Using customer feedback to advance merit-based diversity

A recent analysis of customer feedback from more than 5,000 restaurants revealed an interesting insight. It appears about 60 percent of the employees that customers recognized by name are female, yet nationally, men hold most restaurant manager positions.

This insight has encouraging implications for creating a merit-based working environment that more fairly rewards talented workers and naturally leads to greater diversity. Why is this important? The current CEO of Prudential states it simply: diversity “produces the best performance.”

Digging deeper into the feedback data gathered by my company, Goodsnitch, customer praise about great employees has little to do with outward appearance or polish. What actually matters at restaurants is employee proactivity and connections to customers. Top performers not only have good attitudes and the required skills, but they also relate to their customers.

A comment about a server named Jolie at a local Starbucks is typical of positive reviews: “Jolie calls me by my name, asks me about my day, and makes me feel like my visit was important to her.” In essence, Jolie understands what is important to her customer — a highly valuable skill set that should be sought at any level within an organization.

Customer feedback is good news for organizations seeking a unique tool that can identify exceptional employees in real time while removing supervisor bias. It will also lead to more satisfied employees who know that they and their colleagues will be judged for their talents and client-driven performance. In effect, reality trumps perception. It doesn’t wash to be “on” only when the boss is around or otherwise try to work the system.

For example, Yoga Six is a fast-growing client of ours. The company has individual instructors who have been recognized by name by different customers over 100 times. It becomes pretty obvious who the top performers are and what skills make them successful.

“Our company has been able to retain top instructors longer and improve lower performers quicker by implementing the positive feedback loop into our culture,” says Dan Farris, CEO of Yoga Six.

The critical point about customer feedback is that, done properly, it can help foster the universal goal of creating a more meritocratic and diverse workplace, which will generate better business. Witness the wisdom of crowd-sourced information or that the overall market typically outperforms most individual stock pickers. The same goes for people-related decision making.

While not every great employee is meant to become a manager, strong day-to-day customer connection skills are certainly a leading indicator of potential for promotion. As the parent of young working-age sons and a daughter, I have no desire for one group to advance at the expense of the other. However, I do hope they each will prosper based on their abilities and efforts.

Pace is a former Goldman Sachs partner and founder of Goodsnitch, a San Diego-based technology company dedicated to creating a culture of encouragement and inspiring people to use technology for good.

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