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Archive for April 2011

Cafeteria Survey

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Say you wanted to do a customer survey for a cafeteria. How would you go about deciding what questions to ask and how to ask them? The cafeteria could be in a school, an office building, a public facility such as a zoo or park, or it could be Horn & Hardart reincarnated. Let’s make the assumption that you are doing the survey in order to help the cafeteria actually improve. In order to accomplish that you need to ask tough questions, questions which will yield mid-range scores against which you can improve and track your progress. In addition you want to ask questions which are related to the outcomes of interest to your cafeteria, such as customer repurchase intentions.

First off you need to understand or define the goals of the survey. It may be obvious or you may need to meet with senior management or the sponsor of the survey and probe about what they view as the most important goals for the survey. It could be issues regarding the quality of the food, the speed of the  service, perceived value, the popularity of the food choice etc. The list quickly becomes very long and hence understanding the goals of the effort are critical to keeping the survey within a manageable length for the customer to complete. (The shorter the better with customer surveys).

Second, great insight can be achieved by doing a few focus groups of various types of customers prior to writing the survey. Doesn’t have to be anything fancy, one-way mirrors and recordings are not necessary. Just have a group of customer sit down, 6-10 at a time, and talk to you about their experiences at your cafeteria. Ask them to list out what they like about the cafeteria and what they don’t like about it and then go back and discuss the list as a group. (Reward them for their efforts.) It will help you zero in on what you should be asking about very quickly. If you have different customer segments, such as a lunch crowd, or a breakfast crowd etc. they could be looking for different things, or have different experiences at your cafeteria, so make sure you run focus groups for these different segments.

An overriding principle if you want people to actually fill out your survey – make it easy for them. Simple questions, simple anchored scales, (I like 5-point scales with an escape), short number of items that focus on the goals and lead to action, simple administration. If you have non-English speakers as customers provide the survey in translated formats. Given the likely volume of customers for a cafeteria, you need not have one common survey used across all customers, but can have multiple short versions allowing you to collect information on a larger number of topics than would be possible otherwise. The survey versions can be linked by utilizing an in-common outcome question.

Broadly, the types of questions you can ask about falls into 4 main buckets.

  1. Transactional questions,
  2. Loyalty questions/Outcome questions,
  3. Brand questions,
  4. Demographics.

Transactional questions: Transactional questions ask about the experience you had while visiting the cafeteria. The transaction could be the current visit, or you could ask the customer to think about their last few visits if you know they frequent the cafeteria often. Sample transactional questions include:

Do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements: SCALE: Strongly agree, agree, neither agree or disagree, disagree, strongly disagree

    • Food
      • The food I received was what I ordered.
      • My food was prepared how I requested.
      • My food tasted good.
      • My food was fresh.
      • My food was a good value for the price.
    • Service/Staff
      • The time I spent waiting in line to place my order was reasonable.
      • Cafeteria staff were pleasant and greeted me as I entered the cafeteria.
      • I received my food order quickly.
      • The cashier thanked me for my business.
    • Environment
      • The location of the cafeteria made it easy to get to.
      • The signs posted in the cafeteria were clear and understandable.
      • I easily found a seat in the cafeteria.
      • The cafeteria was clean and free of unpleasant odors.

Loyalty questions/Outcome questions: These type of questions get at the “feelings” that the customer is left with, after they experience the “transactions”. Did they enjoy the experience, would they come again, would they suggest to others that they visit etc.

  •  Do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements: SCALE: Strongly agree, agree, neither agree or disagree, disagree, strongly disagree
    • Overall, I enjoyed my meal today.
    • I would recommend this cafeteria to others.
    • If the opportunity arises, I would purchase another meal from this cafeteria.

Brand Questions: Brand questions get at the perception of the cafeteria, especially given the other options available to the consumer. They should measure what “concepts” the cafeteria is aiming for. It is a gathering place, a place for fast food on the go, a place for healthy food at a reasonable price, etc?

  • Do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements: SCALE: Strongly agree, agree, neither agree or disagree, disagree, strongly disagree
    • The cafeteria is a good choice for a quick, on-the-go breakfast.
    • Overall, this cafeteria provides healthy meals at a reasonable price.
    • This cafeteria is a good place to relax with friends over lunch

Demographic Questions: These questions allow you to segment your customer population into groups that may have different opinions about the cafeteria. For instance, if in a school do older kids feel differently about the food choices from younger kids, or does the breakfast crowd feel differently from the lunch group etc.

  • How many times have you previously visited the cafeteria in the last year?
    • This is my first visit
    • 1-5 times
    • 6-10 times
    • More than 10 times
  • Are you:
    • Male
    • Female
  • Do you typically visit the cafeteria for: Check all that apply.
    • Breakfast
    • Lunch
    • Dinner
    • Snacks

These suggestions for a cafeteria survey are not meant to be exhaustive and there are certainly other topic areas that you could ask about. For those of you who are learning the ropes of putting together a good survey, this is meant to simply point you in the right direction. Analysis, Reporting and Taking Action on the information obtained from the survey will be covered separately.

© 2011 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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First, Do No Harm

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The notion of “first, do no harm” arises from the world of medicine. While that exact phraseology is not part of the Hippocratic Oath the intent is certainly there.  From the original oath, “I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone.”  Late in the 1800’s medical professors began to use the phrase in writings and in their lectures to students. The notion was further refined to have health care providers “consider the possible harm that any intervention might do…and recognition that human acts with good intentions may have unwanted consequences.”

