Do you like to travel? Some people love it and others hate it. I happen to be in the former category—if I get to fly to my destination. Although traveling in general, and flying in particular, can be a hassle, I enjoy it. Sometimes I have not yet left for one trip before I’m planning the next. Air travel gives you an excellent opportunity to people watch, something that social scientists and lay persons alike find entertaining. One of the things I’ve noticed in my observations during air travel are all the preparations made for takeoff. First, I look out the window and notice the airport personnel scurrying about, hurriedly getting carts loaded with baggage to the airplanes. On board, airline employees are also making preparations. For example, the flight attendants close the overhead bins and check passengers to make sure seat belts are fastened. The passengers are also making preparations—some are trying to stuff bags under seats or into bins, others are getting ready for naps by adjusting travel pillows and covering up with blankets, and many are preparing to entertain themselves by getting out books, magazines, MP3 players, etc.
Finally, after all preparations have been made we begin to slowly move away from the gate and head for a runway where we wait our turn for takeoff. Once our turn comes and the pilots receive clearance from the tower, it is only a matter of seconds before we lift off and find ourselves in the air, looking down at the shrinking people, buildings, and vehicles below. It can be an exhilarating feeling. It reminds me of the exhilaration felt by business owners and executives when their businesses really takeoff; when sales soar and profits increase it is a wonderful feeling. But, just as an airplane does not leave the tarmac without a lot of preparation, a business cannot takeoff without preparation and hard work.
Mark Eppler, in his book The Wright Way: 7 Problem-Solving Principles from the Wright Brothers That Can Make Your Business Soar, discusses the “principle of forever learning.” According to Eppler, learning should be a lifelong passion because it is essential to obtaining the information required for problem solving. While there are many areas in business where continuous learning is important, one crucial area is the human element: employees and customers. Learning about both employee and customer perceptions and attitudes should be an ongoing process as they play a vital role in helping our business soar.
The best way to learn about employees and customers is via regular statistical surveys. The importance of this process is confirmed in an article by Ian McKeown and George Philip titled “Business transformation, information technology and competitive strategies: learning to fly,” published in the International Journal of Information Management. In this article, McKeown and Philip present an overview of competitive strategies as follows:
In this model, inputs include strategy, funding, and people, confirming the importance of people in competitive strategy. The processes component involves organizational development and benchmarking. Inputs and processes lead to results which include growth and profitability. Putting in place a regular surveying cycle can improve inputs by providing information about the people crucial to business success. In addition, regular surveys are important because they contribute to the processes component. Surveys can be used in benchmarking and organizational development.
To be an effective tool for competitive strategy, surveys must be designed, implemented, and analyzed using scientific principles. McKeown and Philip recommend utilizing consultants. Hiring consultants to design, deploy, and analyze your surveys is an economical and efficient strategy. Most companies do not have the human resources required to perform these tasks effectively. Consulting firms have organizational scientists and statisticians who have been trained at the doctoral level and know how to design and analyze surveys utilizing sound scientific methods. The use of the scientific method ensures that your survey results will accurately reflect the attitudes and perceptions of your employees and customers. It also enables you to obtain information about the drivers of human behavior. Information about drivers is very powerful because it allows you to pinpoint just a few areas in which to concentrate change efforts.
Making change in response to survey results is part of the organizational development process mentioned above. Eppler suggests taking new information and proceeding with a basic problem-solving approach. In order to illustrate how the process works, let’s look at a case study involving a hotel and gaming company. This company decided to conduct customer surveys on an ongoing basis with data analysis occurring at quarterly intervals. They retained the services of the business research firm, the National Business Research Institute (NBRI) to design, implement, and analyze their surveys. Two crucial pieces of information the firm provided to the hotel and gaming company were the root causes, or drivers, of customer satisfaction and the root causes of the customer’s intent to return. Knowledge of these drivers are key to increasing profitability.
In one quarter the company learned from their survey results that a driver of their customers’ intent to return was their perception of their wait time for services at the hotel’s front desk. Unfortunately, the benchmarked score for this item on the survey was at the 49th percentile, putting it slightly below the industry average of 50. Unfortunately, some companies never do anything with information about drivers once they obtain it. According to Eppler, “Knowledge gained but unapplied remains nothing more than potential.” Once drivers are identified, action must be taken as soon as possible.
Fortunately, the hotel management realized that taking action was necessary to change customer perceptions of their wait time at the front desk. The company used knowledge of this driver as a starting point in the problem-solving process. They identified strategies that had already been applied to reduce wait time and then brainstormed to come up with new approaches. The suggestions were discussed and an approach was chosen for immediate implementation. The results were astounding – by the next quarter customer perceptions of the wait time for service at the front desk had improved by 18 percentiles!
After their most recent quarterly survey, the hotel and gaming company discovered that their overall benchmarked performance was at the 71st percentile. This score is 21 percentiles above the national average and only 4 percentiles away from what the consulting firm refers to as “stretch performance.” In spite of such positive results, upper management knew that continuing the survey process was imperative. Human behavior is very dynamic – it is constantly changing. The drivers of customer perceptions can change from one year to another; they may even change from quarter to quarter. Thus, it is necessary to continue conducting surveys and using them to guide organizational development efforts.
The hotel and gaming company’s most recent survey identified two root causes (drivers) of overall customer satisfaction:
* Good mix of types of games.
* Overall impression of service at the hotel.
Three root causes of customer intent to return were identified:
* Wait time for front desk services.
* Wait time for service at the hotel’s cafe.
* Wait time for service from the bell staff.
Management has already begun the problem-solving process to address improving customer perceptions of these root causes. To improve customer satisfaction they must address ways to improve customer’s attitudes about the mix of game types and the overall service provided. Although three root causes were identified as drivers of intent to return, a theme is apparent. Management must find and implement methods to improve customer perceptions of wait time for the various hotel services. Addressing these root causes will enable this hotel and gaming company to continue to improve customer perceptions and to takeoff toward success.
Some businesses never leave the tarmac – they suffer from stagnation. They do not implement the procedures necessary for growth. It is imperative to stay in touch with the people who are crucial to the success of our businesses. If you would like to learn more about how NBRI can help your business implement a survey schedule in order to provide you with the powerful information you need, call them today at 800-756-6168. This could be the first step in your preparations to leave the tar mat and takeoff toward increased success and profits!
By Dr. Cynthia K. S. Reed, Ph.D.
The National Business Research Institute