The Problem With Parsing Feedback From Customers

We have a number of ways to collect customer feedback and I ensure that any negative score or comment we get from any source comes right to my email box so I can investigate personally.  We don't get that many negative comments, perhaps a couple a month (which is pretty good with over 2 million visitors last year).  The most common negative comment is something like "your employee was very rude to me."

This comment is a good illustration of how it can be hard to parse customer comments.  Because from my experience, the comment "your employee was rude to me" tends to mean one of two very different things:

  1. My employees were actually rude to the customer, requiring an immediate intervention on my part
  2. My employees were as patient and polite as can be expected, but were giving the customer an answer the customer did not want to hear (e.g. "you can't park on the grass, I need you to move your car.")

This year, I would say explanation #2 is in the lead by about 70%-30% over explanation 1.  As an operator of a public campground, we must enforce the rules set by the public agency.  We frequently encounter customers who simply do not like the rules and therefore consider the existence of the rules to be a violent aggression against them.  A great example is food storage.  In areas of high bear activity, it is important that customer properly store their food so as not to attract bears to the campground -- campers in these areas are given literature about food storage and our hosts come by to explain the rules and answer questions.  But there are folks who simply won't comply, and these folks frequently complain to me that my people are being rude.

Postscript: As an added bonus, I will give you one example of why businesses often tear their hair out over online reviews.  A year or so ago we got a Yelp review at a lakefront campground saying that the customer had been "lied to" because she was not allowed to use her jetskis in the lake.  I was surprised at this, since the no jetski rule is set in stone by our government partner and I thought we had made it pretty clear on the web site.  So I contacted the customer asking what we had done to mislead her.  She said that her dad promised her that she could jetski and we wouldn't let her so that is why she said we lied.   There are times in life when you just have to move on, and this seemed like one of them, so once I assured myself there was nothing we could do to correct errors in our web sites, I said "thanks for the feedback" and hung up.


  1. CapnRusty:

    I'm sure jetski girl is attending a safe space somewhere, at great expense, where she and other snowflakes won't melt.

  2. eastsider:

    Guilty as charged of number 2. If I don't like the rules of your public agency my only path to share that is through you.
    I was sorry.

  3. Matthew Slyfield:

    But surely it's possible to express that you don't like the rule without complaining that the employees trying to enforce the rules are being rude.

  4. WesternRover:

    If you read a few of the stories on NotAlwaysRight, it seems that people in category #2 are trained to be that way by other businesses that give refunds to complaining customers, or at least offer them complimentary extras, even when their complaints are clearly without merit. (Usually it's front line employees writing stories about their spineless managers.) Such customers learn that acting that way with most businesses can often be rewarding. In some cases the customer may not even care as much as they outwardly seem to about the rule they're complaining about, but see it as a possible means to get their entry fee refunded or a future visit comp'd.

  5. marque2:

    Some of those online surveys are so employee focused, there is no way to complain without dinging the poor employee. From the bureau of - if there is something wrong, it can't be us, it must be our poor unappreciated, underpaid front line employee.

  6. John Moore:

    I have an app on the Android market place. I find it annoying sometimes when I get what I call a "drive by" review. For some reason, it doesn't work for a customer, who then gives it a one-star with a comment like "doesn't work." They don't bother with contacting me at all.

    A few times, after I have responded to the review, they contacted me, I solved their problem (never the fault of the app, in these cases), and they upgraded the review.

  7. ErikTheRed:

    On the flip side, there are the companies that want feedback on every tiny little thing - as if it's our job to police their customer service for them. My favorites are when you do give negative but constructive feedback where the service provider was very clearly being an idiot (and where I would genuinely like them to do better) and getting a very neutral "we hear what you are saying" response - an almost lawyerly refusal to admit any shortcoming or wrongdoing that makes me wonder why I even spent 10-15 minutes writing a response to them in the first place.

  8. WesternRover:

    If it's any comfort, I ignore those reviews when I consider buying an app. In general, I weigh detailed and well-written reviews, positive or negative, much more than vague and poorly written reviews.

  9. Matthew Slyfield:

    So write a letter instead.

  10. marque2:

    A letter? Please explain :P

  11. marque2:

    Hey, what is your app?

  12. John Moore:

    Radar Alive Pro

  13. Matthew Slyfield:

    Like e-mail, but printed on paper. :)

  14. marque2:

    Cool, you get pretty high ratings there. 4.5 is nothing to sneeze at - and looping is working again! Thanks for letting g us know.

  15. Georgfelis:

    In some (not rare enough) cases, these are scammers who were thinking about visiting the campsite/restaurant, and by posting a negative review, are hoping to get that comp/discount on their upcoming trip.