Customers are the most important stakeholders in your business. Without them, you have no business.

So how can you ensure that you’re satisfying your customers’ needs and giving them the best experience possible? In short, leverage customer feedback.

A guest survey is a great way to get honest feedback from your stakeholders and design an experience that turns them into loyal, repeat customers. It sends a good message to your customers because it tells them you care about their opinion.

Consumers tell an average of 15 people about a poor customer service experience versus the 11 people they tell about a good experience, according to the American Express 2017 Customer Service Barometer research.   

Guest feedback can also help you get a sense of what customers like and dislike before you see it on a review site.

Eighty-eight person of consumers trust an online review as much as they trust a peer-to-peer recommendation, according to Yelp. That means, about 9 out of 10 consumers trust what they read online as much as what their friend is telling them.

In addition, a simple and straightforward customer survey can inspire new ideas, everything from how to improve your restaurant’s menu, service and atmosphere to better tailoring your marketing messages to appeal to different customer segments.

For example, let’s say your customers are informing you through an online survey that they wish there were more gluten-free options on the menu.

But you’ve already been accommodating to those requests for the past several months. In that case, you might consider amplifying your marketing communication efforts by explicitly highlighting the gluten-free items or create a separate menu dedicated to those with dietary restrictions.

Now that you understand the importance of guest feedback, here are 3 practical tips to help you create an effective customer survey.

1. Print physical cards for the dinner table or email your customers the survey.

Quite frequently, servers will ask customers, “How was your meal tonight?” But many customers don’t feel comfortable giving their most candid feedback.

Giving guests a way to express their thoughts during or as soon as the meal is over can allow them to give that honest feedback in a timely manner, without missing the essential details.

For online surveys, it’s easy to use tools like SurveyMonkey and Google Forms to create questionnaires from pre-made templates. You can send your survey to your customers over email or social media, and all of the data will be captured for you in each platform for you to review.  

Lastly, consider incentivizing people by offering discounts – whether you decide to use physical cards or email – so you can yield the highest results for your effort.

2. Plan time to look over and address the feedback.

You’re getting a flood of various feedback, but how do you decide which ones to address? If you’re hearing the same comment over and over, you have to take action. There’s no question about it. You should consider the context to determine significance and potential impact.

For example, were they part of a large dinner party and complained about a seasonal item that is no longer part of menu anymore? Or is it about a light bulb that’s been broken during the past several visits? If it’s quick and easy fix, just do it.

Customer experience can significantly impact the bottom line of your business.

Research by Bain & Company, a global management consulting firm, also found that a customer is four times more likely to buy from a competitor if the problem is service related versus price or product-related.

3. Collect feedback on a weekly or quarterly basis.

If your business is constantly looking to improve the dining experience for your customers, compile feedback on a weekly or quarterly basis. The owner or general manager should take point on this initiative because the closer the person is working with the customer, the harder it is to be objective of what you really need from them.

Ultimately, guest feedback will help you learn whether you’re living up to your promise. What works for one restaurant, doesn’t necessarily work for all.

Every restaurant is different and can have very different types of customers. Even when the customers are the same, what a customer expects from your restaurant may be very different from what they expect from another.

Getting feedback from your customers allows you the most specific insight into what they want from you.