In the public sector laboratory, the customer may not have a choice of which laboratory they have to use, but that won’t stop complaints, reputation slurs, increased threat of litigation. (Incidentally, this applies to accreditation bodies as well.) Sooner or later you risk becoming the interest of the public and the media. In the US, think 20/20. In Canada think W5, or on the net, think www.darkreport.com. Or even worse, think about the embarrassment and humiliation of a public enquiry.
So what to do. In the business world, the godsend solution to customer satisfaction has become the on-line survey. It is so easy to create an on-line survey and send it out to all your important customers. So easy, in fact, that it has become too easy. Anyone foolish enough to give your email address to a hotel or car-rental or restaurant gets inundated with surveys. We have become a world of survey send-outers and survey send-inners, and most of it is a waste of time.
Most surveys are poorly designed; are way too long, too complex, and far too diffusely focused. If a survey takes more than 2 -3 minutes to complete, you can guarantee that either it will not be completed, or will be completed with junk information. Steven, my statistics and design guru (see http://blog.noblemail.ca/ - A MATHEMATICIAN AT RISK ) assures me that while survey information may be fun to look at, it is never to be trusted. You can say with total confidence that the responders are always biased one way or another,and probably have interpreted the questions in ways that you never dreamt of. Creating most surveys has become high risk of being counter productive for addressing customer satisfaction. As they say “Fast, easy, slick and wrong”.
If you still feel compelled to resort to surveys, spent some time at setting them up so that you might get some information that you can consider. (We call that PDSA) .
A more effective solution for monitoring satisfaction is looking at objective measures. Count how many complaints come in and how many are resolved within a specific time. That means setting up a system to catalogue every complaint, something that most laboratories never do. All those telephone and hall-way gripes are complaints and they need to be included. You may not think they were important, but the person who mentioned them did.