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Taking the Guesswork Out of Customer Satisfaction

Taking the Guesswork Out of Customer Satisfaction

Sodexho Executive Chef Hari Nayak and General Manager John Azzopardi of the BMS Plainsboro site.

The salad bar awaits lunch customers in the Breakaway Cafe at the BMS Hopewell site.

Freshly made roast beef sandwiches to order for customers in Hopewell.

The Main Street Express bakery shops feature gourmet sweets made right on the premises.

Grab and go salads and sandwiches are popular for hurried customers coming to Breakaway Cafe.

As associate director of hospitality, facilities & engineering, Ann McNally is the team lead responsible for the survey system for 17 in-house service departments at eight sites in Connecticut and New Jersey for Princeton, NJ-based pharmaceuticals giant Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. From employee dining and in-house catering to housekeeping, grounds and lab services, each department McNally's Business Process Improvement team oversees has distinct expectations from its customers.

Yet, until almost a year ago, the mechanism for gauging customer satisfaction and expectations was low-tech, generic and not very effective as a management tool.

"We had a general survey process that would ask how we were doing on a scale of one to five," recalls McNally. "But other than giving us an overall 'score,' there was nothing specific in the results, nothing to respond to in order to make things better for our customers, nothing very 'actionable.'"

Prompted by a request from her Facilities Management Leadership Team (FMLT) leader Vice President Louis Fedele to come up with a better diagnostic tool as part of a larger, company-wide initiative called Business Process Improvement (see sidebar on p. 26), FMLT and McNally assembled a diverse 12-person project team in April 2004 to explore changes to the customer survey method for the 17 facilities departments. The team included individuals from all levels representing the various departments.

After a year of research, exploration, debate and effort, the team came up with a completely revamped approach that focuses on "actionable" questions tied into specific strategies for each individual department.

Easy to complete (the average is under three minutes), the surveys provide the various support departments with ongoing feedback and specific suggestions on what areas to improve. Where needed, a recently introduced focus group component is designed to dig deeper into specific areas of dissatisfaction in order to root out concrete solutions that directly address the customer need or customer problem.

Once issues are identified, a specific series of action steps, some immediate and some longer term, is taken to not only address the feedback but to communicate that back to the customer(s) who prompted it. A "script" that documents how each complaint is resolved is a key aspect of the program because "it communicates to our customers that we care about their concerns and take positive steps to address them," McNally emphasizes.

The new survey program, which debuted last March, has produced a number of beneficial changes in operations, procedures and services across the various support departments. As a manager with responsibilities in multiple areas, McNally credits the approach with providing an efficient and effective way to ensure that each service sector receives targeted attention focused on specific areas of improvement.

The results not only increase customer satisfaction, but also boost service department morale. "We know our customers are more satisfied because we see the results of our improvements immediately in our ongoing surveys," McNally notes. "It allows us to adapt our processes based on true customer feedback."

The Purpose-Filled Survey
The Bristol-Myers facilities departmental-survey strategy has three levels of inquiry. The first level consists of general performance questions, the traditional rate-yoursatisfactionwith-our-services-on-a scale-ofoneto-five type queries that provide an overall score on customer satisfaction. "The FMLT wanted part of the survey to give us a high level gauge on how we were being rated overall by customers as a whole facilities organization," explains McNally. "You need some questions like this to get a general overview of your performance," she concedes. However, she emphasizes that the nitty-gritty of the strategy lies in the other two levels.

The core of the approach is the second level, consisting of specific service level questions that ask customers about particular aspects of a department's service. In these, McNally says the team shied away from the scaling approach (ranking satisfaction on a 1-5 or 1-10 scale) in favor of simple yes-or-no (or N/A) answers.

"This is more representative than if people were asked to rate something on a scale," she explains. "It recognizes that there are only two possible answers (other than Not Applicable) to a question like Are the menu choices currently being offered meeting your dietary needs? It's either 'yes' or 'no'."

A comment box is automatically prompted when a no answer hits the system to allow customers to share more detailed thoughts.

"Meeting dietary needs" represents the kind of questions each survey asks (each of the 17 service departments issues its own individually—more on that later). The questions target specific strategies the department has embraced (such as having menu options for different types of diet regimens every day) and gauges whether that strategy is succeeding on an ongoing basis. Low scores prompt immediate attention.

