A Brief History of Customer Feedback

Rebecca Rosenberg
December 10, 2019
Rebecca is a content & social media marketing strategist with expertise in the restaurant industry.

When you think about “customer satisfaction reviews” what comes to mind? Maybe it’s a Google review, a Facebook post, an email survey or a quote on a website.

You probably don’t think of a clay tablet, do you? Well, so far, that’s the earliest documented customer complaint, dating all the way back to 1750 B.C.! The tablet, which sits in the British Museum, is written by a customer dissatisfied with their shipment of copper. According to interpretation, the shipment was the wrong grade of metal and took too long to arrive.

This proves that, solicited or not, customer reviews have been around for a long, long time! But who knows, it’s only a matter of time before we discover an earlier example - perhaps a cave painting from an unhappy sheepskin trader?

History of Customer Satisfaction Reviews

Customer satisfaction reviews are a form of feedback. Feedback is a basic human experience, from the first caveman who touched hot fire and learned “don’t do that” to the toaster that “dings” to signal that your breakfast is ready. Feedback provides us with new information that we use to learn about and adapt to our environment. We’re hard-wired to use it for survival; therefore, our brains love it.

From clay tablet all the way up to digital tablet, customer satisfaction reviews have taken many forms over the centuries. Over time, customer experience has gained importance, shaping today’s customer-centric marketing and business landscape.

Reviews may be at the core of today’s brand strategy, but forward-thinking businesses and individuals began to acknowledge the importance of customer experience early on.

Early 20th Century

In 1905, Mark Twain wrote a rather scathing letter of complaint to snake oil salesman J. H. Todd. It seems Twain had a lot to say about a so-called “Elixir of Life” sold by Todd. Twain was extremely perplexed by the disconnect between the brand’s packaging and advertisements. The negative customer experience drove him to hurl insults like "idiot of the 33rd degree" and others in this epic diatribe.

Whether you think he was harsh or hilarious, Twain used the most common feedback method of the times. Starting in the early 1900’s, businesses actively collected customer service data, mostly via face-to-face interviews or mailed questionnaires. Gathering feedback was a slow process, and even as telephone surveys began to emerge, businesses were after something better.

Late 20th Century

In the late 20th century, telephone surveys, computer assisted telephone interviews (CATI), and later, email surveys, became major players in customer satisfaction data collection. 

You can’t talk about the history of customer feedback, though, without mentioning the almighty restaurant comment card. During their heyday (roughly the 1960’s – 1990’s) comment cards were the shining star of restaurant guest feedback. They offered a safe, offline space for guests to provide honest opinions about their experience while it remained fresh on the mind.

Restaurant comment cards go hand-in-hand with “suggestion boxes” which were used in schools, hospitals, and businesses around the world. Comment cards and suggestion boxes were a great way to get customer data quickly and obtain both positive and negative feedback. 

On the downside, messy handwriting and human data processing made it difficult to quickly spot trends. Not to mention, there exists a wide gap between the customer’s suggestion and a leadership team. For example, a server may toss the comment card without it ever reaching the management team.

Today, the idea behind comment cards still lives on, but with some key improvements to the format. 

Customer Satisfaction Reviews in the Digital World

In the digital age, consumer driven marketing plays a bigger role than ever as customer data helps shape brand messaging and product offerings. For example, Frito-Lay, Inc. launched the first “Lay’s Do Us a Flavor” contest in 2012. The wildly popular campaign allows fans to submit and vote on a new chip flavor, and it’s still going strong today.

Customer feedback in the 21st century is the world of social media reviews, net promoter scores and live reporting. We now have so many ways to learn about customers through data and information - it’s just a matter of leveraging it. Today’s customer satisfaction reviews happen in real-time. They’re interactive and actionable, and they can help your business improve performance.

How Feedback can Impact your Restaurant’s Performance

Customer experience feedback has always been especially important in restaurants. As an intensely customer-focused business, every experience counts. Time has shown us that customers want to share their opinion and see improvement. Ideally, customer feedback should be part of a continuous feedback-action loop that helps you:

  • Understand your customers
  • Build relationships with guests via email
  • Improve your menu, operations, and server performance
  • Reduce negative online reviews
  • Make better data-driven decisions

Humm makes all this possible through a variety of live feedback platform features. You get immediate feedback and you get more of it - as much as 80x more than with comment cards or email surveys! We provide interactive feedback tablets for in-restaurant use, serving much like the restaurant comments cards of days gone by - but with none of the pitfalls. 

No messy handwriting to decipher, no sorting through responses. And customer feedback is transparently shared across the organization. See trends and access metrics immediately with live insights.

Learn more or get started today!