Want to know about my last hotel stay?
Ask me in the next couple weeks and I can give you a hundred specifics — bed, desk, lighting, vanity, showerhead, coat hangers, etc., etc. And I’ll tell you about Elizabeth at the front desk who set aside a couple chocolate chip cookies for me because I was headed out for dinner and thought I’d miss my chance.
Ask me in a couple months and I’ll have forgotten most of that. But I’ll remember those cookies, and the gesture behind them.
Ask me in a year … and I’ll remember that I liked the place a lot. Maybe I’ll remember the cookies, maybe I won’t, but they will have done their job. Next time I go to St. Louis, I know which Hampton Inn I’m staying at.
We’re in an age of immediate access to information. It’s easy to find out who hosted the 1978 Oscars; it’s almost as easy to find 200 people who ate at an Olive Garden last Friday night to find out whether their breadsticks were warm when the server brought them. We’re wired to think of that as a good thing… but maybe it isn’t.
Want to find out if your customers are satisfied? Here’s the dilemma:
Ask soon after an experience, and you’ll be rewarded with rich details about the experience but little sense of the lasting impact. That’s great if you have an immediate operational need, but it creates an overwhelming and often misleading pile of data to sift through for strategic insights.
Wait a while, and you’ll learn the overall impact of the experience but lose out on the details that made it happen. Wonderful if you’re assessing long-term attitudes, but not if you’re trying to tie those attitudes to specific actions or events.
There’s no single right answer here. Most companies are stuck in the middle, trying to strike the right balance between the forest and the trees. It comes down to what questions you’re asking and why you’re asking them. If you haven’t aligned your objectives and your methodology, you’re in trouble.
But the point is this… Timing matters, and not always in the way we think. Sooner is not always better. Faster is not always better. Now is not always better.
Time is the only thing that can turn yesterday’s experience into tomorrow’s lasting impression. So if you want to know how your customers really feel about you, be patient. Time will tell.