As an example of good intentions having unintended consequences, it has been reported that Libyan rebels who where supported first by the United States air bombing campaign, and then NATO, overran weapons depots of the Kaddafi government, selling the mustard and nerve gas shells they obtained from those depots to the terrorist organizations Hezbollah and Hamas, through Iranian channels and funding.  As the materiel was being transported through Sudan’s well known arms smuggling routes on its way to the Gaza Strip, the individuals responsible for the arms transfer mysteriously had their car hit by  a missile.  The good intentions of supporting the overthrow of a dictator, resulting in the unintended consequences of putting extremely lethal mustard and nerve gas into the hands of those who would not hesitate to use them on civilian population centers. Protecting civilian population centers as an ethical standard seems to apply to the Libyan rebels only when those population centers are theirs.

First, do no harm, and its implication of perfect knowledge, when taken to the extreme of unintended cause and effect has the potential of resulting in greater harm through paralysis and inaction. What are the longer term consequences, if for instance I was running a company that had expenses that were greater than income, and I chose to do nothing about it? I freeze because the consequences of the potential actions (e.g. forcing early retirements, layoffs, freezing or reducing salaries, forced part-time, cutting benefits, eliminating expenses) will result in harm to a subset of individuals, the harm however, will be greater in terms of the number of people affected when the company subsequently fails.

What if a rapidly spreading disease kills 50% of those afflicted, and I choose not to distribute a vaccine that will save the lives of 50 out of 100 afflicted people, but will result in the deaths due to allergic reactions of 5% who otherwise might survive, am I guilty of greater or lesser harm? By distributing the vaccine I can save a substantial number of lives, but by acting I will knowingly kill people, but not as many as would otherwise perish. Most choices are not easy and often have unintended consequences. But what about when people act, not taking the unintended into account at all?

Contrasting the role of behavioral expectations in the roles of medicine vs. business, Jonathan Baron of the University of Pennsylvania writes, “the positive obligations that stem from ethical codes are almost always contingent on voluntary promises and agreements. Likewise in business, almost all positive obligations arise from contracts, even if the contracts are only implicit.” His point of view would conclude that the obligations that arise from an ethical moral code are voluntary, while those that arise from business are legislated through a contract. Therefore, using this logic, obligations that arise in business cannot be assumed to be executed in an ethical manner unless they are contractual and/or by extension regulatory.

The number of and types of scandals that have been evident in American business recently seems to support this notion. In the Forbes Corporate Scandal Sheet they actually state that “ we’ll follow accounting imbroglios only–avoiding insider-trading allegations like those plaguing ImClone, since chronicling every corporate transgression would be impractical–and our timeline starts with the Enron debacle.” It then goes on to list scandals that hit 21 major companies from 2002 alone. It is easy to be cynical about ethics in corporate America when you could pick up the Wall Street Journal from virtually any day and read about some ethical scandal or another.

What are the obligations of those working for or supporting organizations that are involved in unethical or immoral practices? Should workers follow some sort of code of conduct, an oath to uphold business ethics that they take upon being hired by a company? And maybe once a year they renew their vows? Should workers be able to point to an outside moral code of conduct when an organizational leader asks them to do something that crosses the line? How could a company object?

In one study Dan Ariely, MIT professor and author of Predictably Irrational found lower levels of cheating on a test when the participants were reminded of a moral code just prior to the test.  Organizations cannot actually be unethical or immoral, only people can. People are the only ones who can behave ethically or unethically and it is people who direct organizations. That is why organizations are very rarely charged with a crime, but people within organizations can be. Organizations tend to be charged only when the illegal behavior has been systematized across the institution.

The challenge will be in the definition of ethics itself. And with some of the miscommunication/varying definitions that stem from incongruous meanings of the term ethics, depending on where you sit in the organization. For a typical worker, ethics often revolves around relationships, trust, being true to your  word. If the management of an organization changes the workers benefits, work schedules, overtime requirements, staffing or workloads, the management runs the risk of being seen as in violation of voluntary promises and agreements which can be deemed as unethical. Meanwhile those in management can look at those same changes and deem them as lawful and not in violation of any contract and therefore see no ethical issue. Managements see ethics as  related more to following the legal letter of the law and based on this standard of ethics, if there is a legal way to break a contract that would be ethical  ehavior, as would be a legal way to reduce headcount etc.  Ethics is a word that holds somewhat different definitions depending on whom you are asking to define it.

But if we as a nation can derive a universal standard of business conduct, say the 15 Commandments of Business Ethics, no lets shorten it to 10 (thank you Mel Brooks), and have every worker (management as well as non-management) subscribe to those standards we may make a positive impact on what we  view as ethical behavior.


Ariely, D. (2009) Our Buggy Moral Code, TED Talks,

Baron, J. (1996). Do no harm. In D.M.. Messick & A.E. Tenbrunsel, Codes of conduct: Behavioral research into business ethics. pp.  197-213. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Debka, (04/07/2011) Special operations team hit top Iranian-Hamas arms smugglers in Sudan,, The Corporate Scandal Sheet, (08/06/2002)

Hippocratic Oath (4/17/2011)

Jolton, J. & Saltzman, J. 2008, Preventative Maintenance: How Industrial/Organizational Psychologists Can Build and Maintain  an Ethical Culture, SIOP annual convention.

© 2011 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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