The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. Vol 3 Issue 3   March 2007


As the old jingle goes, “Delta is ready when you are.” In the case of your luggage, on the other hand, maybe not.

This month’s edition of “Research with a Twist” looks at how poor customer experiences can be turned into useful company information, and in particular, how surveying your own staff can contribute.

As always, please click here to send us your thoughts and comments.

Julie Brown

Mark Palmerino
Executive Vice President

4 Good Reasons for Surveying Your Employees

If you’ve flown on an airplane at least once since the Nixon administration, I think you’ll find my recent experience familiar. Returning to Boston from Fort Myers last week, I discovered that one of my bags had not arrived.

You can probably guess the rest. Calls to customer service, a trip back to the airport, several discussions with several people regarding who I was and where I flew in from, etc. Finally, 72 hours later, and despite the airline clerk’s initial insistence that no such lost bag ever existed, I casually pointed over his shoulder at my suitcase, waiting patiently in a corner.

This was not a pleasant experience for a customer, certainly, and yet one which I’m sure if discovered, captured and properly categorized, could be helpful to an airline in making operational improvements.

The obvious means of gathering this type of useful customer information, of course, is to regularly and systematically conduct market research with the customer population. It’s proven, it works, and it’s an important part of any successful company’s repertoire.

What’s not so obvious it seems — judging, at least, by the frequency with which it’s done — is to look internally for these types of insights. In other words, given that most unhappy customer experiences and system-generated frustrations result in equally unhappy and frustrated employees, you’ve got access to this information and more from within your own organization. Provided, that is, you ask for it.

In fact, while waiting on hold for airline customer service one afternoon last week, I thought of four very good reasons for researching your employees with the same vigor and focus you apply to your external research projects.

  1. Your employees know what doesn’t work. I’m sure I’m not the first customer who’s had to prove the existence of a lost bag to a clerk whose computer system thought otherwise. And whether it’s a system-generated problem such as this, or something as simple as a bank teller whose check-cashing limits have been set impractically low, things like this happen all the time.

    Your employees are well aware of the issues, patterns, problems and required workarounds inherent in your business processes and policies. External market research will offer insights in these areas as well, however, your staff offers an additional perspective. (With unhappy situations in particular, it can be difficult to even find ex-customers who are willing to speak with you.)

  2. Your employees have solutions and improvements. When things don’t work well for customers, it’s your front line employees who bear the brunt of the frustration. Typically, they are quite willing and able to suggest practical changes that will make a significant improvement in the way you do business.

    But wait a minute. Isn’t this idea of “tapping the employee point of view” old news at this point?

    Absolutely… as old as the hills. That said, how many companies do you know of that are making full (or even partial) use of it? In large companies in particular — where standardization of policy and procedure towards a goal of improved efficiency is the norm — it’s easy to overlook the wealth of practical suggestions for change that are literally walking the halls of your organization.

  3. Your employees need to be aligned with your goals. The company and brand you’ve built only works to the extent your staff believes in it, can portray it to the outside world, and has the necessary systems and resources in place to deliver on its promises.

    For example, if we claim that our service is “World Class,” but our computer system is anything but, our employees may be faced with an impossible task. Internal research — the kind which asks employees open-ended questions such as, “When we say, ‘Thank you for allowing us to help your day be magical,’ at the end of every phone call, what do you think the company means?” — can be very enlightening.

    Alignment between strategies, messages, customer experiences and the people out in the world whose job it is to deliver, is critical. Asking your own folks how you’re doing is an important step in making all this a reality.

  4. Your employees want to be heard. Again, this isn’t new information. And yet (again), most companies don’t pay it much more than lip service in the annual report.

    Compensation is only one piece of the total package. By not giving employees the forum to provide real, substantive feedback and suggestions, you’re missing an opportunity to improve your organization, and putting your best employees at risk of leaving, in the process.

At the end of the day, none of this is really all that complicated; employee research makes sense for many of the same good reasons as customer research. And, if the list above is any indication, maybe even a few more. See you in the friendly skies!

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Mixology (Putting research into practice)

Of course, many of the same fundamentals which relate to external research apply to employee research as well. There are, however, a few additional considerations to keep in mind:

  1. Avoid closed-ended surveys when trying to uncover new ideas. As we explained in a previous issue (Special Orders Do Upset Us), asking respondents to choose from a list or rate a preexisting range of options prevents new solutions from bubbling up. Give your employees as much “room to speak” as possible when soliciting their ideas for improvement.
  2. Use an outside source to conduct the research. At the risk of appearing self-serving, we’d be remiss to not mention this. Convincing employees to “tell it like it is,” requires a great deal of trust on the part of a respondent. Belief in the integrity of the process is much easier to achieve when done at the hands of an external third party.
  3. Avoid research in group settings. While certainly a popular method of gathering qualitative, open-ended, feedback, focus groups (or interviews of employees in a group setting) are inherently public and subject to “group-think.” When you convene a session with people who work together, there’s another (silent) conversation in play. Concerns with rank, rivalries, personal history, political correctness, and the like, are “candidness killers,” and they run rampant in intra-company focus groups.
  4. Follow-up. The only thing worse than not asking employees what they think is asking and then doing nothing. At a minimum, survey participants should see rolled up results, and be given some context for how their input will be used. If you can actually implement employee suggestions (and make it clear that you did), even better.


4 Good Reasons for Surveying Your Employees

Mixology (Putting research into practice)

Twist and Shout

About Us

We’re pleased to share a recent White Paper, entitled “Growth and Innovation: Moving from Strategy to Execution to High Performance,” published by our client Accenture and based in part on research conducted by CSR.

Accenture recently retained CSR to conduct detailed conversations with about two dozen executives of FORTUNE 1000 companies in the United States — each executive with responsibilities overseeing a major growth or innovation initiative. The goal of these interviews was to explore both the role of innovation in corporate growth initiatives, and the challenges in executing growth and innovation strategies.

Follow this link to read the White Paper or to download your own copy.

“Always listen to experts. They’ll tell you what can’t be done, and why. Then do it.”

— Robert Heinlein

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About Us
The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. (CSR) is a research firm. We combine open-ended questioning with our proprietary technology to create quantifiable data.


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Understanding What People Really Think

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