Five Questions for: Julaine Kiehn

Julaine Kiehn, Five Questions, University of MissouriCustomer surveys are a vital part of most foodservice operations, but how to create a successful one and then put those suggestions into action can be a little trickier. Julaine Kiehn, director of Campus Dining Services at 30,200-student University of Missouri in Columbia, spoke about the challenges involved with customer surveys.

Many colleges use surveys to gain customer feedback, what do you guys do to differentiate your survey and make sure students participate?

We e-mail surveys directly to students; if they are going to respond, they usually do so within 24 to 48 hours. To encourage participation, we often enter survey respondents in a drawing for a declining balance card with Campus Dining Services.

What are some of the challenges involved in actually crafting the survey?

Each question needs to specifically address what we want to know so the questions must be clearly stated. Every question on a survey needs to have a purpose. Surveys need to stay short so they are respectful of the survey respondent's time investment. Also, sometimes responding to students’ feedback doesn’t work out. During one survey, students told us they wanted à la carte service for breakfast and lunch and all-you-care-to-eat service during dinner at one of our residential dining locations. When the renovated facility opened the following semester, students ended up preferring the all-you-care-to-eat service for all three meals.

What are some examples where you've gotten feedback from the survey and you've been able to translate that feedback into a reality?

Students told us they wanted to be able to spend part of a meal in our residential takeout operations. So we offered an option for students to convert their meals to points. For example students could receive 100 points each week, rather than 10 meals. This way students could then spend parts of meals.

What advice would you give other operators about crafting a student survey?

Always have a purpose for each question. Ensure the question is clear by testing the survey with a small customer group prior to administering the survey and making any necessary refinements. Keep the survey short to encourage participation. It may be helpful to follow up the survey results with focus group discussions to address specifics.

What are some of the items on this year's survey that you are going to look into implementing in the next few months?

We gathered feedback on the current dining plans and suggestions for changes so we are considering offering block dining plan options during fall 2010.