Simon Calder: The true value of customer feedback

The man who pays his way

The question they never ask on Customer Satisfaction Questionnaires is, "What did you think of this questionnaire"?

A pity. The "CSQ" I filled out last weekend, after a holiday with an outpost of the Thomas Cook empire, could have offered the following multiple choices:

(a) intrusive

(b) impertinent

(c) infuriating

I would have ticked "all of the above".

Thomas Cook, like William Shakespeare, was an Englishman who transformed the world dramatically for the better. "His determination to improve the lives of working people by giving them opportunities to learn through travel was pioneering," says Manny Fontenla-Novoa, chief executive of the Thomas Cook Group.

When, 170 summers ago, Mr Cook organised his first excursion, he felt no need to issue Customer Satisfaction Questionnaires to the participants. Presumably he concluded that if they thought his trip from Leicester to Loughborough was any good they would book again and tell their friends; if not, they wouldn't. That remains the most valuable form of customer feedback. But in the consumer-centred 21st century, the company that still bears his name wants to know "How was it for you?"

The questionnaire at the end of my ski trip to Les Deux Alpes last week was issued by Neilson, part of Thomas Cook. It begins reasonably enough; any sensible travel company will be keen to learn what its customers thought of everything from the booking process to the airport check-in, the condition of the hotel and its staff.

"Your open and honest feedback helps us to continue to improve the high level of service you have come to expect from the oldest and best-known name in travel," says Mr Fontenla-Novoa.

The CSQ can be an honourable endeavour to identify weak points in the holiday package in order to improve them, and to learn what is important to customers.

But I started getting puzzled by page three of the Neilson CSQ, wondering what connection there might be between the skiing holiday I had just enjoyed – (a), excellent, thank you – and the make of car I (don't) drive. Charitably, the marketing folk may wish to determine if Deux Chevaux owners aim for Deux Alpes. But then the questionnaire became sinister: why does Messrs Cook need to know the companies from whom I buy electricity and gas?

The question "Who are your current utilities suppliers?" turned out to be mere small talk compared with the request to know the "Renewal date for car, buildings and home contents insurance?" I couldn't spot the box to tick for "After I've spent quite a lot of money on one of your holidays, if you think that I'm going to tell you information that might result in my being 'cold-called' shortly before my insurance is due for renewal, you clearly take me for a total chump".

Presumably, though, Messrs Cook has enough customers who tick the box marked "gullible" to make it worth including the cheekiest enquiry of all: the Mobile Phone Questions.

"Which network is your mobile phone on? Is it on contract? If so, which is your renewal month?". By now you may wonder whether you somehow muddled one of Britain's leading tour operators with an online identity-theft scam. The cynical traveller may conclude, "You don't care two hoots what I thought of the flight, or the bed, or the breakfasts. All you want is my contact details and spending habits so you can sell the information to other firms. Anyone who is fool enough to fill this out is an ideal target for any identity thief who gets his hands on the data". But a spokesperson for Thomas Cook UK & Ireland said, "Customer feedback on our holidays is very important, the results of which have a direct impact on our airlines, our hotels and our holiday brands. The independently reviewed CSQ Survey is managed by a reputable and experienced company, with all sections and data collection voluntary."

On second thoughts, "What did you think of this questionnaire?" is not the best question with which to end a CSQ. A better one is "Please outline in 50 words or fewer, what you suggest we do with the people who designed a questionnaire that covers territory way beyond your holiday?"

Answers on a postcard – it's safer than an email.

Have you been appalled – or impressed – by the end-of-holiday questionnaire? Either comment online or email travel@independent.co.uk. (You may wish to include the renewal date of your mobile phone contract.)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own