Evaluations Are No Laughing Matter

By Ennio Vita-Finzi

There is no denying that getting a salary increase or an ‘A’ for a school project is very gratifying. However, experience shows that in spite of society’s current concerns about touching others, getting recognition through a complimentary pat on the back from your boss, or a ‘high-five’ from your teacher can be even more satisfying.

Unfortunately, in today’s world recognition comes in impersonal numbers. People, restaurants, hotels, movies, cruises and almost everything is anonymously evaluated on a #1 to #5 scale on social media. Unidentified third-person opinions, comments and referrals can affect millions of people and businesses, influencing customer behaviour on a global scale.

The service industry is particularly vulnerable to social media comments and firms are constantly seeking new ways to garner positive evaluations from customers. These assessments often dictate whether their service will succeed or fail in a competitive market.

Techniques: Facial Recognition

On her way to the office a middle-aged accountant decided to buy a take-out coffee and stopped at a coffee shop she had never visited before. The smiling young lady at the counter asked what ingredients she required, while recommending a particular type of muffin, which she refused with thanks.

A week later when she walked in again, the same person behind the counter smiled and said: “Welcome back! One cream no sugar coming right up… and are you going to try the muffin I recommended last week?”  Needless to say, that coffee shop had just gained a new regular customer.

A Restaurant’s Approach

A well-known restaurateur was sure that any guest who has just enjoyed a great meal is naturally likely to comment more favourably while still digesting it. As a result, at his restaurant an additional step was added at the end of every meal served.

After coffee and after-dinner drinks, the server asks if everyone enjoyed the meal, giving the guests an opportunity to make positive comments. The server then hands the host a tablet computer and asks for a quick #1 to #5 evaluation of the meal, the service and the ambiance, pointing out space for additional comments on the screen. This is also an opportunity to redress any negative comments by offering complimentary drinks and even bringing the chef to the table. After this exchange, the bill is presented together with a credit card terminal.

This on-the-spot rating, rather than waiting for comments to be made on the restaurant’s website after guests get home, has consistently improved evaluations. An interesting by-product of this approach is an increase in servers’ gratuities.

Not a Ventriloquist

A consumer products manufacturer was being outperformed by the competition whose buying departments were switching to other products, mainly due to online assessments. From experience, the sales manager knew that positive evaluations from third parties were one of the most powerful ways for any product or service to succeed. No longer getting referrals from consumers in the 4 and 5 range; the pressure for improved results from upper management was growing.

He fell asleep one evening after watching a ventriloquist perform on TV. He saw himself on the screen with his firm’s logo behind him and his company’s products on a table beside him. He had a ventriloquist’s dummy on his knee and facing the screen he said:

“You may wonder why my lips are moving and my friend Jack’s here (and he nodded down to the dummy) are not. Well, the fact is that Jack is the ventriloquist and I am his assistant. As you can see, my lips are not moving but my assistant’s are (and the dummy nodded up to him). This means that it’s NOT him  speaking… but ME!”

He continued; “Knowing that everyone in my viewing audience relies on what others think about our products, I am here to tell you that I have nothing to gain as I am not an employee, and yet use them every day (as you can see from my rosy complexion) … my personal evaluation is definitely 5 out of 5”

As the company’s jingle played in the background and over loud canned applause, Jack’s voice added “Trust me, this has been a live, independent, third-person referral”

The sales manager is currently trying to convince his firm’s advertising and promotions department to buy a ventriloquist’s dummy and use his idea.

Comedy Works

The corporate world also relies on others’ opinions and employers are now turning to comedy as a way to hone their executives’ soft skills and improve customer evaluations.  Large companies like Nike, Nissan and Motorola are sending their executives to comedy classes to learn to think laterally and to welcome new ideas and different opinions in order to enhance their image.

Companies like Google, Amazon and Twitter are also seeking ways to improve their interaction with clients by learning from comedians and The Second City’s comedy expertise is being used to hold focus groups using improvisation techniques. Members of the general public are invited to discuss and evaluate brands and frequent laughter during the sessions helps to loosen tongues and form opinions.

In the coming years there will be new ways of evaluating people, products and services. Instead of numbers, laughter humour and comedy may well be the new standard. As Mark Twain said: “The human race has only one really effective weapon –and that is laughter.”

Ennio Vita-Finzi has worked on three Continents as a Trade Commissioner, a multinational executive, a successful entrepreneur and a college and university lecturer.

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