When Airline Employees Cross The Line In Requesting “Feedback”

Filed Under: Travel

I love those who go out of their way to make our travel experiences special, and I think it’s important to recognize their hard work, so that they’ll continue to be encouraged to do that, and so that more people may be inspired to go above and beyond. So I do what I can to send feedback to airlines and hotels when I encounter someone who is exceptional.

I do so in many forms — sometimes I’ll hand out the “appreciation” certificates that some programs give us for being elite members. Sometimes I ask for their names so I can send an email to the company’s customer relations department. Sometimes I reach out to a hotel’s general manager to recognize someone. Sometimes I’ll fill out a post-experience survey, and mention them by name. And of course I often mention people who go above and beyond by name in my reviews.

This is something I really care about. The ideal situation is that the employee is going above and beyond because they’re a great brand ambassador and have a passion for making people smile. But I also recognize that going above and beyond often goes unappreciated, so I think there’s a classy way to ask for feedback.

For example, I don’t have any issue — and in many ways think it’s smart — when a cabin manager on a flight hands out their business card and says “if you have any feedback on our service, we’d love to hear from you.” I think that’s a non-pushy, non-suggestive way to ask for feedback.

However, in the past week I’ve gotten some of the most ridiculous “feedback” requests. that sort of leave a bad taste in my mouth. It’s funny how you can get good service, but then the motive of why they’re providing good service becomes so clear. At least be subtle!

I won’t name airlines right now (I’ll save that for the reviews, though I’m sure you can connect the dots), but just to give a few examples…

I was enjoying a lounge’s a la carte dining facility, and the service was great. I was asked if I wouldn’t mind filling out a feedback form. Sure, no problem. The only thing is that the “feedback form” was a blank page on an iPad’s “Notes” app. And I don’t really think of it much as feedback if you write something and then the server reads it while standing at the table, and then says “if you want to give me something, that is fine too.”

Then there was a shift change, and service was attentive with the new server for a few minutes. Then the new person asked if I wouldn’t mind sharing feedback. When I explained I had filled it out just 15 minutes prior, service became a lot less attentive.

On a recent 90 minute flight I was asked about 20 minutes after takeoff if I could “write some nice things about the flight.” I was given a pen and an empty sheet of paper on which to write.

Recently I sat down in a lounge, and less than five minutes after arriving was brought an iPad and asked if I would mind sharing feedback on the lounge’s services. I haven’t had time to experience any of the services yet, so…

Ultimately I guess this is a side effect of my enthusiasm with these products. When I enter a lounge or get on a plane, I’m typically very enthusiastic, for two reasons — first of all, because I genuinely love this stuff, and second of all, because I take a lot of pictures, and things come across as less suspicious if you seem like you’re just really excited about being there and like you don’t fly premium cabins often, rather than them suspecting that you’re reviewing them. It’s one of the ways I try to fly under the radar.

So to those who work in hospitality, you deserve to be recognized for your great work. However, there’s a right and wrong way to solicit that feedback. I know going above and beyond is often thankless, but asking someone to fill out a survey when they first arrive somewhere, or on a random sheet of paper, or specifically telling them to write nice things, isn’t the way to go about it, in my opinion.

Anyone else have experience with over the top requests for feedback? How do you handle these situations?

  1. After lunch yesterday in Cathay F, I was approached with the feedback “packet”. From what I could tell, everyone else in the cabin probably seemed too stuck up to be approached. They were genuinely attentive and proactive the entire time, though I couldn’t then help but wonder whether it’s because of the packet I had next to me. I’d like to think it was the former. In truth, I did have some feedback re: HKG’s F check-in experience so I was happy to get the chance to share that.

  2. I’ve had some similar (less aggressive) instances too. Attempts at being discrete phptographing either end in bad photographs (so frustrating) or being pressed for feedback by some supervisor. Cathay magically upgraded me to business class on one of my four hour flights. I’m a Oneworld elite sure, but I don’t have status on Cathay and there was no equipment change.

    Sometimes I’ll have staff leaning over my shoulder while I type or take notes on my laptop/notepad. I really wouldn’t want to turn down feedback requests or give empty feedback, but at this point I might just start listing random things like the need for heated toilet seats or fancier champagne 😉

  3. Ha! Had the same experience in that F section of GVK Lounge and onboard 9W First. Well, at least at the end of service though 🙂

  4. I don’t think you get that ALL if not most of these carriers/hotels know who you are!

    I feel you reviews often fail to acknowledge ridiculous cultural “norms” India and the Middle East do you hear us?!! haha.

