In search of perfection: Why listening and continuous improvement matter


Last week I succumbed to hype and lunched at Viajante, one of London’s  most eagerly awaited restaurant openings of 2010 in edgy E2.

I say “succumbed”, because the last time chef patron Nuno Mendes fed me was at Bacchus, and it was one of the least enjoyable meals I ever ate.

What I got this time was not just an incredible meal but a perfect example of how a brand or service can turn itself around by listening to feedback, and continuously striving to improve what they offer.

Listening, improving and perfecting

Mendes’ Bacchus got pretty mixed reviews and closed after just 2 years – a short shelf life in even London’s fickle dining scene.  So Nuno regrouped, reconsidered and spent 3 years planning and perfecting his offering for his next venture. In a masterstroke, much of this was done through his hip and exclusive supper club, the Loft, where he cooked for small numbers of paying guests, testing concepts and gauging feedback. His core offer is still the same – innovative cooking that harks back to his El Bulli roots: challenging, precise and surprising.  But it has been tempered, to give the customer more of what they want, less wild experimentation yet what feels like carefully calculated and  thoughtful dishes that – of course – work.

There is a lot here that big business and brands can learn. Namely, it’s not enough to listen, you have to be prepared to act on it.

Fake engagement sucks

With the advent of social media, there is a lot of  ‘fake’ engagement going on. You know, talk to us, tell us what you think, etc and ….. big, fat zip. Listening is not new – focus groups the like being a still crucial part of marketing and product development – but listening in public is. So surely it’s time for a lot more transparency in these conversations, more like: “yes, we’ve heard what you think, actually can you tell us a bit more? we’ve also heard x y and z, what does everyone else think? here’s what we plan to do with this. In fact what about this idea or that idea?”

So back to Nuno and his beautiful food. Hats off for his commitment to getting it right and here’s hoping he doesn’t stop there.

The doggy bag…

And, unwittingly, this has resulted in a figurative doggy-bag – which I will share with you, dear readers, in the shape of Wisdom London’s essentials for improvement through engagement:

  • Feedback, whether positive or negative, is an opportunity to do something better. There’s no place for defensiveness.
  • If your customer has a point of view about an aspect of your product or service, chances are they have an opinion about other aspects of it too, and those of your competitors. Seize it.
  • It’s OK to be wrong sometimes and it’s not only bold, but human, to admit it. We’re all humans dealing with humans, after all, whether or not there’s a brand stamped on it. A simple admission is far more easily forgotten than a bungling attempt to cover up, justify or defend.
  • You have GOT to have a way to link feedback directly into the innovation and product improvement cycle. Are you inviting your customers to feedback to the right people in your organisation? No? Fix it.
  • Once you’ve done all of that and think your service or product might be a tad better, ask for feedback again. And again. And again.

So for all brands out there in need of a comeback (you know who you are), consider this: feedback is your friend, but only if you are really prepared to listen carefully, ask for more – and act on it.

Kate Spiers is founder of Wisdom London

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One Response to “In search of perfection: Why listening and continuous improvement matter”

  1. Fundamentally – unless feedback is acted upon by the company/brand, then it quickly ceases to be feedback and devolves into whinging or praising.

    By it’s nature, you feedback to make your views known, for the good of your future experience with the brand.

    If one really wanted to push the boundaries of word intepretation, one could break it down to ‘feed’ ‘back’ – your knowledge and experience becomes the nourishment with which a brand can improve and grow.

    If you don’t want your customers help – don’t ask for it!

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