Posted on October 26th, 2011 View Comments
Join us as we follow Koontz-Bryant, P.C. as they use client feedback to improve their business, culture, and overall prosperity. In the fourth installment, Martha Shotwell, Controller, describes the varied ways in which they use the feedback they collect and the benefits of an on-site consultation from DesignFacilitator staff. Read previous entries here: Journal Entry 1, Journal Entry 2, Journal Entry 3.
When we implemented the Client Feedback Tool, we had certain expectations about how we would use the survey data. We expected to stimulate dialogue with our clients; to identify opportunities for improvement; and to collect information about group and staff performance. We found the program to be effective in these areas. With an onsite visit from DesignFacilitator consultants, we were challenged to do even more with the data.
As we reported last time, we kicked off our program with general satisfaction surveys to faithful clients, initiated by our company president. Many of the respondents singled out individual employees for praise. The surveys gave us an additional opportunity for a client “touch” – to thank the client for responding, to show gratitude for their kind words, to reinforce in the clients’ minds how happy they were with us – and to ask for referrals. When we moved on to project-specific surveys initiated by project managers, the feedback became more specific. Through this tool we discovered that a client needed to see invoice information a different way. Another client rated us as merely “acceptable” on “scope and fees.” This presented an opportunity for a frank discussion with the client about pricing. Turns out she had beat us up over price and had gotten a reduced fee – which allowed no room for the extra attention to which she was accustomed. We have had numerous occasions to chat with clients as a result of feedback.
After we were up and running for a few months, Ryan and David from DesignFacilitator came to our office for an onsite consultation. We were doing a good job responding to individual survey data. However, they observed that we were not harnessing the power of the reports. Armed with reports consolidating our company data, they demonstrated that we have a great story to tell. Using Advanced Reporting Tools, they had produced a pie chart showing our results by performance category. Fully 77% of the responses showed that we had exceeded expectations or better. Our consultants recommended that we find a way to make this a part of our company narrative. They showed us statistical reports showing averages by question category. We also spent some time analyzing the bar graph report, to isolate particular groups who had unusual aggregate responses. Seeing that one group, for example, always scored “exceptional” in the “scope and fees” category, for example, might be indicative that this department has set its fees too low. We have continued to explore the advanced reporting options available to us. For example, we have made good use of the “Tags” feature. We can limit reports based on project type or company type, but at times a broader criterion is warranted. As Firm Administrator, I have created a few tags on which I can filter my reports.
To use the survey results to tell our story, we enlisted our new Marketing Director and social media guru. Alyah wrote a news piece for our website. Using data from the reports, she created a bar chart to illustrate our results. She sent a “Survey says” Tweet with a link to the story, and promoted it on Facebook. After getting clients’ permission to publish their responses, Alyah plans to include client comments on our web page. We have also begun modifying our printed marketing materials and presentation outlines to incorporate client care as a differentiator.
Our DesignFacilitator consultants had also advised that we promote our survey results within our company. We have posted summaries on the company intranet, and we encourage all staff to use our great feedback to promote Koontz-Bryant. On a large whiteboard in the breakroom, we periodically post a “Client Feedback Quote of the Day” culled from the comments. Praise for employees by name becomes public in a low-tech, high-touch way. This has generated some great whiteboard kudos and prompted some great conversations.
When Ryan and David visited with us, they helped us use the Client Feedback Tool in a fuller technical capacity. More important than that, however, they gave us some sound business and marketing advice. In a business where the things we do can be perceived as commodities, they have helped us to position ourselves as client caretakers.
Posted on October 21st, 2011 View Comments
One of the most common questions asked when we help organizations establish a feedback process is “Who should be asking for feedback?” Somehow, the common perception has become that an independent third-party facilitator soliciting the feedback will produce “more honest” results. Whether an outside consultant performs the surveys, or whether they all come “from the CEO” – this mindset is based on perceptions that differ from what we’ve actually observed within our Client Feedback Tool.
There are many components at play in the dynamics of feedback exchanges, and it’s important to understand what the ramifications are for your feedback process design. We can categorize feedback into three general groups:
- Peer Feedback – this feedback happens between peers working closely together. Typically these will be members of the same team within an organization, however highly integrated project teams (IPD, etc) and very close/long-term clients may fall into this category. Here, feedback is given from one person to another within the context of a safe, environment. Regardless of the feedback, these two people will continue to work together – either by choice or by force – and therefore any disruptions to the relationship are critical to address and fix. You’re “stuck” with each other, so there’s a high incentive to optimize the work processes between you.
