Saturday, August 13, 2011


A few months ago I wrote on the topic of assessing customer satisfaction (see Satisfaction – June 11, 2011).  I offered a series of recommendations (henceforth referred to as Noble’s rules) for customer satisfaction surveys. 

They included:
  • Focus them to a single issue
  • Limit the survey to only a few questions, best is to keep it to 5-6 and NEVER more than 10, and make them as uncomplicated as possible .
  • Pre-test the questions to reduce (you can never avoid) ambiguity.
  • Make sure that it can always be completed in 3 minutes or less.
  • Never require an answer. That is a guaranteed invitation to bogus information.
  • Decide in advance which slice of your audience you are interested in and then only focus your energy on that group. General send-outs are a total waste of time. 

Somebody must be listening.  Yesterday I received an automated telephone survey from a company that I dealt with the week previous.  The survey was done over my cell phone.  They told me that there would be one question only.  Total effort on my part was about 20 seconds of listening to the preamble and question, and 3 keystrokes; one to agree to the survey, one to answer the question and one to confirm.  Talk about efficient and effective.

I raise this because it was in stark contrast to another one received by email on the same day.  They suggested it was going to take about 15 minutes but that my name was going to be included in a draw for one of 10 iPads.  At about 3 minutes I bailed out because the questions were getting progressively more complex and convoluted.  I decided that even if my chances on the iPad were near perfect, it still wasn’t going to be worth my while.

Recently I visited a laboratory that showed me a survey they had put together to comply with their accreditation requirements.  It was an on-paper document that had been mailed out to about 500 customers.  I had 20 questions and responses were all text.  By the time you add in the total costs for time to create, paper costs, postal costs for both send-out and return, plus the time and effort to transcribe data to the computer and then to try to analyze text, and then the creation of the report. 

The time from creation of the questionnaire to the completion of the report was barely less than 6 months and the total cost must have run well over $30K.  When you add in costs of benefits it could easily be $50K.
When I asked what actions resulted, the answer was “nothing yet”.

So what was accomplished?  Someone had spent nearly 6 months on a project that would result in a checkmark on an accreditation review, but would likely have any short or intermediate or long term effect.  Perhaps they might make a presentation on the results, but it certainly would not be a publishable.
It would NEVER be repeated to gather longitudinal information.

There are a number of reasons why this is problematic.  The project represented a really poor use of personnel time, effort, energy, and a total waste of public sector money.  The information received was in all likelihood unreliable.  There was no output (other than the report) and no actions taken.

Is it any wonder that Quality sometimes gets swacked with a reputation of being of dubious value!  Improving Quality in the medical laboratory can improve patient safety and decrease time and costs, provided that some thought goes into the process. 

Message for Quality and all its components:
  • “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler" – Albert Einstein
  • "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication" – Leonardo Da Vinci
  • “Keep it simple, stupid” - ?

1 comment:

  1. I learned a very good lesson from this article. I really like this website and hope you will write more. Thanks a lot for your information.
    Sample Survey Questions


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