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Survey for success

September 19, 2010
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For both building service contractors (BSCs) and in-house professionals, success depends on building occupants’ satisfaction.

While there is no substitute for regular conversations with tenants, conducting periodic surveys can help you learn about — and then meet — your customers’ ex-pectations.

By distributing brief polls, you can: Receive more feedback, garner more honest evaluations, track your progress, and identify common trouble areas.

To make the most of your data-collecting efforts, consider the following suggestions.

Decide what you want to know
Whether you want to learn about common complaints among your contracts, seek the input of individual occupants, discern the success of a training program, or evaluate the effectiveness of new products, the first step of a successful survey involves determining what information you need.

The purpose of your survey — from periodic evaluations to new-client assessments — will dictate the questions you ask and to whom you ask them.

For example, facility service providers (FSPs) tracking the satisfaction of multiple clients should ask managers how long they’ve been customers, while an in-house operation seeking input may ask individual occupants how they like workspaces maintained.

But regardless of who you target, keep it short.

A few introductory sentences should explain the purpose of your questionnaire, honestly inform them of how long it will take, and provide contact information in case they have questions.

The survey itself should only take a couple minutes to thoroughly complete. If your respondents quit halfway through, you will have wasted their and your time.

Consider giving to get
If response rate (the number of people who use their time to help you) is a concern, offering an incentive can help increase the amount of data you receive.

A relatively small expense can provide invaluable insight, as long as it’s appropriate.

In-house operators looking for the opinions of individual occupants might consider a drawing for an MP3 player, or similar object.

A BSC seeking client info could offer all respondents a value-added service — such as mat or window cleaning — which could lead to future business.

But, with any giveaway or contest, be sure it’s legal and reflects well on your business.

Also try to keep survey answers confidential, if desired, using separate entry forms. By making a note of this in your introduction, you can keep your data honest.

Choose your method
If you only plan to survey a handful of people, delivering a paper copy may add a personal touch.

But if you want more data to work with, consider an online survey tool.

Many sites allow you access to the basic tools you’ll need, and even offer the ability to sort answers. (See “Free information” sidebar.)

This provides an easy way to discover if certain types of clients or occupants share a concern you need to address.

Regardless of which method you choose, providing a means of anonymous response may result in more honest, and more helpful, results.

Write your questions
Another handy function of some websites is that they provide templates for customer satisfaction polls that you can tailor to your needs.

But, whether you create your own questions or rely on the Internet, always keep your goals in mind.

Will asking a respondent’s age be as useful as inquiring about the size of the facility? Probably not, and you are trying to keep it short.

Be sure to consider if you’ll want to combine any information — such as size of facility and trouble areas — and ask accordingly.

When you’ve compiled your questions, go back through and see if any will result in information you don’t really care about, and if you want data you didn’t ask for.

Also keep an eye out for clarity and grammar. Make the type of answer you’re seeking obvious, using examples to help get exactly what you want.

Survey semantics
There are many different forms of questions you can include. Try to select the one that makes the question easiest to answer.

If you’re looking for the area a client is least satisfied with, consider a multiple choice question that offers the most common trouble areas.

Should you want suggestions on how to improve your service, try posing an open-ended inquiry, which allows respondents to write their thoughts without providing pre-set options.

To determine what service is most important to an occupant, use a format that allows participants to rank a list of items.

Many online programs can help you sort through and select the proper question styles. But no matter what you ask and how you ask it, always follow the rule of mutual exclusivity.

Mutually exclusive answers means that there will be one and only one answer for each respondent.

In other words, if you ask for a person’s shoe size and only provide options sizes 10, 12, 13, 14, 15 as possible answers, the size-11 guy can’t answer.

Also, if a person could provide multiple answers to a question — for example: What services do you offer — make sure they can select more than one option.

Including “Not sure/refuse”, “Other” and “NA” as options for multiple choice questions can help ease this problem with more complicated questions.

Don’t give too much time
In your brief introduction letter, set a deadline for responses approximately one week out.

Giving occupants too much time can place your survey at the bottom of a big to-do pile.

Distribute the data
You should consider distributing some or all of your findings to participants.

If common problems are identified, letting your customers know you identified the issue and have created a plan to rectify it will inspire confidence and good faith.

Call a meeting to discuss results with your staff as well. Address any problems and congratulate cleaners for a positive appraisal.

Finally, consider using your results in marketing and advertising.

However, be careful. It is dishonest to claim 100 percent satisfaction when you’ve surveyed two clients who happen to be close friends.

Also place “Based on an internal, unscientific poll” along with the fine print to avoid misleading potential clients. After all, they may ask about your study and you’ll have to come clean.

Follow up
Whether your poll shows high satisfaction or a laundry list of troubles, put another survey in the field after some time has passed.

Keeping a record of regular evaluations will help you track improvement, rectify issues before they become problems, and stay abreast of changing client expectations.

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