- Self Collected Client Feedback – these relationships are a bit more distant than those with your peers, and yet the people actually doing the work with a client are the ones gathering their own feedback. The client has invested time (and money) into the relationship, and may consider you to be “up to speed” with his processes, preferences, and needs. He has great incentive to continue the relationship, but can freely end it if the value proposition moves in the wrong direction.
- 3rd Party Feedback – third party feedback almost always comes from “the boss” of the persons doing the work. While this may mean a principal or executive, often times a hired consultant (hired by “the boss”) is engaged on their behalf to collect feedback. Ultimately, the client perceives the interviewer to be in some way able to affect the destiny of the people being measured.
It’s important to understand these distinctions when designing a feedback process. With this understanding, we can begin looking at the incentive and motivations for the person giving feedback, and from there, begin to understand where they will be “most honest.”
What we’ve found, over seven+ years of research, is that your clients generally like you (and/or your staff). They value working with the people doing their work. If they didn’t, you would have received their feedback by their departure as clients. Since they have trained you/your staff to their ways, there is an investment that, if lost, would be costly to recover. They are typically motivated to maintain continuity in the relationship.
Here’s where we turn common perceptions upside down. Giving feedback to “the boss” doesn’t create more honesty. Instead, since the clients like the people being reviewed, they tend to hide problems, gloss over problems, and heap praises for what’s good. If they didn’t, then perhaps the boss might assign a different resource to them. Even worse – the person they like might get in trouble, or at least in some way penalized, for doing less than a great job. Not wanting to rock the boat, or get their “expert” in trouble (and maybe face retribution?) they provide moderate to positive scores, and rarely identify issues.
The closer the relationship, actually, the more low scores tend to be given. When a project manager gets feedback directly from his client, the client now has real incentive to nit pick, identify little opportunities for improvement, and generally tweak the process to better meet his needs. The client doesn’t fear getting anyone in trouble, and he knows that the right person will get the feedback, interpret it more correctly, and most importantly - take action on it. Where this interaction tends to be challenged is when it’s forced into a face-to-face interaction. Conflict resolution is an acquired skill, and many people are not very skilled at it. Thus, in-person feedback exchanges tend to be lightweight and avoid raising issues. When issues are raised, the person receiving the criticism must also then be skilled at responding well – not getting defensive or creating excuses. Here’s where an electronic system for feedback exchange presents a key advantage – with just enough separation to allow comfortable criticism, the Client Feedback Tool enables discovery of even little nuances in project delivery. With time to process the results before responding, you and your staff can craft an appropriate and measured response that is helpful, constructive, and designed to build better results for everyone.
Peer feedback takes this even further. Being “stuck” with each other, both parties are equally incentivized to create a healthier, more productive working relationship. When these people can share feedback openly and systematically, directly to each other, they build bridges upon which to base strong, lasting collaboration.
But don’t just take my word for it. We have data to prove it!
This data comes from a consistent set of our Client Feedback Tool results. Over nearly 1600 responses are broken into the three groups, from left to right:
- Peer Feedback
- Self Collected Client Feedback
- 3rd Party Collected Client Feedback.
No wonder so many people like third party feedback – it produces the most positive results! And yet, this shows clearly that self-collected feedback increases the usable, critical feedback by over 300%. The top-of-the-chart feedback is also reduced, helping clarify exactly where real value opportunities have been created in a more focused manner. Remember, the goal of feedback isn’t to get the best scores, but to find the best ways to actually get better.
The data shows an even more interesting trend – when electronic surveys are sent to a client by the person doing the work instead of by a third party, five times more free-form comments are added. Again, the more personal relationship invites more candid, open, and strategic responses. A score isn’t enough – the clients go one step further, investing more time in their reply, to really fine-tune the results and drive better performance. Even when they give a high score, corrective actions will be referenced in the comments – so even those who are most fearful of criticizing find a way to have their voice heard. Response rates are also higher with self-collected feedback versus third party (65% / 53% / 47%).
Which brings us back to where we started – what is the incentive for someone to reply to a feedback request? Ultimately, their only motivation is to have you do a better job for them. The more likely they feel the time spent providing feedback will actually help them, the more likely they are to provide honest, genuine, helpful information. The best person to do that, is you – the person doing the work.