Faced with chronically low response rates, many small businesses have to be creative and proactive when soliciting customer feedback.

Customer comment cards are often served up with dessert, but Chef Allen's, a North Miami Beach, Fla., restaurant, tops them off with a phone call. "For parties of eight or more, we call the host of the party the next day to make sure it went well," says owner Allen Susser. "We know that with a big party we can lose control of what happens. Hosts may be too diplomatic to complain in front of others, but they tend to be important customers who spend a lot of money."

Carneiro, Chumney & Co., a San Antonio accounting firm, encloses a short questionnaire with each invoice. It saves stamps, but there's another reason for doing it. "When a customer pays the bill, it's the ultimate evaluation," says managing partner Bob McAdams. "It's one more snapshot of how we're doing." Of those who return the card, only 1% give Carneiro less than a 4.2 rating on a scale of one to five.

Copyright 1997 G+J USA Publishing