Client Feedback Tool
  • Avoid Commoditization – Tell A Story

    Posted on February 24th, 2015 Sally Orcutt No comments
    Avoid Commoditization - Tell A Story

    It’s not what you do – it is the experience you provide.

    When was the last time you attended an industry meeting that did NOT highlight the plight of commoditization?

    Dictionary.com defines the word:  “almost total lack of meaningful differentiation in the goods (or services) provided“.

    So how do you avoid commoditization and differentiate your firm? What can you do to stand out from your peers?

    Beyond all the marketing tricks and branding exercises, real differentiation happens at the experiential level. It’s not what you do for your clients, but rather how you do it.

    We know quality service when we see or feel it. When you share stories about times you received excellent service, do you talk about what they did? Or how it felt? Remembering that excellent hotel stay – you describe it as “inviting” the staff as “friendly” and the bed as “comfortable.” None of these words are objective features – they are subjective experiences you perceived.

    Your clients are people just like you. When they talk about your firm, they are not saying “Wow, ACME Engineering really got the sewer pipes to line up perfectly”. They are saying “Wow, ACME Engineering took really good care of us. They understood why we needed to complete this phase of the project on a fast track and they made it happen. There helped us manage the scope, anticipate challenges, and solve construction problems. They were easy to get hold of and followed up on any questions we had really quickly”.

    There is the ‘meaningful difference’. When you understand the story behind the project, you are more than ‘the firm that put the pipes in the ground’. You are the firm that cared enough to really grasp what was important to your client. You are the firm who took care of them.

    Without understanding the story your clients tell, the project risks becoming internally focused on your goals rather than the client’s goals. With the story, you are a part of the vision, and your client’s goals become your goals. With the story, you are aligned. You are partners.

    Download “The Power of Storytelling for Your Firm”, a 90-minute Webinar from Client Feedback Tool co-founder Ryan Suydam. Ryan outlines the importance of storytelling, methods for gathering stories, tips for using stories internally to improve staff and culture, and best practices for using stories externally in marketing, business development, and project delivery.

     

  • Even Best Friends Need Feedback

    Posted on February 4th, 2015 Ryan Suydam No comments
    Even Best Friends Need Feedback

    I just received a call from one of our Client Feedback Tool users who needed help with a technical issue. While working with him (I’ll call him John), we began discussing a feedback response he just received.

    John’s client responded with all scores in the “Exceptional” range, and a Net Promoter Score of 10 (very likely to recommend him). The client even wrote in a comment: “Working with John is always an outstanding experience!” – What great feedback.

    Buried in all the glitter and gold, I saw something interesting. On one question, regarding managing the project budget, the client responded with an “Acceptable” answer – a full notch down from Met Expectations. As the Client Feedback Tool’s sliding scale prevents any “accidental” scores, the client had clearly dragged the score down. He had something to say.

    When I asked John about his strategy for following-up, I suggested that (as is best practice) he email the client first, inviting the client to a conversation about managing the budget. This heads up allows the client time to formulate thoughts and engage in the conversation. Then, follow-up at the scheduled time via phone or meeting to – as humanly as possible – address the challenges.

    John laughed lightly, and said, “Oh, there’s no problem here – he’s my best friend. I’ll just call him.”

    John has a good attitude here – he likes his client (and his client likes him), so they can openly talk about a challenge and work together on bringing improvement. That’s great.

    But the real lesson here, is that even though they are best friends, and can talk about challenging feedback openly – a simple, electronic feedback system was still instrumental in starting the conversation. As close as they may be, making it the client’s responsibility to introduce a concern puts an unfair burden on the client. Especially when they’re close associates or friends. So many people are timid about introducing criticism, or don’t want to hurt your feelings. Making them go first forces them into an uncomfortable position.

    A simple set of questions, posed between friends, is starting a dialogue that needed to happen.

    The closer your client is, the more I encourage you to experiment with feedback. These are the most valued relationships you have, they are the safest, and with a little discovery and improvement, these clients will grow into even bigger fans and advocates for you and your firm.

  • How Can I Turn my Project Managers Into Business Developers?

    Posted on January 28th, 2015 Ryan Suydam No comments
    How Can I Turn my Project Managers Into Business Developers?

    What an age old question. How do we create an organizational mindset among technical staff to be business developers? How do we support them, and hold them accountable? Tough questions no doubt – but a solution may be easier than you think.

