Without a mechanism to collect feedback directly, businesses are inviting customers to post online on sites like Facebook or Yelp or simply to go away.

Another mediocre meal at a new-ish local restaurant.  Problems with the food, blips in the service. I am frustrated not only because I paid for a so-so experience, but also because our community needs neighborhood places like this one to succeed.  My heart aches for the owners when I weigh their significant capital investment against the product quality. 

What to do?  I find myself wishing there was a comment card that came with the bill.  Even an old-fashioned “suggestions” box near the door.  Or a manager at the door asking about the meal as patrons say good-bye.  Someone to talk to, other than the waiter.

Social media is tricky.  I hesitate to put comments online, especially poor reviews.  I am not interested in steering away fellow consumers, but rather informing management so they have a chance to fix things.  Online reviews can hurt a young business, still finding its way.

The best route is to let management know directly. Small business is hard.  Maybe they are not aware.  Maybe they are aware, and your comment provides testimonial to use when training employees.  Maybe they need to tweak the product line.  Maybe they are not that kind of business.  A local business recently responded to a disappointing Yelp review with a brave but polite “that’s not who we are” explanation.

At a recent forum, a local shopper aptly described herself as a capitalist.  She generously provides feedback to businesses she patronizes but recognizes that consumer responsibility stops there.  We support local, but at the end of the day, the business will stand or fall based on whether they offer the right products at the right price in a pleasant atmosphere. 

Eventually, if the business is not cutting it, the consumer will shop somewhere else.  The worst case scenario for management is the silent consumer who leaves without saying why.

Well-managed businesses understand the importance of feedback.  Vested consumers report the good as well as the bad.  Without an outlet to let business know about issues directly, consumers are faced with going online or silently going away.  Neither option is good for business.

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Cathy Yen

Cathy Yen is the Executive Director of the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce.  She has lived in Oak Park for 21 years and done business locally, first as a retailer and then as a small business...