Perception is 9/10ths Reality… Managing Customer Perception & Expectations

Mind GamesHow much easier would your job be if you could use the Jedi mind trick?  “You are not cold, the temperature is just right.”  “You enjoy your gray cubicle with dim lighting.”  “You don’t really need that dry erase board hung today.”  Okay, come back to reality…  The truth is you can’t (or at least shouldn’t) tell a customer what they want or when it is good enough; you have to manage their expectations and perception.  For example, you may think that you and your facility team are rock stars and doing a great job.  However, if your customer shares a different opinion, then you and your team are falling short.  Because, unfortunately, perception is 9/10ths reality and sometimes more…  In this article, we will talk about the importance of managing both of these and tips for doing such.

As discussed in FM360’s last article, Politics & Facility Management, one of the primary jobs of a facility manager is to build & maintain relationships – a key component of which is managing customer expectations and perception.  And frankly, if we want to know what the customer thinks, we have to ask.  We can no longer be in denial.  We cannot use the “man approach” – if we ignore the problem, it doesn’t exist…  And we can’t assume we know what they want or think.  There are multiple ways to ask and surmise this information – informal conversations, formal surveys, and by simply observing.

Informal Conversations

Informal conversations will be the primary means by which you discern what the customer wants and how they think you are doing.  This, of course, requires you, as the facility manager, to be out and about interacting with the customer; also known as MBWA, Management by Walking Around (why not have another acronym…)  You have to be deliberate and seek to engage in conversation – even if that means asking how the family is doing or how their weekend was.  I understand time is of the essence and you have many fires to go put out, so try to keep your conversations focused and productive; but slow down enough to build relationships.  Make sure it seems natural and not forced; practice on friends and family, if this is a challenge for you.

If you manage remote facilities, then make sure you pick up the phone occasionally instead of replying via e-mail; this will allow the opportunity for you to connect with the customer.  When conducting site visits, schedule time to visit with key customers in that facility – even if you just pop in their office to say “Hi!”

Lastly, these conversations are also a great time to share what your facility department is doing and marketing the value of your team and services – make the most of every opportunity.

Information gained through these interactions can be invaluable; however, it is subjective and difficult to quantify.  Hence the need for formal surveys.

Formal Surveys

There are a handful of surveys I recommend to clients and students; however we must be cautious not to over-survey customers.  Thus, I recommend spreading out the below surveys over the course of a year or as dictated by projects, etc.  Additionally, you want to keep the surveys as short as possible so that they can answer them easily and quickly; this should increase survey completion rate.

Stakeholder Survey – The intent of this survey is for the facility managers to learn and understand their various customers’ (typically department heads) business needs, drivers, obstacles, etc.  The key is to keep the customer from thinking of facility related needs – that’s your job.  You want to identify their top goals for this or next year and the obstacles or risks that may prevent them from being successful.  You simply ask questions, listen, and take notes; from which you will hopefully discern actions and issues that you need to accommodate in your facility plan.  I advise not handing out the survey, rather use it to provide talking points during the conversation and to take notes.

Facility Services Survey – This survey is used to evaluate specific services provided by the Facility Department.  Example questions include rating the customer’s perception of staff professionalism, knowledge, speed of response, issue resolution, etc.  This could be expanded to include other services that fall under the Facility Department, such as food services, mailroom, etc.  I also ask if they know how to submit service requests and if they receive follow-up contact once requests are completed.

General Building Survey – In this survey you ask building occupants and visitors to rate their perception of cleanliness, lighting, aesthetics, noise, etc. of the various building spaces, including lobby, halls/corridors, restrooms, meeting rooms, landscaping, etc.  Security or front-desk staff may be able to assist with collecting surveys from visitors.

Workspace Survey – This survey can be quite extensive, but is extremely important in helping us to discern how best facilities can improve the ergonomics and productivity of employees/occupants (See the Rule of 100/10/1).  We evaluate their perception of visual & noise privacy, amount of surface & storage space, adjacencies, and comfort; including, temperature, airflow, lighting, odors, chair, etc.  I also like to ask for an estimate on the number of hours spent per week at their desk.  As always, leave space for additional comments.

Move Survey – Move surveys are important in discerning how best we can improve each subsequent move.  I ask the respondent to evaluate move communications, logistics, supplies, and their new workspace, including aesthetics.  You may want to let the dust settle a little bit before sending out this survey, as that generally improves the scores once folks get a feel for their new space.

Service Request Survey – Many CMMS, computerized maintenance management system, have the capability to automatically send requesters a survey once their service request is complete.  This is invaluable information as well; however, if you rely on Service Request Surveys alone, your data may be skewed to the negative, as those that submit the most service requests are likely the ones that are tougher to keep happy.  So these surveys should be compared to the results of the aforementioned surveys, as to gain a clearer picture.


Lastly, the need for observations may go without saying; however, it is easy for us in our hectic days to turn a blind eye and be unaware of things going on around us.  As you walk your facilities, slow your pace down and look for:

  • Sweaters, space heaters, makeshift diffusers (good ol’ manila folders…), and fans – these may be indicative of HVAC and airflow issues and possibly infiltration and draftiness
  • Use of task lighting (or not), blinds open or closed, lights on or off – as these may reveal lighting and glare issues
  • Occupant interaction; are they yelling over cubicle walls, ducking in a corner to avoid the noise during a call, standing up to talk to a neighbor, or constantly running back and forth – this will provide insight into adjacencies and workflow issues and possibly noise distractions
  • Workspace performance; are they rolling around their cubicle or is everything in arm’s length, do they fidget or act as though the chair is uncomfortable, are they sitting ergonomically correct, etc. – these observations may provide an opportunity for employee health and productivity improvements

There are many other insightful issues and opportunities you might find, if you just take the time to look.

Gathering this information through informal conversations, formal surveys, and occupant observation will let you know what the customer thinks and wants.  Plus, by being out in the workplace, you will have the chance to address issues and correct misunderstandings, which is all part of building relationships.  Gaining this insight will allow you to adjust your facility program and make facility improvements that best supports your customers and return value to the bottom line.

Visit to see sample surveys (under Tools & Resources) and to read more facility related articles.