    India especially is like another planet.

  5. At a recent trip the hotell invited a certain group of people (from a specific country, all of us staying at this hotel as part of a package trip) to a complimentary dineer is their nicest restaurant. Dinner was lovely, actually one of the best I have experienced. Then, as we were anticipating dessert being served we were all asked to fill out a survey of the hotel (restaurants, service, etc). Given a form, I filled it out, making note that the lunch offerings were unimaginative with poor service (but I did say it very nicely) and then complimenting them on this restaurant, and all the other things I was very pleased with.
    The server came by to pick up the form, and I asked for an envelope, and asked where I should deposit it. Oh, no, they wanted the form as it was…
    10 minutes later, as we were enjoying dessert, the hotels restaurants manager stormed up to the table, seemed quite upset, and in a very confrontational manner asked why I had not enjoyed the dinner. I asked him to go back and re-read all my comments. He huffed and rushed away.

    No, I do not fill out surveys anymore unless I controll how it is handled.

  6. Was on a Singapore Airlines flight where there were only me and one other passenger in F. The other passenger was sleeping throughout the whole flight, so it felt like it was only me in F. Service was exceptional as always expected on SQ, and even more so with this crew. Towards the end of the flight, the female FA came with a blank sheet of paper and a pen and asked me if could write some nice things about the service and mentioned her name and her male colleague’s. I was quite taken aback at first, but since they’d taken care of me really well, agreed to the request. The crew also made sure that I was compensated for my trouble and I left the plane with a bag full of SQ goodies.

  7. I actually had a similar experience as @katyalw on a SQ F flight where at the end of the flight, the cabin manager asked me to write a review on a blank notepad and provided me with names of the cabin crew servicing first class. I did as requested since I had actually enjoyed their service, and also left with a SQ goodie-bag.

  8. One thing that annoys me is when I’m trying to check out of a small hotel and then the clerk hands me a feedback form to fill out on the spot. Usually I’m in a hurry an on the way to the airport and don’t want to be bothered with it.

  9. If this happened where I think it did, it’s a cultural thing. In India anyway, low-level staffers are obsessed with customer feedback, because they’re evaluated heavily by it. When it was time for me to move back from HYD to Dallas, the relocation company came about 2 weeks prior and made a weight estimate of all my stuff. Well, come moving day, they try to claim my shipment is overweight (nothing added from the day they came to check) and I’ll have to pay for the overage. Of course they want a feedback card filled out on the spot, so I give them the lowest rating. Magically, not even an hour later, I get a call from a supervisor apologizing and assuring me they’ll take everything – and asking if I can please change my feedback card to provide the highest rating if they did. Moral of the story, filling out the card is the easiest way to rectify bad service…

  10. This kind of stuff drives me crazy. The Lexus dealership sends me requests to fill out a survey after getting car serviced, and the service rep makes sure to tell me “we’d really appreciate your feedback. Anything less than a 10 is a failing grade” or something to that extent. When there is that overt an attempt to influence my feedback, I’m not going to bother.

  11. Had a lovely experience at a boutique hotel in Jodhpur.

    Feedback forms at check out were in the form of a leaflet that you can fold and seal so you can hand it over as a sealed envelope, which were torn open while you were leaving the reception and while we were loading the car, the unhappy duty manager came outside to aggressively ask why not everything was marked as excellent.

  12. I’ve never been offered a feedback form in a lounge, but most hotels, large and small, email feedback questionnaires after my visits. Not exactly, over the top but consistent after every stay. A few years ago, at a hotel, where stay several times a year, always requesting the same room, I commented that the windows in the room weren’t soundproof and I was hoping that someday they would be upgraded because at times the noise spoils an otherwise perfect stay. Four months later upon returning, the windows had been replaced and I was more than pleasantly surprised. Since then, I always leave feedback when asked – good or bad.

  13. for the attendant standing right by you and waiting after sitting down for 5 min, just leave the pad on the table and tell him you will do it later. he will be extra attentive.

  14. and…..hotels which have large TripAdvisor signs posted at check-in/out, then hand you a card with a link and push you to complete a TripAdvisor review. That seems to happen very often now both in the US and OUS.

