Wednesday, January 2, 2013

How Third-Party Hosted and Administered Custom Surveys Create Value

How Third-Party Hosted and Administered Custom Surveys Create Value
By Paul Fay, Associate, KLG Consultants, LLC

Surveys are a great way to quickly and cheaply collect large amounts of information and data. Often they are used to conduct market research, but here are a few other uses for them that you might not have considered:

Customer Satisfaction

All sorts of research confirms the importance of customer satisfaction. It is essential to keep customers walking away happy. Accurate assessment eliminates the guesswork in identifying and assessing exactly what makes customers keep coming back. Most research shows keeping existing customers is much more cost effective than finding new ones. It is common to see large organizations with in-house customer feedback systems, even ones with significant rewards for the customers’ time. Outback Steakhouse, for instance, offers free appetizers (approx. $10 value) for a quick 5-minute satisfaction survey nearly every time my wife and I eat there. However, these customer feedback systems are often costly to establish and operate. Especially in a smaller organization, executives often rely on intuition to meet customer needs and overcompensate to ensure satisfaction. Thus, larger organizations usually are competitively advantaged to accurately meet customer wants and needs when compared to a smaller company.

A third party customer satisfaction survey can offer a cost-effective alternative to an in-house customer satisfaction system. Without adding another thing to their already over-full plate, executives can take the pulse of how happy customers are when they walk away and what would make them happier/more likely to come back. Outsourcing to a third party allows employees to remain focused on their own expertise and still gain expert insight into their company’s unique customer satisfaction situation. Often the third-party will provide insight into new ways to collect information--have you considered collecting data from customer-facing employees on their perception of customer satisfaction? Perhaps most importantly, a third-party custom customer satisfaction analysis, like KLG provides, is an inexpensive solution to an expensive problem. Your competition is using these tools. Are you?

Employee Productivity and Motivation

Happier employees are loyal, more productive, better meet client needs and are simply more pleasant to be around. Good managers recognize how important this is and will invest effort to have conversations with their workforce or sometimes even survey them to assess contentment. However, it is extremely difficult for an organization to accurately assess employee satisfaction internally. There are a few factors at play here, but science has found that an internal feedback structure is never perceived to be truly anonymous. People want their managers to think that they are happy; they feel like there will be negative consequences if they report that they are not. As such, this sort of bias as well as other biases (self-report, selection and even non-conscious biases) will always play a factor in any sort of internal assessment of employee attitude.

The answer? Turn to a third party. Industry experts explain that employees see an outside source as a trustworthy conduit for anonymous feedback. It is simply best practice in the industry. Even large companies with the resources to self-assess will bring in an external provider for exactly this reason: it offers more accurate data. Secondly, a third-party with expertise in the complex field of research methodology can help answer questions like “should we make this questionnaire mandatory for all employees, or simply reward those who respond?” An outside source will help interpret what to do with the data once you have it and provide examples of what has worked in other companies. Third-party employee satisfaction assessments give managers the tools to address delicate issues like the perceived value of meeting time, the satisfaction of compensation packages and the perception of advancement opportunity. With these tools managers can measure, manage and improve workplace contentment. Keep in mind, staff morale is directly linked to the bottom line; a happier workplace is a more profitable workplace.

Organizational 360 Assessment

360 degree assessments are generally used to assess an individual’s strengths and provide feedback for improvement. Custom surveys can be created to generate 360 degree feedback for teams, departments or even organizations as a whole as opposed to merely for an individual. It is an excellent tool to calibrate interdepartmental value alignment and improve operational efficiency. Alignment is the key word here--these systems are the best ways to evaluate whether or not folks are on the same page. Do you want to know if middle management clearly understands and is invested in the company vision? Then this is the right tool for you. Custom surveys used in this way are quite flexible and can generate a wide array of unique insight. An example of what an organizational 360 might look like in the restaurant industry can be found here. Or, the assessment can be further specialized to hone in on a specific aspect of the organization such as training, sustainability or growth. Organizational 360s help leaders develop a detailed picture of the organization's strengths, gaps and weaknesses. Many leaders create custom assessments to benchmark where they are today, in order to see improvement tomorrow.

Unfortunately, multi-source feedback is a complex issue to get right and often executives who independently attempt to create a custom tool will get confusing results. It is very difficult to see yourself as others see you without having external input. An external partner who specializes in this type of tool is essential to craft an accurate metric and to help interpret the results of the survey. Once crafted, custom 360 tools can be used as a formative instrument that the company owns to consistently help leaders better understand their organizations and continually improve. In my personal opinion, these tools are the most effective way to clearly assess and communicate both the present state and a commitment to improvement to stakeholders. These surveys also can help drive innovation, both incremental and radical. Your competition is evolving, are you?

Key Components of the Successful Implementation of a Custom Survey

What differentiates KLG’s custom survey offering from other turn-key custom survey systems is the partnership that your organization will receive throughout the process. Using these tools to make marked improvement is more complex than simply getting the survey results. There are three key steps in the process:

Measure -> Interpret -> Adapt

Measure: Crafting an accurate metric is just the first step in the process--but it is not to be overlooked. The tool itself must be carefully created to eliminate error, minimize biases and generate statistically significant results. Often custom surveys are measuring qualitative attributes in quantitative ways (On a scale of 1-10, how satisfied were you...). KLG partners with Ph.Ds in Applied Statistics and Research Methodologies in order to ensure that the study’s results are scientifically sound. We’ll work with your executive team to ensure that best practices are used to measure exactly what you want to measure, and no more.

Interpret: Once you have all the data, you have to make sense of it. Many custom survey offerings will hand you their report and call it a day. KLG will work with you to help you understand what it means to have a correlation of r = 0.75, and what you could do with this information. Perhaps your Organizational 360 has identified that your Quality Control department is significantly out of alignment with the company value of positivity. How do you interpret this information--is that a good thing or a bad thing? KLG will work with you to help make sense of all the numbers. (Interestingly, in this case the misalignment is probably a good thing.)

Adapt: At the point you know what the data means, what do you do with these new discoveries? How do you identify the best way to make use of the new information? KLG will partner with your leadership to help identify actionable steps to improve day-to-day activities. We work to combine your expertise in your industry with our experience assisting many organizations implement positive change. Further, when you identify opportunities for improvement, KLG is readily-equipped to provide organizational development and leadership training. KLG has at its core a value for lasting impact--we’ll be there with you all the way through execution of whatever action plan you choose to adopt.

KLG is committed to ensuring that all survey data is anonymous, confidential and secure.  With our new free 20-minute consult it is even easier to explore whether a custom-built survey with KLG can generate value for your organization. Schedule one today!

Read more about Paul Fay here.