Customer Comment Cards for Government Use
This is an introduction for federal government program managers on how to collect customer feedback via comment cards. Comment cards are paper cards containing one or more survey questions, designed to gather customer feedback after an in-person service interaction. These cards are typically filled out by customers immediately after an interaction, but can also be completed later and mailed back, or visitors can provide additional information via a web survey.
- When should you use comment cards?
- How can feedback from comment cards help you?
- What are the limitations of comment card feedback?
- From whom should you get buy-in before using comment cards?
Designing comment cards
- How long should you make your comment card?
- What format should you use for questions?
- What are some common design pitfalls of comment cards?
- What kind of response rate can you expect?
- How can you increase the response rate?
- Do you need to collect personally identifiable information?
- Of what should you be aware when analyzing comment card feedback?
- How much does it cost to use comment cards to collect feedback?
- How should you collect comment cards responses?
- What is in the future for comment cards?
- Will I need approval under the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA)?
Comment cards are typically used to collect customer feedback immediately after an in-person interaction. They can give you feedback on a specific customer experience, or provide general feedback about your agency. Comment cards are a good way to reach customers for whom you do not have contact information, or who do not interact with your agency through other channels. These cards can also help you collect customer contact information for future interactions (provided you have clearance to collect this information). In addition, comment cards can elicit feedback from customers who do not feel comfortable sharing feedback directly with a representative.
Examples of some questions that could be asked in a comment card include:
Example 1: How satisfied are you with your overall experience today?
[1 = very dissatisfied and 5 = very satisfied]
Example 2: How knowledgeable was our representative?
[1 = not knowledgeable to 5 = very knowledgeable]
Example 3: Do you have any suggestions for things we can do better?
Collecting and responding to feedback shows people your agency is interested in improving customer service.
Feedback from comment cards is most useful for making improvements at the point of service. Translate feedback from comment cards into action by:
- Training and coaching. Customer feedback from comment cards often relates to a specific interaction or issue that the customer just experienced. This feedback can be used to coach a specific frontline staff member, or for general coaching or training purposes.
- Improving processes around providing live service. The feedback can pinpoint exactly where a customer was dissatisfied with the service experience, and can highlight where a process needs to be improved (such as improving passenger line flow at a service center).
- Improving physical space. Feedback from comment cards might relate not just to the live interaction, but could also point to improvements that could be made in the physical space, such as improved cleanliness or self-service kiosks.
- Identifying areas for more in-depth investigation. Comment cards often highlight the “tip of the iceberg” around issues that need more in-depth investigation, such as long wait times at an office because of underlying process inefficiencies.
Any customer feedback mechanism you choose will only reach a subset of your total customer base, and comment cards are no exception. Your sample population is limited to customers who had a live interaction with your agency, and customers who take the time to fill out the card. Those customers who choose to fill out a comment card generally do so with a purpose in mind, and they are often either extremely satisfied or extremely dissatisfied. Also, people who fill out comment cards are more likely to have extra time, and be fluent in the language in which the comment card is written. As a result, feedback received will not necessarily represent your entire customer base, nor those customers who primarily use other channels.
It is helpful to get buy-in from key stakeholders prior to launching a survey, to ensure you have support to act upon any findings. In particular, support from frontline staff and managers where the comment cards are being used is particularly important, since this feedback will likely be most relevant and actionable to these individuals.
Designing comment cards
Generally, the shorter the survey, the greater your response rate. Open-ended questions take longer to answer than closed-ended (such as multiple choice) questions, so the number of questions should be determined by how long each question takes to answer. Ideally, it should take less than 5 minutes to fill out a comment card.
Comment card questions can use the same format as most survey questions (to learn more, see Basics of Survey and Question Design). Because customers often fill out comment cards with a specific issue in mind, comment cards should provide ample room for open-ended feedback.
Comment card questions bear many similarities to traditional survey questions, and thus face similar pitfalls. See Basics of Survey and Question Design for more details.
Comment card response rates are typically quite low (often less than 1%). However, over time, and depending on the number of live interactions, you could collect a large number of responses.
Organizations often place comment cards in the waiting room or area where customers are served. Higher response rates are found when frontline staff hand out comment cards at the end of an interaction, especially with a request that they be filled out immediately. Response rates are lowest when comment cards are mailed back after customers have left the point of service, or need to go to a website to provide information.
Collecting some personally identifiable information can be useful for segmenting your customer base, but only as allowed by privacy laws. In particular, collecting contact information can be helpful if you plan to respond directly to an individual complaint. If you would like to take advantage of the five-day fast-track PRA assessment process, you should not collect any personally identifiable information, although you may still be able to ask for certain demographic information (e.g., age and location).
Because of the limitations of the comment card sample population, the feedback you collect will probably not be well-suited to an in-depth data analysis. However, comment cards should be reviewed frequently, and actions should be taken to follow up where appropriate.
Comment cards are a relatively inexpensive means of collecting customer feedback. After the initial survey design, your primary costs will be printing and data entry (if any), as well as any additional resources needed to analyze the data. If the cards are returned by mail or linked to a website, this will increase the cost.
There are two main ways to collect comment cards: at the point of service, or through the mail or via the web after an interaction. Feedback collected directly after an interaction provides the most accurate results, so in-person collection is best.
Comment cards are slowly evolving with the advent of online and mobile technology. Some “comment cards” now include a URL (web address) where customers can provide feedback online. Mobile technologies could eventually bypass paper comment cards, since customers could submit comments immediately after an interaction using their mobile phone or other mobile device.
Comment cards typically DO require PRA approval, but generally they will be eligible for the five-day fast-track PRA assessment process. Contact your agency’s PRA officer to find out more.
- Social Security Comment Card (PDF, 160 KB, 2 pages, January 2010)
- City of Charleston, S.C. online customer comment card
- Washington State Business Customer Comment Card (PDF, 465 KB, 2 pages, September 2010)
- Georgia Department of Public Safety Customer Comment Card (PDF, 122 KB, 4 pages, July 2006)
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