  15. As a marketing consultant, I am not surprised by this behavior w.r.t readers and Lucky himself (and have often encountered it myself). It is often a problem many of our clients face as well.
    There are 2 issues at play here:
    1. Incentive Problem (Organizational):
    2. Over-statement (Cultural):

    (Apologies for the word count below, fair warning!!)

    1. Incentive Problem (Organizational):
    You will be amazed how many of the top companies (even those at forefront of customer service) are so poor when it comes to employee evaluation and designing “incentives” for employees.
    Ofcourse employees then try to game the system, as the rebuke often is “the other person does it, and i fall behind on the performance curve” and you cannot blame them as its their bread & butter.
    Few organizations have mastered it, but the hope is, with better integration of digital tools (like Apps), gathering feedback will become easier for companies as well as for us ‘users’ to share it instantly and conveniently.

    2. Over-statement (Cultural):
    This is purely cultural to the countries of the world. For example, In India, anything below 9/10 would be considered fail as people in general try to ‘over-state’ their enthusiasm.
    On the other extreme, in countries like Japan or Germany, often the average ratings hover between 6-8 out of 10.
    Which is why, you would expect staff at Indian (or other Asian countries) often becoming unhappy with an 8 while in Germany or UK, 8/10 is often considered a good ratings.

    That said, its unfortunate that people have to ‘push’ or ‘react’ to feedback the way we often experience–definitely undermines the brand experience.
    I, for once, do tend to share 2 sets of feedback when this happens. First, a genuine review of service (with specific name mentions if needed), and a second more anonymous one specifically directed to “brand managers” or “marketing heads” so that they are aware of the need to better manage the brand quality and experience.

  16. I do think it’s gotten out of hand. Taking the time to fill out a survey (thoughtfully)…takes time! My time. Nearly every business sends out survey emails, or offers to call back to answer questions. I could spend all day giving people feedback on their product…but that’s not how I’m going to spend my time.

    I am happy to reward great service, and will take the time to post something on TA, or write an email to the property. And will equally point out poor service in a similar fashion.

    Where I draw the line is when I’m overtly asked and/or pressured to do so. A form with names highlighted…or someone telling me anything less than a 10 is near disaster for them. Once someone puts that pressure on me, I pass. I don’t want/need that pressure and it’s not my responsibility.

  17. I have a background in data analytics. The first time somebody handed me a survey and said, “I don’t get a bonus for anything less than the top mark”, I was galled. I wasn’t galled at the server mind you, because I’d do the same thing. But companies aren’t going to get meaningful feedback when they pressure patrons for reviews… and I’m just not going to participate in that racket.

    If you want my feedback, you get it if and when and in whatever way I feel like giving it to you.

    My most recent favorite was some order I made off of Amazon. The seller sent me *three* emails, trying to engage the customer and drum up reviews. Um, no dude. (I had purchased a cast iron frying pan. No, I don’t need help with my order.)

  18. I know this perspective may be polarizing, but I generally don’t provide feedback unless I am compensated for it. I will happily take five minutes to go online and fill out a coffee shop’s post-visit survey to get $1 off my next purchase. But I won’t respond to Amazon’s email request for feedback on packaging. My time and input are worth something, even if undervalued ($1 for 5 minutes?). If companies want marketing consultation, they need to pay for it.

  19. On every survey from AA I complain about the AAdvantage program devaluation and the lack of saver award space.

  20. It is true that hotels in India will bend over backwards to right a wrong.
    I was staying at a Taj property in Rajasthan and they polished the floors one night for hours, making it impossible to sleep. I had to get up and go to the front desk finally after over 2 hours of incessant droning. Needless to say the noise stopped then and there.
    That morning at breakfast the general manager came to my table offering profuse apologies and an offer of dinner at the luxury restaurant on the property. I told him it wasn’t necessary but I insisted. Dinner turned out to be a multicourse affair with exclusive wines, spirits….the works!
    When I checked out I got the questionnaire…but I was very happy to fill it out. From then on, over the next 3 weeks, every property I stayed at from that hotel group mentioned my need for a “very quiet” room at check-in.
    Great pro-active attention to detail imo.

