Client Feedback Tool
  • When Clients are Your Biggest Problem

    Posted on December 28th, 2009 No comments
    When Clients are Your Biggest Problem

    We give seminars all over the country about feedback and it’s impact on professional services firms, their clients, and the industry.  We often ask a fun question:

    What is your biggest problem?

    Every seminar we pose this question, a large percentage of the audience quickly and simultaneously chime in “THE CLIENTS!”

    The audience says this in jest, but the notion is rooted in truth.  Too many professionals have the attitude that it’s clients that make our life so difficult.  That somehow, if we could just get the client out of the way, we could really do some good work.  The client hires us to solve their problem, then we commandeer their problem and turn it into our project.  No wonder why clients are our biggest challenge – they don’t care about our project at all!  All they care about is their problem.

    Whose agenda are we serving when we preempt the client and claim a project?  Many architects are talking about “green” everything.  Many try to be environmentally sensitive on all their projects – even if it costs more.  Is that really what the client wants?  Or, is your social conscience to save the planet costing your client the only “green” he cares about?  Don’t get me wrong – green is good, and it often can save a lot of money.  But if your client’s problem is a budget that’s too thin – green should only be a consideration where it saves him money.  Use green strategies to solve his problems, not to create new ones!

    The same thing applies with any variable on the project.   Our preferences for quality, aesthetic, budget, social conscious – they really shouldn’t matter.  In order to maximize our value to clients, we need to focus doggedly on their needs and preferences, not ours.  We need to demonstrate an awareness of the client’s problem, and demonstrate that we care enough to solve it.

    The thing is, we can’t actually know our clients’ preferences if we’re not asking!  Even worse – their preferences change!  Their problem is not static, but constantly shifting, evolving, and responding to a vast matrix of variables and external influences often beyond control.  How can we possibly get the project right without constantly seeking to understand the evolving nature of the original problem as presented?

    You can’t, of course.   We need conversation, communication, and feedback throughout the project life-cycle.  Feedback allows us to identify when we’ve gone off track and made the project ours.  Feedback makes known the changing parameters of the client’s problem.   Feedback keeps us focused on the client’s problem, let’s him see our focus, and truly maximizes our value.

    Imagine what business would be like if we truly embraced the clients’ problems and became their expert problem solver, instead of just another problem they had to manage?

  • When People Think Cheap

    Posted on December 21st, 2009 No comments
    When People Think Cheap

    When you are busy – and busy making money – you don’t have time to deal with aspects of life that are outside your realm of expertise.  Why would you change your own oil to save $10, when you’re busy making more money than that working?  Instead, you head to the local quick lube pay a little extra, and catch up on phone calls and email on your mobile while someone else does the dirty work.  That is so 2007.

    As 2009 rolls out, we’ve seen a very different attitude.  In the A/E/C industry (and others), the amount of available work ground to a halt.  Almost everyone slowed down.  Almost everyone had extra time.  They didn’t have enough work to fill the hours they were hired to work.  One result – dramatic plunges in profitability.

    When profits drop, you try to economize.  When people aren’t busy making money, they will often try to stay busy saving expenses.  Insourcing, rather than hiring experts where appropriate.  If you don’t have phone calls to make and emails to catch up on, why pay someone to change your oil?  You’d just be sitting in the reception area waiting.  Instead, you put on some grubby clothes, head to the auto parts store, and you save yourself $10.

    Whatever your profession, your clients have likely done the same thing.  In the boom, they scurried around with more to do than time to do it.  With all the deals going on, money was flowing, so the easiest solution to getting work done was to hire you, the expert, to do it.  Now, with deals drying up, your clients have time to do parts of your job for themselves.  Not only is there less work overall, but less of the available work filters down to you.

    Your value has changed.  In the “old days” a key part of your value was simply ability and availability.  You could do the work, and do it well enough to be worth the price you charged, relative to competitors.  Now, you have a new competitor – the client!  Your value pitch has to focus on how giving work to you is actually more cost effective than doing it on their own.  When you change your own oil, do you do a 24 point inspection?  Do you check all the fluids, lubricate the chassis, etc?  What effect will it have on your car to NOT do those things?  Besides, do you like to change your own oil, or are you just trying to save a buck?

    You’ve got to understand the same case with your clients.  What are they doing (or trying to do) without you, that you used to do for them?  What are they doing, that they really wish you would do for them again?  Have you asked?  They may not only need help doing something, but might need help justifying to their boss why it’s more valuable and cost effective for you to do it instead.  Have you helped your client understand all the ways you can help them save money, and helped him give you the work?  Have you helped your client understand the risks of not employing an expert do to things that really need an expert to do well?

  • A Letter to Your Firm

    Posted on December 17th, 2009 1 comment
    A Letter to Your Firm

    Introducing the Client Feedback Tool to your firm is an important part of beginning your feedback collection process.  Your firm members will be looking for leadership to endorse the feedback collection process, and they also will want to know what it is, how it works, and what will be expected of them.  Below is one method you might try, delivered via email:

    Dear Firm Member,

    As you know, we value our client relationships very highly.  The root of our firm’s prosperity comes from clients who trust us to do their work.  It is important to continuously improve our ability to meet their specific needs.