"For example," explains McNally, "we asked if the menu variety in our cafes was sufficient to meet customers' needs. We were somewhat surprised to find that the results came back fairly negative, since I don't think you can reasonably have more variety than we offer on a daily basis. However, we also knew that, in the end, perception is reality in the eyes of customers, and if they thought we didn't have enough variety, then that was the reality."

That sort of result is what often triggers a third-level survey round, which usually consists of focus groups to delve into the roots of the problem. The menu variety dissatisfaction illustrates why this is a crucial step.

In most cases, a dining department might react to criticism of menu variety by simply increasing the number of choices: They say they don't have enough variety? Well, give them more variety. Simple!

Or is it?

It turns out that the focus groups indicated an entirely different explanation for the dissatisfaction, and it had little to do with the number of entrees available on any given day. Rather, it seems that many customers are so busy and hurried that when they go to the cafè to grab a bite of lunch they don't survey the choices available. Instead, "they basically just zero in on their usual meal because they literally don't think they have time to consider alternatives," says McNally. "That 'tunnel vision' is what kept many of them from noticing anything other than the usual station they patronized."

(For some tips on running more effective focus groups, click here: Focus Group Tips

Once the real cause of the dissatisfaction became apparent, the cafè could focus on solutions that really make a difference. In this case, the department and dining services provider Sodexho developed more prominent merchandising that emphasizes the cafè's variety. Also implemented was an online version of each day's menu that customers can review at their desks.

"Now, when we survey about menu variety and someone answers negatively, one of the things we make sure to mention when responding is to ask if they've had a chance to review the online menu," says McNally. "We also 'market' the online menu by specifically asking about it: one of our questions is Do you review the menu online prior to visiting the cafè? That in itself may remind those that don't know or have forgotten that the online menu exists. It's a way to use the survey both to elicit feedback and to promote the latest tools or technology available to our customers."

So by using surveys and focus groups to identify and get to the root of a specific dissatisfaction, the cafè department was able to solve the problem, boosting customer satisfaction.

By contrast, the conventional response of simply adding more choices would probably not have made an appreciable impact, while likely incurring greater costs than the fairly simple merchandising solutions. It would probably also have increased the frustration of the cafè staff, who would have worked on expanding the menu with little to show in the way of greater customer satisfaction scores.

"We don't want to make process changes without customer input," McNally offers. "The surveys help ensure that when we make changes, they are effective and targeted at specific customer concerns."

Random Targeting
The menu variety question is of course specific to the cafè operation, and it was addressed through the random sample, sent out automatically each week, from the system to 50 individuals from the entire Bristol-Myers inhouse workforce.

Surveys for other departments utilized by only a fraction of the employees—catering or printing, for instance—are sent only to those who recently used the service.

"Once you use the catering department, for example, you'll be asked to fill out a survey asking about how well we met your needs," McNally explains.

Because the surveying is ongoing, the department has built up a database of responses that is highly valuable when focus groups need to be convened. The focus group process offers managers a tool to fully analyze how they are doing in the eyes of the customer.

"One of our first focus groups dealt with vegetarian menu options, so obviously you want vegetarians and people for whom this is an important issue, rather than a simple random sample of the entire customer base," McNally recalls. "Since we had more than six months worth of historical surveys we were able to identify people who had indicated an interest in vegetarian options through their comments and responses."

As a result of the focus group, the Hospitality department put together a series of strategies to strengthen and emphasize its vegetarian offerings. These included upgrading the daily vegetarian menu, distinct labeling of vegetarian items as defined by specific published standards and formalized food handling procedures.

(For an example of how more healthful meal options are promoted at Bristol Myers Squibb, click here: An Emphasis on health and Choice

Every employee identified as having expressed an interest in vegetarian options received a packet describing the changes and an invitation to a "meet the executive chef" event that included a tour of the Breakaway Cafè servery to discuss meatless options at each station.