  21. One time a hotel in Istanbul sent me numerous emails asking to rate it on TA. I wasn’t very happy with my stay, though I didn’t feel like complaining.
    After they annoyed me just enough with their “kind reminders” (they sent around 5 reminders, I think), I went to TA and left an honest and detailed review with 3/5 stars rating. Of course, the minute it was published the hotel started to annoy me to “please take it down, we are very upset” etc etc.

  22. Please stop using “reach out” in the way you do. It is cringeworthy and makes you sound like a corporate sleaze bag ( which I know you are not). “Reach out”, before the phrase was hijacked by slimy corporates/spinmeisters, implies something more than everyday communication and usually within an emotional context.

  23. It might be worth bearing in mind the considerable cultural differences in the way feedback is delivered and received before making such blog posts public. In particular, in certain Asian countries, those in the service industry are required to gather customer feedback as part of their job. Whilst this drives a behaviour that may not be so palatable for Western visitors, it may be worth bearing in mind who is the foreign visitor (and their awareness of local customs) when composing your blogs. Whilst I’m not judging the events you mentioned, I cringed at the apparent cultural insensitivity and lack of awareness all too often exhibited around the world by Western (and in particular Anglo-Saxon) visitors.

  24. Most service people are confused when I tell them the best service is when I’m barely spoken to, that my needs are few and I’ll ask for anything I need. One time I hugely tipped a silent cab driver with a quiet car and told him I’d call him for every airport ride. If I were ever an Uber driver, I’d market myself as “silent driver with clean car, soft music, no questions, newspaper provided”. To me, true luxury is being left alone and not spoken to unless necessary. Really hard for people to understand for some reason .

  25. The one that really gets me is the feedback machine in certain airport loos. Let’s see …. I just used a touch free toilet, a touch free sink with touch free soap dispenser, and a touch free hand dryer or touch free paper dispenser and now you want me to touch a button to say whether I liked the experience?

  26. You all know it’s not the employees but the management that is driving this. Unrealistic expectations are put for the front line staff. They are so fearful for their jobs the harras you for a survey. So it’s not the people asking you it’s the clueless management behind the scenes that are the problem.

  27. Interestingly, I had a similar experience to @katyalw and @Jacob on Singapore Airlines (economy) and left the plane with a bage of SA goodies too!

    “Service” and tipping is a culturally loaded conversation; in some areas. like Japan, tipping is even considered an insult.

  28. @Michael OM
    “in certain Asian countries, those in the service industry are required to gather customer feedback as part of their job. Whilst this drives a behaviour that may not be so palatable for Western visitors”

    Isn’t that the point? These are international airlines and hotels, trying to attract international custom. It is their responsibility to be sensitive to their customers’ cultural and social norms, not to assume that everyone around the world will understand the particular cultural context of that business.

    Either these corporations want international visitors / guests / passengers, or they don’t.

    I think it’s a bit rich of you to criticise the customer for not understanding the cultural context of every wannabe global business. If they don’t want my business (and the cultural baggage that goes with it), don’t take my money for a ticket / room / service. I will do my best to behave like a decent human being (though that includes all the cultural baggage I have as a result of my upbringing and decades of immersion in one or two western cultures rather than any others).

    I would suggest we all might be a bit happier if there was an assumption of good faith on both sides, until proven otherwise. And as a customer I’m not going to jump through some corporate hoop – or collude with the corporate in making the poor frontline worker have to beg for a full score in order to get some monetary bonus. My response to learning of such behaviour is normally to avoid that corporation in future.

  29. Had a similar experience London (Bayswater). Stayed at a hotel for 9 nights and every day I was “reminded” to post a review on Trip Advisor by someone at reception (sometimes twice a day). I was so peeved by the time I checked out that I just snapped. Told the receptionist I’d had a lovely stay but would not be providing a review because of the constant reminders.

    Sure enough, got home and there was a standard email from the manager asking me to provide a review on Trip Advisor. So I did. Said the room was nice but the constant harassment by staff to provide a review marred the whole experience. Have a feeling it wasn’t the review they’d hoped for.

  30. Sadly, it’s a problem that plagues many industries including travel and hospitality. It even has a name now: survey begging.

    It almost always happens because the employee has some incentive to earn positive feedback (or a disincentive to avoid negative feedback).

    The really sad part is majority of organizations don’t actually take action on those surveys. I talk to a lot of companies about their surveys (part of my job) and most just report the aggregate results to management.

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