    Every client is different, so we need to identify what processes work best for each of them.  While our firm standards create a good baseline for successful project delivery, we may need to adjust on a case by case basis for each client, and often for each unique project.

    Shortly, you will receive an email invitation from The Client Feedback Tool, to join our firm as a participant in this online feedback management system.  We will also soon be scheduling training to teach you how to use this simple system to collect feedback quickly, easily, and consistently from your clients and others.  The Client Feedback Tool is easy to use, and takes only two minutes to solicit feedback using the built-in templates.

    We are excited at this opportunity for each of us to grow personally;  and as a firm, corporately improve our client relationships to create real, lasting value.

    Thank you in advance for your participation.

    You may also be interested in introducing your clients to The Client Feedback Tool.  Please see this post for suggestions.

  • A Letter to Your Clients

    Posted on December 17th, 2009 1 comment
    A Letter to Your Clients

    One of our most common questions when first beginning to use our Client Feedback Tool is “How do we let our clients know what we’re doing?” followed by “Do you have an email I can use to send to them?”

    After being asked this several times, we are pleased to offer you this template email.  Use this (or something similar) to let your clients know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how.  You can send this email immediately before sending a client a survey for the first time.

    For additional suggestions on improving your response rate, check out our previous posts.

    Dear Client,

    Thank you for trusting us with your business.  It is a pleasure and privilege to help you with your [service type] needs.

    You hire us to perform this work for you, expecting us to provide great service.  That is our goal,  but we know we can always do better.  We will begin seeking your feedback more often, in a more systematic manner.

    We would like to collect feedback from you in very short, 1-2 minute doses.  If it’s okay with you, we would like to do so on a more regular basis.  Please look for an email or emails coming from us soon.  Each will come from the person you have been working with directly, and will identify which project, phase, and service is being evaluated.  Should you click on the link to respond, you will be brought to a survey that typically has fewer than 10 questions, and usually takes only a few minutes to complete.

    Each time you respond, the appropriate people in our company will be notified, so we can immediately attend to your comments.  This is not a once-yearly marketing survey – but rather a personal request for feedback so we can customize our approach specifically for you.  Your participation is critical for our improvement to occur.
    Thank you for your consideration, and we are eager to become your expert at [service type].

    You may also want to introduce The Client Feedback Tool to members of your firm.  If so, please see this post.

  • Knowing What to Charge by Knowing What (Your Clients Think) You Are Worth

    Posted on December 9th, 2009 4 comments

    After running an architectural firm for 20 years, I have found two consistent challenges to a firm’s prosperity that most design firms share:

    1. We underestimate our value to our clients

    2. We price ourselves according to Problem #1

    If you work at a design firm, and especially if you manage a firm, don’t take offense. I believe that these problems were created over time and have a lot to do with the manner in which building contractors represent our work to owners. Since the perfect set of construction documents has likely never been created, contractors usually have something to complain about.

    But blaming is the sport of children, so let’s find the solution to the problem.

    Remember, the problem is not that clients don’t value our work; it’s that we assume that value is less than it really is. To correct an inaccurate assumption, we need more accurate information concerning our value to clients. We have to ask our clients for this information, something that most design firms avoid like the plague. Why? See Problem #1 above; it’s tough to ask for feedback when you think it’s going to be critical.

    The encouraging component to this entire dilemma is that Problem #1 is stated correctly. We underestimate our value to our clients. Our software company, DesignFacilitator, provides the only Client Feedback Tool customized for architects and engineers. Our tool collects objective data regarding what clients really think. Our research shows that, on average, clients think that their design firm’s deliverables and service “exceeded expectations”. This information is based upon over 30,000 responses from clients concerning their perception of their design firm’s value.

    While asking for feedback from clients must be done very carefully to produce the most accurate and actionable data, our patent-pending system utilizes state-of-the-art perception mapping to identify what clients think, and what a design firm can do to maximize their value to those clients. Client feedback will also show you which approaches create problems for clients and how to avoid them. With this information, a firm will naturally make more effective decisions concerning:

    1. Setting fees relative to a client’s perception of the firm’s value

    2. Addressing ‘scope creep’ more quickly as an additional service

    3. Identifying the most effective assignments for staff

    4. Identifying the most efficient training for staff

    Since a design firm’s profitability helps determine its strength, a firm becomes stronger when it knows what it can charge by understanding what its clients think. Add to the mix the ability to enhance a firm’s worth by proper staff assignments and training– both made easier by utilizing client feedback regarding the results of staff’s efforts– and you have a recipe for sustainable prosperity.

    Best In Class – 2010 Fee and Rate Adjustment Poll
    As the premier feedback surveying group for the professional design industry, we are offering to gather and share anonymous fee and rate setting strategies.  By taking the following poll you will have immediate access to the valuable data gathered from firms across the US to help you in your fee and rate setting for 2010.
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    Feedback and strategic reports from 50 clients for $999
    If you would like to enjoy the competitive advantage of Best In Class client awareness for just $999,
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    Client Feedback Tool