Posted on June 29th, 2010 View Comments
I had my car in for some work last week. The shop, as innovative and forward-thinking as they are, actually have a feedback system in place. I was delighted to see a service business taking feedback seriously. I was so impressed, I even took a picture of their system!
How does this make you feel as a client?
More importantly, is this the message you give to your clients when they provide feedback? Research indicates the overwhelming majority of professional services firms (architects, engineers, lawyers, etc) do not solicit feedback from their clients. And yet, feedback is critical to your ability to serve, keep, and profit from your clients.
Some clients are bold enough to provide feedback, at least once, even if you don’t ask for it. Your response, though, will dictate exactly how much more feedback you will get from them. When you get feedback, are you the grenade? Do you get defensive and start spreading blame like shrapnel in all directions? If lodging a complaint (or even giving constructive criticism) feels like pulling the pin on this example to the right, how many clients are going to keep on complaining?
While we all want our clients to stop complaining or criticizing, making them afraid to do so will only further the speed at which they take their projects (and corresponding fees) somewhere else. Rather, we want more feedback – in the form of praise! Now you can turn clients into allies – loyal consumers of your services, and champions of yours when referrals are requested.
Here are three fairly basic approaches to help you become adept at avoiding shrapnel, and encourage your clients to give you more feedback.
- Respond without reacting. When criticism comes in, realize it’s not personal, but really just information. Your client is training you to help him better. I know it sometimes feels like an attack on you, your character, and your self-worth. It’s not. Feedback is always more about who’s giving the feedback than who it’s about. Understand what your client is trying to accomplish with this information. He’s got a problem, he hired you to help him with it, and now there’s another problem to deal with. Instead of trying to explain how it’s not your fault, be very interested in his problem, and how you can fix it. ”Oh, wow. That does sound like a problem. How can I help you fix that? Is there anything else we can do to avoid going down this road again?” If there are other people involved, and you are the one that takes this approach, you’ve just risen above the crowd and earned a huge dose of respect from the client (and probably your peers too).
- Focus on the process not the people. People don’t intend to screw up. When stuff goes awry, look at the process used. If you focus on the people involved, the conversation turns to blame. The best that can happen here is someone else gets to “pay” for the problem. This builds conflict between you, your team, and your client. Conflict is not healthy when trying to build effective processes. If instead, talk about the process that resulted in the undesirable outcome, and cement your role as the leader steering the team (regardless of what your business card title says). By pointing fingers at a process – which is emotionless and easy to adjust, you don’t have to try to change people. A process can be documented, explained, understood, and modified on the fly to produce different results. Draw the process on a white board with everyone involved. Act as the recorder, asking which processes work best for each person, and build consensus on a client-focused plan. If the client designs the process, he will take more ownership of the results. More importantly, you’ve again been trained as his expert – worth a premium price so he doesn’t have to deal with this again with someone else.
- Ask for feedback often! When your clients see you as a grenade, ready to explode, they are less likely to train you to expert status. But, asking for feedback in a soft, friendly, comfortable manner will diffuse challenging situations before they get big. You will create a feedback habit with your clients, and they will be much more engaged in helping you help them. It’s their process now too, so they want it to succeed. Follow up to check on how changes to your service are working, measure the results, and adjust your course when needed.
Over time, you will build a level of trust, loyalty, and expertise with your clients that no other professional will be able to match. Now you can be “the guy” he goes to. You can charge a fee that’s great for you, for a service that’s great for him. Even better, no one has to pick shrapnel out of their hides.
Posted on June 17th, 2010 View Comments
Get more feedback! Who thinks that’s a great idea (obviously, we do)? Feedback connects you to your clients and helps you increase your value to them. Feedback is one of many ways to increase your prosperity and the health of your business. Let’s look at a list of ways to be better businesses:
- Get More Feedback
- Work Harder
- Work Faster
- Charge More
- Make Fewer Mistakes
At some point we’ve all talked about ways to make our businesses better, and most ideas end up as a list like that. No one would argue that they’re good things to have on a list, but how often do we actually have any idea of how do anything on that list?
