*Note: This was written by a Yahoo! contributor. Do you have a small business story that you'd like to share? Sign up with the Yahoo! Contributor Network to start publishing your own finance articles.
A few years ago my employer, a small business consulting firm, assigned me as consultant to a diner in a small town in California. By being willing to ask questions and listen to the answers, I improved a client's business with customer satisfaction interviews.
It was quite a unique restaurant with a group of employees who had been with them for years. The best part was that they had really loyal customers who were thrilled to see my project director and I arrive. They knew the restaurant needed to make some changes to survive. As they had been meeting here for years, they had an emotional investment in seeing the restaurant do whatever it needed to do to make it.
Consultants Use Interviews to Find Out What to Work on for Clients
You might think that consultants are supposed to know everything. But frankly, nobody knows everything and if your consultant comes in and starts telling you what changes you have to make in your small business before he or she invests time asking questions, be very leery of the advice you are getting. I used to tell my clients that I didn't come in as a psychic able to pick up on what all needed to be changed just by closing my eyes and tuning in to the ethers.
On the other hand, after years of experience, I do have an ability to sense some areas I need to investigate first based on evaluating all the information I have available prior to my first meeting. This is a normal human capability described by Malcolm Gladwell in Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking. This 'intuition' as well as written data gave me insights into what my priorities would be.
The Regular Customers Wanted to Share
In this case, because the only place to work was in the back of the restaurant near where the regulars sat, these customers actually began to chat with us. In this way, interestingly, I was able to conduct informal customer satisfaction surveys. The customers were eager to share their observations and insights. All they needed was someone to listen who would have the power to influence events here.
This Information Provided a Savings Recommendation
One insight they gave me was about how some employees in the kitchen were ripping the restaurant off. At least one customer had observed an employee taking the 'trash' out to the dumpster then after the restaurant closed, he returned to collect that specific trash bag. One of the reasons it is so hard for restaurants to make a go of it is that there are so many ways employees can help themselves to the inventory. So I submitted a suggestion to fix this "leak."
This Next Recommendation Could Result in Additional Sales
The other really memorable comment several customers shared with me was that this restaurant had horrible biscuits and gravy. The gravy tasted like paste.
The head cook was a Mexican-American who grew up in Mexico. While he was a good cook in everything else, this was something I doubt he had ever experienced growing up. In all the travels on business and pleasure I've made into Mexico, I have never seen a Mexican restaurant serve gravy.
It is virtually impossible to fully appreciate something you have never tasted. A couple solutions are to either prepare a good gravy yourself for him to taste or to take your head cook to a restaurant known for its excellent gravy. Let him know about the customer feedback so he knows what needs to be corrected then make sure he knows what the taste is that they are looking for.
Customer Satisfaction Interviews Gave Us Areas to Improve this Small Business
Thanks to the eagerness of customers to be listened to, I improved a client's business with customer satisfaction interviews. They gave me information I couldn't have found in such a short time on my own. Nor is it likely they would have revealed these stories on a computerized customer satisfaction surveys with a rating scale instead of questions. At least two recommendations came out of interaction with the customers. The first was a cost savings on fixing the theft issue while the second improved customer satisfaction.