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Survey Says: No Cards

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T he iPhone and iPad have changed American life. Now, they’re replacing the survey postcard at restaurants, thanks to Survey On The Spot. Company co-founders Geoff Palmer and Ken Kimmel saw the potential in cellular technology a decade ago. “Geoff [is] a serial entrepreneur,” Kimmel says. “When he showed me [his] camera phone, I was the chief marketing officer for Dunkin’ Donuts, and said, ‘if I could get a picture of the doughnut case in every Dunkin’ Donuts at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I’d know how well [the store] was run.’” That technology wasn’t available at that time, but the wheels began turning. How could Kimmel use this new technology to measure store efficiency and product quality? The two started creating demoware, initially focusing on the ability to show managers and executives store-level operations but changing focus to real-time surveys taken by customers at the table. The original plan had customers using their own phones to take the survey, but because that first step was still consumer-initiated and subject to low return numbers, the two decided to invest in iPhones and iPads. By placing the survey at tables, like postcards, managers receive guest feedback in real time.

Data gathering For Steve Silverstein, founder and CEO of casual dining chain Not Your Average Joe’s, Survey On The Spot is the perfect resource for collecting customer data. “In my experience, it’s always been very difficult to get good survey information from restaurant customers,” he says. Survey On The Spot offers web surveys, an iPhone/iPad app and mobile-friendly HTML5 for collecting data. Not Your Average Joe’s receives about 300 surveys weekly per restaurant. “That data gets organized into a report that I see every morning,” Silverstein says. “It shows all 17 of our restaurants on a grid, with the restaurants on one axis and characteristics on another.” Silverstein measures food, service and speed of service, and the color-coded grid lets managers know how they’re performing. Reports can be gathered from a computer screen within the system or be drawn up in Excel files, Palmer says; much of this depends on the size of the customer. “A large customer would automatically feed information to their business intelligence systems,” he says.

Product testing Casual-dining group Ninety Nine Restaurants uses Survey on the Spot for product testing, says Brad Schiff, vice president of marketing for the 106-location chain. Schiff says they measure things like portion size, value, presentation and flavor. “We have benchmarks on the ratings,” Schiff says. “Sometimes an item can score pretty well, and score great on a lot of different aspects, but they may have one particularity. For instance, maybe customers like the flavor and they like the portion, but they don’t like the presentation, but it’s got a good score. What we can do is isolate that presentation factor and plan exactly what can be done to help enhance that, so they could get a much better score.” In the test restaurants, Ninety Nine Restaurants execute the survey in the same fashion and see scores from corporate offices. “We’re able to monitor the data,” Schiff says. “If there are any major issues, right away, we’re able to address it.” Plus, the data just keeps flowing in. “We used to do paper surveys, like comment cards, and we’ve more than doubled the amount of people who fill these out,” Schiff says. “I think [today’s consumers] just think it’s such a neat little piece of machinery to be able to use, and we get a lot of the younger guests using it now too because they’re growing up in a world of these kind of things.”

Acting on data Perhaps the best attribute of Survey On The Spot is the immediacy of improvement. Within seconds of processing a poor score, users can fix the problem “as opposed to waiting a week for paper comments to get back to you, and by then it may not even matter anymore,” Schiff says. “The immediacy, the accuracy is great because you get the complete survey filled out — for good or bad, you’re able to see a reflection of what the guests think.” Silverstein says Not Your Average Joe’s does not typically act upon the data immediately, but tries to understand it. “The data is insight,” he says. When one store continued getting low reports, Silverstein met with the team to find out what was going on. In cases like this, instead of acting upon a single incident, Silverstein analyzes the operation. Was the food cold? Was it slow to the table? “Somebody will go through all those surveys and look to see what’s going on,” he says. “What were the exact details? Not only are there quantitative measures, there are qualitative factors in the questions. The survey asks, if there’s a problem, ‘Can you tell us what the problem was?’ The customer says the food was cold.” From there, staff will form a plan to fix the problem. Often, it’s an easy fix, Silverstein says; if the problem is severe, they might contact the guest via e-mail.

Marketing efforts Not Your Average Joe’s also is able to use Survey On The Spot for promotions. After filling out the survey, customers frequently sign up for the e-mail marketing program. “About one-third of surveys taken join an e-mail club,” Silverstein says. That’s roughly 88,000 people signing up for Not Your Average Joe’s marketing program without any kind of incentive. “Survey On The Spot is generating a lot of e-mail membership.” Kimmel says this type of e-mail capture typically come from $5 coupons and sweepstakes. “Those are really kind of mind-boggling numbers,” he says.