Notes from the field of public involvement

Monday, 07 August 2006

Customer Satisfaction German Style

Ever the Euro customer satisfaction hound, I picked up two interesting customer satisfaction questionnaires in Germany recently.

The first is used as a post-course smile sheet for a part of the Department of Medicine at Gutenberg University Mainz. First off, it is in English as indeed were all the courses given on the topic of the planning and conduct of epidemiological studies - epidemiological is hard enough when you are a native English speaker. What was striking about the scales was how they did not seek to hide behind euphemism - for example with the scale for the phrase "I have learned a lot during the course" ranging from 'very true' to 'absolutely not true' or on course content "comprehensibility of the presented topics" from 'easily comprehensible' to 'absolutely incomprehensible'. No smiles for the instructor who got the notation of 'no interest at all' in their students' progress. I was not leading the course on Scientific Writing in English - just sitting in and seeing amongst other things whether it (or a variation of it) would be of interest to SOCAP in Europe members. So it was relaxing enough even if from time to time, we wondered what we could contribute on the topic of writing scientific papers to such a formidably well-qualified and talented bunch. Anyway they all were invited to fill out such forms for every one of the presenters as well as for the course as a whole.

One interesting fact and an echo of history - the data protection laws governing the ability of the German state to collect information on individuals makes it difficult to plan healthcare delivery or indeed the delivery of any state services. Basic data is missing and the last census was back in the 80's because the row continues about the questions to ask.

No worries of course about that in the former GDR or East Germany. I picked up my other customer satisfaction questionnaire in the Stasi Museum in Leipzig. This one was of course in German and needed to pick up lots of information about the visitors themselves to put their views on the museum into context. The museum is a powerful experience - it is actually in the old Stasi Leipzig headquarters building and there has been very little effort to give the building and the contents any professional veneer that comes with the modern 'visitor resource centre' approach. Information was handwritten and just pointed simply to the evidence -old type-written files with endless details of the minutiae of peoples' lives and photos and a wonderful disguises kit suitable for your Christmas stocking. Much indignation about how the Stasi would sit in front of TV screens monitoring the cameras on the outside of their buildings - they should come to Britain and see the room at Scotland Yard or in any other city in the heavily camera-ed UK.

This questionnaire drawn up by the Bürgerkomitee Leipzig (a citizens group particularly concerned with the GDR security services) wants to know who you were, why you have come to Liepzig and the nature of your interest - key question on whether you had ever been an East German citizen and if you had left the country before or after the Wall came down. The questionnaire was exam-like in its unrelenting in its insistence on detailed answers about  how much of the texts and commentaries you had read - 'less than a quarter, a quarter, a half, three-quarters and (almost) all”. They missed a bit of an opportunity on the 'recommend' question so vital to all satisfaction questionnaires where they only had 'yes/no' or 'don't know'.

Leipzig is rightly proud of its role in the peaceful demonstrations that did so much to bring about the collapse of the old GDR - it must have taken a lot of guts to have been part of the unarmed group that dared to carry out the sit-in of the Stasi building. So I was not surprised that the questionnaire took itself as seriously as its topic. I feel guilty now about pinching a copy without filling it in - the organisers could put a website and/or a postal address on it to help delinquents like me. I could always take another the trip to Leipzig.

One last bit of advice to the customer satisfaction tourist. If your trip also takes in Mainz consider, staying in its INNdependence hotel. We were booked in by the Mainz University people without knowing anything about the company and so only became aware of its special vision and goals as consumers of its services. The chain was set up to help the integration of learning and physically disabled people into the workforce and to reflect that inclusive goal in the design of its rooms and buildings as fully accessible. Of course this made our stay very comfortable - for example with big 'wetroom' showers. My German is not up to a detailed translation of the entire brochure but  the website is in English as well as German.

The satisfaction level comes from the calm and helpful atmosphere and the feeling that there was no disconnect between the inclusive intention and the competent and friendly delivery of good service.

The papers during this stay in the first 10 days of July were full not just of football but also the phenomenon of the 'new' Germany - confident and open and ready to fly the flag. This social and commercial initiative helped us understand that it might actually all be true. And the old GDR zone is particularly interesting to SOCAP members as a case history as its people create the new service-based economy and culture - there is a mobile phone outlet every 10 metres in the shopping centres.

Theme for a conference with Tourism Leipzig? Ryanair fare on the day of writing for a flight in October this year - out is 0.19p and back £19.99 - £46 all in with tax etc with Ryanair's version of Leipzig airport only 30 miles away in Altenburg.

Colin Adamson | Send feedback