EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - Customer surveys used to be pretty simple but didn't have much information. Surveys these days are different: There's more data, and if you ask the right questions, you'll get some interesting answers.
The new surveys even have a new name: "net promoter score." That score measures people who like a business, and why, but it also puts new focus on people who aren't fans of a service or product.
Figuring a score is fairly easy: Take the percentage of "advocates" and then subtract the percentage of "detractors."
The most recent example from the Vail Local Marketing District makes the math easy. That group's survey of summer visitors returned positive survey results from 84 percent of respondents and negative results from just 2 percent. That leaves a score of 82.
And that's a high score. Vail Valley Partnership Executive Director Chris Romer said any score more than 50 is considered passable in the customer-satisfaction business.
The better news is that the scores for Vail's summer programs have made big gains in the past five years. The district's 2007 score was 62, taken just as Vail's "renaissance" project was coming to an end.
Of course, there's more to the whole net promoter score idea than just a good number from random surveys.
Asking the right questions, and then understanding the answers, can help form future strategy for a business or community.
For instance, a recent survey of Vail summer guests determined that a majority of respondents said they'd come back for music and concerts. But the survey also put music and concerts fairly far down on the list of reasons people came to Vail - "hiking" was near the top.
Is that an inconsistency? Not really.
Romer said that while people may come to Vail for hiking, shopping or dining, those are things visitors can do just about anywhere. But to visit the Rockies and see the New York Philharmonic requires a trip to Vail. That makes music a "driver" of future visits.
Things such as concerts "add to the experience," Romer said. "It makes (visitors) more likely to have awareness of your brand."
The marketing district uses its promoter scores as a way to plan for the future. So does East West Partners. But that company uses its survey scores as a way to both motivate employees and try to create repeat business.
East West Resorts Director of Sales and Marketing Mia Vlaar said that company, and many others - including Vail Resorts - are now using promoter scores as an integral part of their business.
"It's really catching on in the ski industry," Vlaar said.
The scores are a way to measure a company's customer service and give those companies a way to find people who might recommend their products and services.
But perhaps more important than the "promoters" are those who returned less-than-favorable surveys. Vlaar said the way to reduce the number of "detractors" is to find out what they didn't like.
That's important for more than using future discounts or promotions to convince a customer to give a hotel or restaurant another try. It's also because the old cliche is true: A satisfied customer will tell a friend or two about a great experience, but an unhappy one will tell everyone he knows.
Since most people who travel also use some form of social media now - whether Facebook, Yelp, TripAdvisor or Twitter - a dissatisfied customer can influence pretty much the whole solar system.
In the end, though, the whole promoter score system boils down to getting someone to take a survey.
"It's really not that hard to get someone to take a survey," Vail Economic Development Director Kelli McDonald said. "We get (people) through quickly on a (digital device). We can get someone through it in less than seven minutes."
East West Partners has better access to incentives and uses them. Survey-takers can be entered into drawings for three-night stays and other perks. And some East West employee incentives are now based on how a department performs on its promoter scores.
That kind of incentive can change behavior at a business.
"It keeps people's attention," East West's Director of Rental Operations Holly Nielsen said. "People take the surveys more seriously."
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.