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VALUED OPINION: Springfield Diner’s Marsha Goehring serves lunch to customers Gary Buzbee, right, and Leroy Kaelke.
SBJ photo by Jessica Rosa
VALUED OPINION: Springfield Diner’s Marsha Goehring serves lunch to customers Gary Buzbee, right, and Leroy Kaelke.

Made to Order Chapter Five: Customer Says

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When its customer survey research hit an initial snag last month, Longitude LLC’s information gathering on Springfield Diner LLC was able to pick up some momentum via social media.

Early in the rebranding discussions with diner owner Omer Onder, the branding agency expressed interest in contacting his customers. When Onder got the contact list to Longitude owners Dustin Myers and Jeremy Wells last month, there was a problem. It consisted only of email addresses, about 70 in total.

“Typically, with our surveys, we have their phone number and just call them and have that conversation,” Wells said. “But we didn’t have phone numbers for this.”

A mass email was sent out to customers in late April, soliciting feedback about Springfield Diner with a link to an online survey Longitude crafted. Estimated at about three minutes in length to complete, the customer survey questions include how frequently they visit, favorite menu options, how to describe the diner to a friend and the likelihood of visiting if it was open for dinner.

The email didn’t garner much attention, Wells said. Only eight responses came in after several days. Rather than issue a second email, Longitude asked Onder on May 6 to post a message to the diner’s Facebook page, leveraging its followers for survey participation. Onder complied and by May 9 the response count had reached 92.

Myers said the survey was still live as of May 16, at which point the response total was at 94. Results were being tabulated through the week in preparation for a May 17 meeting with Onder.

Onder said he solicits customers’ opinions as often as he can find time to visit their tables. He’s typically busy cooking.

“They always say everything is good, but change out seating,” he said, in reference to the diner’s furniture.

The feedback on seating is that they’re not very comfortable and the booths, in particular, sit too close to the ground. He suspects some customers may be holding back on other diner aspects and don’t want to say something critical to him in person.

“Sometimes, when we get busy, the food is not perfect or not what they like,” Onder said.

Kitchen mistakes haven’t been part of the experience for diner customer Celine Roberts. A sales assistant with the Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau, Roberts said she stumbled upon the diner in April 2018 after noticing its presence in the Southgate Center. She knew nothing about it but its name.

Roberts estimated she’s since visited the diner at least monthly. Some have been for personal visits and others for work-related purposes, such as a gathering for Masterminds of Biz, a professional networking group.

She had a cheeseburger and fries on that initial visit, but has since tried several of the Mediterranean options on the menu.

“I love the food. The menemen is one of my favorite dishes,” she said of the traditional Turkish egg dish.

Onder’s hospitality has been another draw for Roberts.

“You’re made to feel part of his family,” she said, adding he played Celine Dion music for her on her second visit as recognition of her first name. “That’s a quality some people forget about how important it is. That’s who he is. He’s a genuine person.”

Roberts was among the survey participants, and noted while she had no constructive criticism to offer in it, she welcomes the rebranding efforts of Longitude.

“Doing anything to ensure you stay relevant and adapting as things change around you is great,” she said.

Survey value
Longitude generally conducts surveys after a branding workshop, as Myers said the client usually has an idea where they want to take the brand. Details are fleshed out and a brand strategy is determined. Then customers are interviewed to see how well the brand is going to match up with expectations, as well as how they previously viewed the business.

“On this project in particular, it felt more natural to gather that data first before we start trying to dig into all those details, just to make sure we don’t waste time going down the wrong rabbit hole,” Myers said.

A lot of times going with gut instinct might be pretty close to the direction ultimately chosen, Myers said, but the survey can confirm those thoughts – or bring out the unexpected.

“When you’re talking about somebody’s business and livelihood – and in (Omer’s) case, his dream – you don’t want to just base it on your gut, because you will get surprised in surveys,” Myers said.

He pointed to a past rebranding project with Chicago-based Slice Factory, in which the pizza chain was positioned as “Chicago’s original jumbo slice.” Problem was, many competitors were saying the same thing.

After visiting with customers, Myers said that message didn’t resonate, as what they wanted was convenience. Getting pizza quickly, whether a slice when visiting the eatery or a pie delivered promptly to their home, was more important.

After that customer information, the business message shifted to all the ways Slice Factory is convenient.

“One, it helped differentiate them, but two, it was a lot more in tune with their actual customer needs,” Myers said.

Ready to learn
When able to conduct phone interviews, Longitude aims to speak with 30-50 people for about five minutes apiece, these conversations generally reveal trends. The agency has never before asked a business owner to garner more survey data via social media, but the low email response warranted it, Myers said.

Once the survey results are revealed and recommendations made, an action plan can be unveiled, he added.

It’s a process that Onder said he’s ready to learn more about.

Complaints rarely make it to him directly. Onder said he doesn’t want to hear all praise in the survey results. He sees criticism as a way for him to learn more about the restaurant business.

“What I’m hoping to hear and see with the results, I want to see what kinds of things I couldn’t see right now or haven’t seen until now,” he said. “Sometimes people say very nice things to your face, but in their heart, he didn’t do it this way or that way. I want to hear the things I’m doing wrong.”

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