Let’s look at “working harder” as an example. You’re helping build a house, and the foreman yells for you to work harder. It’s your job to carry lumber. You could just pick up the boards and start walking around the house. You’re working harder. Or, you could figure out who needs what boards, where, and when, and deliver them before they are needed. You’re still working harder – but you’ve got a plan and a purpose for what you’re doing.
Similarly, “Getting More Feedback” requires a purpose and a plan in order to provide the maximum benefit to your business. Without knowing why you’re collecting feedback, you won’t know what feedback to gather. When feedback comes in, you don’t know what to do with it. The feedback just sits there, cold and lonely and wondering why someone even bothered to ask. (So does your client, by the way).
Feedback helps firms do some amazing things. We’ve identified nine key benefits, though certainly others apply. From this list (or yours) pick ONE or TWO that you really want to focus on:
- Build Client Loyalty
- Market to Clients Effectively
- Increase Profitability
- Improve Firm Management
- Reduce Firm Liability
- Identify Patterns for Desired Outcomes
- Strengthen Staff Performance
- Promote Staff Satisfaction
- Increase Staff Retention
Once you have a purpose in mind, focus on a plan for how to obtain the desired benefits. Our Client Feedback Tool has built in processes to help (and even automate) feedback collection in a standardized, methodical manner.
Consider the following example:
Your firm has been hit with reduced profits since the recession began. You may have laid off staff, reduced hours, or cut benefits in response. Your staff are scared, your reserves dwindling, and what you really need most right now is a boost in profits to help ride out the storm. You identify your primary purpose for collecting feedback is to increase profitability.
Knowing what you want to accomplish, you can now put together a plan. You determine that winning more proposals – without having to undercut your competitors – would quickly boost billable time. Likewise, your firm has a history of being unable to bill for change orders late in the project – costing you time that can’t be billed.
First, you decide to collect feedback with a standard survey immediately after submitting each proposal. The questions are focused on how well the proposal responded to the client’s stated requirements. As the client engages in giving you feedback (before he’s awarded the project), he’s really training you on how to do his work better. In addition, he now knows you know what he needs better than anyone else (because no one else asked). You respond with a revised proposal, more fitting to his needs.
What you’ve just done is built value with your client. You’ve proven you really understand him better than anyone else. Your price may not be the lowest (and it shouldn’t be!) but you’ve given him confidence that you’ll more likely solve the problems he needs help with. That’s worth something, and you start to win more projects.
Second, you decide to collect feedback at each project milestone. When the project gets off track, change orders are harder to collect payment on. By gathering feedback specific to each phase, and being alerted promptly if anything is off track, the frequency of change orders is reduced. When changes and scope creep do come up, you can address them quickly, and with positive feedback from your clients, communicate changes to the fee with confidence. Feedback helps you identify which changes are worth the added price to the client, and puts him in control of the decision process for which scope changes to make. Overall, this eliminates wasted effort, and maximizes the project’s profitability.
There are hundreds of ways you can apply a feedback program to your business operations in order to improve outcomes and overall success. The important thing is to identify a specific goal, develop a measurable plan, and apply the resources you need to execute the plan. Once in place, measure the results as you go, and adjust your plan accordingly.
Not sure how to get started? When we help our clients implement The Client Feedback Tool, we walk them through a consultative process to discover goals, plans, and desired outcomes. Contact our team of experts, and we can help jump start the process.
Posted on June 8th, 2010 View Comments
Mike Phillips will present a breakout session about Client Feedback at
ZweigWhite’s Principals Academy in Coral Gables, FL on June 8th at 5pm.
The Principals Academy is
“A total management course for architecture, engineering and environmental firm leaders.”
To learn more about The Principals Academy and ZweigWhite, visit: http://www.zweigwhite.com/seminars/tpa/index.asp