Reflections of Client Satisfaction: Reframing Family Perceptions of Mandatory Alternative School Assignment

Article excerpt

The authors in this study examined the client satisfaction of chronically disruptive students and their families (clients) following a mandatory alternative school assignment. Specifically, they looked at the satisfaction of the involved families and their responses recorded through three surveys completed at exit interviews during the 1999-2000 school year (N = 189). The literature related to client satisfaction is mixed; typically patterns emerge in the literature of either very high or very low opinions. Due to the mandatory nature of the alternative school assignment, client satisfaction in this study could be predicted to be low. But given the increased level of engagement the clients (both the student and family) surveyed reported high levels of client satisfaction, giving greater expectations of graduating from high school following their alternative school placement and citing better school performance from receiving assistance during the program. The findings from this study could help to modify or further develop social work interventions in the alternative school setting and could increase the use of client satisfaction surveys with these programs.

Key Words: chronically disruptive students, client satisfaction, mandatory alternative schools


Client satisfaction is an emerging topic of interest in social work practice. The application of client satisfaction surveys in social work is rooted in the marketing industry as a measure of a business's worth to its clients. With increasing choice in providers, agencies and organizations may feel positive client satisfaction increases their competitive potential. Although client satisfaction studies cannot prove a program's effectiveness there is at least a suggestion that positive client satisfaction increases their competitive potential, as the information derived from such surveys is better than no information. Additionally, the perceived usefulness of a program may influence continued support and funding. Rose, Wykes, Doran, Sporle, and Bogner (2008) provided three compelling reasons to conduct satisfaction studies: First, if satisfaction studies are not conducted, then there is no organized or systematic means for learning about clients' perceptions. Second, if the ratings tend to come back relatively high it is reassuring that there are no hidden or obscure problems. Third, if ratings come back with clients reporting below 75 percent satisfaction, then that further investigation is required to determine the source of dissatisfaction. Despite the inability of client satisfaction surveys to prove program's effectiveness, many people have begun to emphasize the importance of measuring client satisfaction.

In the current climate of evidence-based practice, client satisfaction assessment is an appealing, although somewhat subjective method of monitoring programs and practice. Client satisfaction surveys are easy to administer, inexpensive, and efficient. Although client satisfaction surveys are routinely used as the first line of evaluation, they may have certain biases. For example, a number of studies indicate that levels of high client satisfaction may support the premise that only the higher functioning and more satisfied client will report in these surveys (McMurtry & Hudson, 2000; Ribner & Knei-Paz, 2002; Trotter, 2008). Other studies suggest that the client is influenced by the social desirability of the instrument and that such a measurement tool may produce biased or unusually high levels of client satisfaction (Fischer & Valley, 2000; Harris, Poertner, & Joe, 2000; Turner, 1996; Carr, Copeland, Koeske, & Greeno, 2004; Walsh & Lord, 2004). Clients could also be pleased to be terminating or completing the program thereby creating a euphoric effect, often referred to as a halo effect, thereby creating a greater report of satisfaction (Barker, 2003). Furthermore, staff, environment or program curriculum can influence client comments (Peak & Sinclair, 2002). …