Chances are you have run across an expectations-based survey in the not too distant past. Though not as ubiquitous as NPS (Net Promoter Score) surveys, Expectations Surveys turn up in a variety of guises – “customer feedback surveys” – especially in service industries such as hospitality and healthcare: product reviews, appraisals of various sorts and employee performance reviews.
Think about the last time you filled one of these out. Did the survey itself exceed your expectations? More likely it just met your expectations, or perhaps it fell short of your expectations. Whatever your feelings about it, it’s a good bet it failed to serve its purpose. In fact, if anyone paid attention to the findings they may have been misleading at best and destructive at worst.
Why do I say this, you ask? It’s not because focusing on expectations is a bad thing to do. To the contrary, it is a very good thing to do. It’s not the idea that is at fault, but the execution. As Tom Peters observed, “the thing that keeps a business ahead of the competition is excellence in execution.”
The vast majority of expectations-based surveys and assessment tools are grossly deficient. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Let’s look at some of the most common pitfalls and then explore a better way.
Why Common Expectations Surveys Are Problematic
Suppose you are charged to compute Mary’s performance review using a 3-point scale: exceeds expectations, meets expectations and fails to meet expectations. You know Mary’s pay, bonuses and future employment depend on your assessment. What does it mean for Mary to exceed expectations? Let’s say she faithfully does everything in the job description and did so competently and consistently. Would that performance merely earn a “meets” score, resulting in her disappointment, or would you reward her with “exceeds” even though nothing in the job description was exceeded? Lisa, on the other hand, often went outside the boundaries of the job description, sometimes with good outcomes and sometimes with disastrous results. Does she get the coveted “exceeds” designation?
The point is that this review process is really about job performance and not about the boss’s subjective expectations. In the absence of specific, clearly defined and measurable expectations, this is the wrong tool for the job.
Consider a fairly typical customer expectations format survey that a hotel might send to a recent guest. Usually, such surveys are designed by a third-party supplier using stock content, standardised questionnaires, submissions from the client’s managers, or a combination of sources. Increasingly, surveys are being created in-house using online survey platforms.
The hotel’s survey might follow the format below:
A respondent might have some difficulty judging the difference between greatly exceeding and merely exceeding. Beyond that, the aspects of the hotel asked about in the survey may not cover all the areas of concern to the guest. Rather, they reflect the interests of management or the standardised content of a survey provider.
When you think about it, this survey is much like a standard customer satisfaction survey cloaked in the language of expectations. If you substituted the language of satisfaction in the scale in half the surveys in an A/B test, the results would likely be almost identical.
These surveys are also about performance whether it is the wait staff in the restaurant or the guest room itself. But other than gross judgments of good or not so good, performance can only be assessed in broad terms despite the seeming precision of numbers such as 3.7 on a five-point scale vs. 4.2. Thus, this format does not offer a clear advantage over customer satisfaction surveys in learning and utility. The ambiguities inherent in these examples make proper interpretations of results questionable.
A Better Way to Uncover Expectations
Better execution requires better process. The first gross deficiency resides in the selection of survey content. Content should come from the customers, or the employees in an internal survey. Years of experience shows that when customers are asked for their expectations, the resulting list is different to and usually more specific and concrete than management’s list. Working from the customer’s perspective can provide deeper insights than looking at it from management’s perspective. Creating an expectations survey based on the authentic voice of the customer or employee would be by itself a big step forward for most companies.
But wait! There’s more.
Once we know the most important expectations, we capture them in a survey and ask several questions about each one.
In addition, in situations where we believe respondents would have the information, we typically ask how well competitors perform as in the example below.
Having data in this format shows strengths and weaknesses in the eyes of customers, both in terms of the customer and against competitors. The results are not vague, imprecise or ambiguous. Priorities for improving the customer experience are immediately apparent making action planning straightforward.
Conventional customer satisfaction and expectation surveys cannot produce data of this quality and usefulness.
Three key learnings:
- Gather actual customer or employee expectations
- Use “multiple-point” measurement and add competitor data if possible
- Display results in ways that virtually compel action.
If you wish to discover how Promising Outcomes can help you implement a more state-of-the-art way to gather, analyse and display customer and employee data, contact us below for more information.