding a feature to an existing product, you may have the best intentions for your customer, but it does not matter if the customer does not perceive it the same way.

Moral Of The Story #2

Mr Iyengar did not notice the stench of phenyl “by himself” because he was sitting inside the entire day and exposure to smell became “normal” for him. It took an outsider to tell him what was wrong!

Similarly, while building products, we tend to become too passionate about “what we want to do ( aka insider view )” and lose sight of the “outsider view”. With the addition of each feature, it is important to check the “outsider view” and reset your “insider view” with what you learn.

Moral Of The Story #3

Always do A/B tests – makes it easy to figure out what you did to get it wrong :).

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