Professional Development: Do You Really Want To Know What They Think?


By Michel Theriault
Published in the October 2004 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Measuring occupant satisfaction is key to ensuring that services and space enable employees to be successful. Used as a management tool, satisfaction surveys allow facility professionals to change what doesn’t work, improve what does, and focus on the issues that matter. Unfortunately, many surveys are designed and implemented without a clear idea of how the results will be used once they’re collected and tabulated.

To correct this error, it is important to establish realistic goals at the very beginning of the survey process. How do the goals of the survey relate to the facility department’s actual objectives? How can satisfaction be improved? What should be learned from the survey?

It is important for the results to establish a benchmark percentage satisfaction level that is suitable for comparison. The survey must include strategic questions that can be used to analyze the results and improve satisfaction.

In order to gather accurate data, facility managers (FMs) should collect results over several years. However, the benchmark questions must remain the same for each survey. The rest of the questions can vary, but they must focus on issues FMs want to know more about.

To generate targeted, concrete feedback, phrase questions so the emphasis is on the level of service provided, not on the building systems. For instance, ask about the department’s response to hot/cold complaints; don’t ask about satisfaction with the temperature in the facility. And if the facility department already tracks complaints and service calls, there should be existing data that will help identify ongoing technical problems.

Comments are a very important supplement and can help with the analysis of the results by giving specific, situational examples. Allow space for at least one general comment; however, provide the opportunity for participants to comment about several specific questions, if possible.

Randomly list questions instead of grouping them by service area. Survey participants will think about each question on its own rather than taking the easy way out and answering a group of similar questions with the same answer.

Sample size also influences the validity of the results. For a large corporate portfolio, a non-targeted sampling is appropriate. If FMs need to gather input from a smaller number of individuals (such as department managers or a specific department or group), a targeted approach is more appropriate.

Either way, ensure the response rate is as high as possible to get statistically relevant results. Dissatisfied people tend to fill in surveys more often than satisfied people, so a higher response rate will moderate the effect. Regardless of the method used, it’s important to include tracking information (building name, department name, floor, or other key information) on the survey to facilitate analysis.

Surveys can be conducted over the phone, through the Web, or on paper. The distribution method depends on the sample size and level of effort required. Telephone surveys work for small sample sizes and can result in high response rates. A Web-based survey is efficient, since the system itself collects and tabulates results, including comments. (Keep in mind, not all employees will have access, so speak with the IT department to make sure successful distribution is possible.) Paper based surveys can be manually or automatically tabulated (with scanning technology), but compilation of the comments could be time consuming, so this option is not effective for larger surveys.

The scale for the responses is very important and can influence the results and the analysis. A four point scale forces occupants to identify whether they are satisfied or not, eliminating the use of a neutral option. However, since some occupants will not be able to respond, it’s a good idea to add ‘insufficient information’ or ‘don’t know’ as another option.

Once the results are tabulated, the next step is to analyze the results. To create a benchmark, calculate the satisfaction level for the questions identified as benchmark questions and establish an average overall satisfaction level. For analysis that generates action, look at each question separately and assess the results of the four response options instead of simply analyzing a single number that shows the satisfied percentage of respondents. This provides more information on the degree of satisfaction, which is important in determining the extent of the problem.

In the example below, both graphs show that 65% of the occupants are satisfied to some degree. The first graph shows a reasonable distribution of responses; however, the second graph shows a distribution more heavily weighted to ‘Very Dissatisfied’ and reveals there may be a more significant problem.

In addition to reviewing the data question by question, analyze and compare the results between related questions. This validates the results and pinpoints issues. For instance, if the occupants are satisfied with the way their requests are handled in the FM department call center, yet they’re not satisfied when someone comes out to fix something, eliminate the call center from improvement efforts and focus on other areas of the process.

Whenever a survey is conducted, it is important to communicate the results and the action plans honestly back to the participants. This demonstrates that the facility department is listening, identifies the value in filling out the survey, and tells participants what the department is going to do. After all, isn’t that the whole point of conducting a survey?

Theriault ( works at Strategic Advisor as a facility, property, and asset management consultant.