Great Expectations – Theory of a Feedback ScalePosted on August 7th, 2009 3 comments
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- Very Dissatisfied
- Very Satisfied
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If we look at the restaurant managers in both cases, understanding where I stood based on my expectations is the more critical business information to have. The fast food manager now knows freshly made burgers with fresher condiments are worth more. He can decide to manage towards this goal, and increase his prices accordingly. Or, he can make the decision to keep prices (and quality) low. He can evaluate the business case for each, identify which maximizes his profit, and be successful.
The steak house manager, on the other hand, realizes his business is based on being the best, bar none. He either needs to put additional quality control measures in place to justify the high prices, or he can lower prices, which would lower my expectations going in, and maintain his existing processes. Either way, he is working to match the food he provides to the expectations I have, based in the value context. If he fails to match his steaks to diners’ expectations, people will stop buying his steaks and the restaurant will have to shut down.
A service business (architects, engineers, lawyers, etc) must make the exact same decisions. Your fees are based on an expected value provided. If you do not know what your clients’ expectations are, and how you measure against them, you are flying blindfolded. Most professionals will use a combination of metrics to set their fees – usually based on what competitors are doing (and often that information is flawed and from limited sources). However, if your clients expect you to be better than the competition, then you can charge more. The perceived value is there. However, the only way to know this is to ask. You need to ask early, and then throughout the life of the project or relationship to make sure you are maintaining performance in alignment with their expectations. Oh, and their expectations will change constantly. Every time you deliver, new expectations are being made, adjusted, and tweaked based on perceived value and quality of your job performance. You need to ask.
Where does this leave us?
- We must measure our clients’ perceptions based on their expectations.
- We must measure constantly because expectations change.
- When expectations are exceeded, continuing to perform at that level will become the new expectation.
- Feedback must be comfortable to give and receive.
- Feedback systems must be flexible enough to capture the subtleties of each expectation.
To address these unique needs, our Client Feedback Tool utilizes a patent-pending feedback scale and ranking device seen here.
First, notice that “Met Expectations” is in the center of the scale. When someone first views a question and sees this scale, the slider is set in the center at 4.0 / Met Expectations. This is where MOST feedback should occur. After thousands of surveys sent using this scale, we now have data that more closely fits a bell curve. Met Expectations is not a “C” score – it’s not a measure of mediocrity. In fact, meeting expectations is GREAT! You have successfully delivered a service that matches the value as perceived by the client.
Second, the scale operates by dragging the slider up or down. By engaging the respondent in a kinesthetic activity, they are forced to assess their ranking and decide where to move the slider. On the “Satisfied/Dissatisfied” scale you have to select one of five buttons. It’s just as easy to select an extreme score (Very Satisfied) as it is to select a centered score – so people tend to select scores on the two ends of the scale. By requiring some effort to change the scale, people are inclined to change the score ONLY when they have a reason to do so. Thus, if a score is provided at “Excellent” you know the client gave you that score with intent, and not just to complete the question/survey.
Third, the scale is self-centering. If you exceed expectations consistently, that level of performance will become the expected. This allows for continuous improvement of your services. If you consistently got feedback of “Very Satisfied” you have no room to innovate. By constantly resetting in the middle, our scale gives clients the opportunity to repeatedly applaud innovations that worked well so you can incorporate process improvements over and over again.
Fourth, the words we used are very comfortable for everyone involved. Not only do the word choices at “Met Expectations” and above indicate a job well done, but even the first notch down, “Acceptable”, is not a “bad” word. If something just barely missed the mark – the performance was acceptable. Good enough. There’s no hurt feelings like you might have with “dissatisfied” or “poor.” Going down, “Needed Improvement” and “Unacceptable” both are focused on the process used, not the person. The results were unacceptable – not the person. While strong action is needed to correct this course, we’ve tried to make it as easy and comfortable as possible to both provide and receive this kind of corrective feedback.
Finally, our scale offers incredible granularity. The slider can hit not only the 7 key markers, but any of 10 slots between each – a total of 61 possible answer values. This makes it very easy for a timid soul to move the slider down to a 3.9 when he may be afraid to criticize. Likewise, when looking at the breadth of a service, the nuances of what worked well really come out. Life is full of shades of gray, and supporting that variety is critical if you want the most honest, accurate feedback. With this scale, you can truly identify the little tweaks that can add up to top-notch performance.
Overall, feedback is really very simple to do and do well, if you have the right tools and processes in place to capture good information quickly and efficiently. Most feedback programs fail because they are flawed fundamentally in how feedback is collected. A service professional that solicits feedback without focusing on the client, his expectations, and his value perceptions will not only get poor feedback data (if he gets any at all), but is missing a huge opportunity to discover what really makes your relationships work. Armed with that knowledge, you can do the best work for your client, meeting his needs better than anyone else, and maximizing your own long-term prosperity.