Last November I asked our customers and others to
answer a few questions about our company and our bike tours.
I find the whole issue of ‘Feedback’ fascinating. We all agree that we need constructive criticism to get better, and to see ourselves as others see us. But when we ask for constructive criticism, and actually get some, well I for one don’t like it!
It’s also true that if I ask the people who subscribe to our Newsletter to tell us about their experiences with The Chain Gang, then I’m likely to hear from people who had a good time. People who didn’t enjoy themselves won’t bother reading our Newsletters, by and large, and won’t go to the trouble of responding to surveys.
As a final thought, a business that truly knows its customers shouldn’t really get any surprises from a feedback exercise – I should know our strengths and weaknesses already, and it shouldn’t be a surprise when someone points them out to me. This was largely true – I think I know where I’ve dropped the occasional ball, and it is a huge help to get confirmation. It adds impetus to the process of change and improvement.
So, what did our subscribers tell us?
First of all, we must be doing something right. We got almost 100 responses, and I was overwhelmed by the supportive comments. They weren’t all completely supportive, but we got a lot of compliments about our guides:
“…we couldn’t have asked for a better guide.”
“xxxx was our tour guide and he was absolutely magnificent”
“xxxx was brilliant, nothing was too much trouble ”
“Your guides are fantastic and one of the main reasons I keep coming back”
Here are two comments that sum up, for me, what we’re meant to do as guides:
“I felt very well looked after from start to finish without feeling like I was on a group holiday.”
“It felt like a group of mates, a couple of whom had slightly more local knowledge of routes, etc.” [I’m hoping the ‘couple of whom’ referred to were our guides!]
But, back to reality. Not all the comments were positive. Those Chain Gang friends who made critical comments, thank you, I’m on it, and that’s a promise.
From our first tour in 1997 we’ve been serious about food. It’s always been the intention to showcase not only good food, but good local food.
In Burgundy or the Dordogne this is relatively easy as they both enjoy such a distinctive culinary history. But we face two issues, I think. In the Dordogne, for example, if you like duck and goose you can explore a genuinely distinctive cuisine that you won’t find anywhere else, with foie gras, magret de canard, confit, etc., and all cooked expertly. But if you don’t like duck, or are a vegetarian, then in the Dordogne you need a bit of help, which is our job.
In the Loire Valley or Bordeaux, the local cuisine, if it ever existed, has been subsumed into a generic ‘French’ cuisine. So to eat as well as I would hope, we need to work a bit harder for our vegetarian brethren, and in those regions where distinctiveness is less easily available.
People said “The food was superb” [Burgundy]; “… the food just kept getting better night after night.” [Provence]; “The food we ate on our tour was superb…”; “The food was fantastic”. But I think there are three areas where we will do better:
Vegetarians and other dietary requests. The French in particular need a bit of ‘encouragement’ to offer variety and imagination to vegetarians. I object to this, and we’ll fight this fight a bit harder.
Italy. Bluntly, I wonder if I’ve let this slip a little in Italy. The food on both our Tuscany and Umbria trips is wonderful, I think. But both regions are even better than that. These should be the best food on any of our tours – and they will be.
Here’s a dilemma I’ve always faced. On our tours, our customers are on holiday – they might not want to get up early for a prompt departure every morning. At the same time, at the other end of the day, do we want to be arriving at our hotel an hour before dinner?
I’d be very grateful for your reaction to this, because I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve made assumptions about what our customers want, and I got some of those assumptions wrong. I know my guides are often better at this than I am, but our policy for 2011 and beyond will be to leave our hotels before 09.30 in the morning and aim to be installed before 6.00 pm. We’ll vary meal times so that we don’t eat so late each evening. This won’t be set in stone, we will always respond to our customers’ wishes while we’re on tour. But our default will be to allow a bit more relaxation in the evening.
Basically we’re going to bring our days forward by between 30 and 60 minutes. This is a real piece of listening on my part – not always my strong suit. So if you have a view, in favour or against, please shout out by posting a reply to this blog.
Overall I was overwhelmed by the comments people made. I’d like to share a bit more detail in future months, on issues like price and support vans. But for now, can I assure you that your comments are appreciated and we’ll run better tours thanks to all of you?