All surveys are electronic and designed to be completed in under three minutes. To spur participation, all employees submitting a survey have their name placed in a drawing each month for a prize valued at $100. These are contributed by the different facilities departments each month and range anywhere from a Freedom Pay gift card from Hospitality (Bristol-Myers utilizes the Freedom Pay cashless payment system in its dining outlets), an emergency car kit (from Security) and a gift certificate from Home Depot (from Maintenance & Operations). The incentive undoubtedly contributes to the survey program's impressive 44 percent response rate.

The prizes also encourage responders to identify themselves (participants have the option of submitting the survey anonymously). McNally is delighted to note that 89 percent of respondents include their names.

"We prefer them to identify themselves so we can follow up personally," she says. "By contacting an individual who expressed a criticism personally to detail what we've done to address their concern, we show we take these surveys seriously and are taking concrete steps to work on their requests. The worst thing you can do is not do anything, because then you will lose all credibility with the customers."

Each question is backed by an action plan and a scripted response to those who express dissatisfaction with that particular service area.

McNally concedes that scripts can sound— well, scripted—when delivered on the phone to customers but "it ensures that we always make the points we want to make, and it also helps us deliver a consistent message across all of facilities."

The Survey Says...
So, what have the surveys shown about dining services overall?

Gratifyingly, they indicate an overall satisfaction with the program. However, underlying the satisfaction are discontents having little to do with the high quality of the foodservice.

"We found at times that dining tends to be an easy target where employees may take out some frustrations about completely unrelated matters in their lives," McNally notes.

Some areas of complaint are familiar to most foodservice directors: the prices, the choices, etc. Still, as McNally explains, "the competition is not so much alternative foodservice providers like local restaurants, but more of 'the daily grind'. What private restaurant frequented five days a week would not turn into feeling like a daily grind?"

So what can you do about that? Mc-Nally's team has come up with a series of action steps that promote the value of the on site dining services as to break the daily grind. They included not only more marketing, but new programs such as kitchen tours, branding the cafes (to offer a more welcoming social environment), cooking classes and a greater emphasis on health and wellness.

While some changes may seem substantial to department employees, they can be seen much differently by customers, who again have their own perspectives. But a survey process that efficiently and effectively delivers actionable customer feedback helps bridge that gap.

What's on McNally's Plate

Ann McNally manages the Hospitality Dept. for Bristol-Myers Squibb.

The department encompasses:

  • food services
  • high volume special events
  • high volume catering
  • bakery retail shops
  • company product stores
  • hair salons
  • dry cleaning services
  • printing services
  • auto detail services
  • DVD rentals.
  • personal mail/shipping services

In addition, McNally also manages the Facilities Service Center and the Facilities Marketing/Communications Dept.

rapid response

Surveys at Bristol-Myers ferret out a variety of specific customer concerns, from the trivial to the substantial. Here are some examples of 'actionable' responses to some of the survey results regarding different support departments

Customer Concern: confusion over how much food to order for different sized events

'Actionable' Fix: initiated catering 'package' choices delineating the number of guests each is meant to serve; now, when customers need to order catering they can simply enter the number of people attending and choose an array of food/ beverage packages sized to serve that number

Customer Concern: confusion over how to contact various support departments to order different services or place facility need

'Actionable' Fix: consolidate support department contacts for multiple locations into a single central call center; the fix also reduced costs by eliminating duplicate positions and made the call placement process simpler and more efficient.

Customer Concern: perceived lack of lunch menu choices

'Actionable' Fix: initiated marketing campaign utilizing onsite merchandising materials to emphasize number of choices available each day, and initiation of an online version of the daily menu that is itself heavily promoted throughout the building

the project team

The team assembled to explore changes to the customer survey method included a diverse set of individuals from all levels and representing mutiple departments.

Leon Amador, associate manager, Lab Services

Leonard Corso, associate director, Engineering

Thomas Dymkowski, manager, Tech. Conferencing Services

Shirley Gilinsky, organizational effectives, Strategic Planning

Glen Horvath, manager, Maintenance & Operations

MaryBeth Koza (sponsor), director, Environmental Health & Safety

David Marianelli, manager, Asset Care

Ann McNally (team leader), associate director, Hospitality

Raymond Nagy, supervisor, Environmental Health & Safety

Gia Peterkin, document & training coordinator

Paul Tackowiak, manager, Strategic Planning

Anthony Zangara, associate director, Administrative Services

Annette Erario (process champion), director, Facilities Services

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