    In a professional SERVICES company, the service you provide – the experience your clients have – is your brand. There is no better marketing and selling activity than taking great care of clients. If you’re like most of the industry, 85% or more of your work is from repeat clients.

    Managing expectations (asking for feedback) is a logical starting point. Anyone can do it (yes, even an engineer!). We started our company out of an architecture firm, and designed our processes and tools specifically for project managers. No one has more influence over client retention than the front-line staff. When project managers ask the right questions, at the right times, and take action on the information – each client feels valued and important.

    More critically, each client will recognize the project manager as his expert. When a client latches onto one of your PM’s as the expert, the client is much more likely to tell others about what a great expert he has. After all, the client helped create that expert by giving feedback. Word gets around, and suddenly people are asking how they can get access to the expert. Your project managers become business developers without even trying.

    Some people are never going to go out and use traditional “sales” techniques to find and develop new relationships. The “become an expert” approach not only makes these often introverted technical people feel great about their work, but it’s a natural way for them to develop existing and new business based on relationship and referrals.

    Consider this scenario:

    One of your strongest project managers has been working with a great client for a couple years. They know each other well, the work is going smoothly, and there’s no sign of trouble. Momentum keeps the relationship going with little investment, and everyone is complacent about the status quo.

    Now, introduce a dose of feedback. With a Client Feedback Tool survey, the project managers asks the client how an active project is progressing. The client responds, and raves about the work. We knew they would – it’s a good relationship. We confirmed our assumptions. But… we now have evidence that we are creating real value.

    As soon as the client responds, the response is sent to the project manager. Based on the positive results, the project manager, who would have no other “reason” to call the client, can do so. He’s following-up to thank the client for the feedback; he acknowledges that he also finds the relationship positive and valuable. And while they’re talking about successes, the project manager naturally asks the question: “Do you know anyone else we could help like this?”

    Seeking out new business opportunities is no longer an awkward call that a project manager dreads.  It’s a natural extension to an easy and positive conversation. And it comes with a built in recommendation!

    The objective of any feedback program, especially one powered primarily through electronic methods, is to initiate conversations with clients. When a client responds, don’t delay – follow-up and keep a conversation going. Celebrate successes or address challenges right away. Use the phone, meetings, and other existing communication tools to do so. When a client doesn’t respond, follow-up! Use that as a great opportunity to check in and verify they got the feedback request, and assure everything is going well.

    For many of us, starting the conversation is the hardest part. And starting conversations is really what business development is.

    How do you make project managers better business developers? Give them an easy process to start the conversations, and the insights they need to do a great job for their clients.

    You’ll have better clients (and more of them), happier project managers, and a better firm because of it.

  • Go/No Go Decisions – what are the best practices?

    Posted on November 4th, 2014 Sally Orcutt No comments
    Go/No Go Decisions - what are the best practices?

     

     

    I participated in a LinkedIn Group conversation recently on best practices for using the Go/No Go process, the question was asked, “How do you go about processing Go/No Go decisions at your company?

    People agreed the single most important consideration is consistency. Beyond that, there was a strong voice for adding objectivity to the process. Every firm has Pete Pessimist and Sue Sunshine working for them. And, while they should be involved in the decision-making process, adding objectivity is important to increase win rates. Three themes emerged from that conversation that I’d like to share.

    Form or Meeting: 

    There were several different opinions on this. Size of firm and size of project seemed to play a role in the decision. For those firms that opted for meetings rather than form completion, they still use a list of questions to ensure decision makers are asking the right questions each time.

    If you use a form, keep it simple. Some firms did some detailed analytics to find the ‘Go’ and ‘No Go’ zone. However asking your team to go through this level of time investment each time will have team members resisting. If your firm does this detail, try and keep it in the background.

    Communication is Key: 

    Go No Go Decision

    Whether you use a form or have a list of questions, let them be dialogue starters not decision makers. Several firms indicated they did not have anyone complete a form. Instead, they use the form as a guide and bring their team together to have a conversation.

    Be intentional about who comes to the Go/No Go meeting. Besides the project champion, include a straight talker who will help bring up hard truths that the group may not want to hear.

    Risk(s) of Inconsistency: 

    Firms that crank out proposals without a consistent Go/No Go process reduce cost-effectiveness of their marketing budget and lower their hit rate. However, a No Go decision today should be revisited. Situations change. But, without consistency in the decision-making process, you risk wasting marketing resources (time and money) on opportunities that were losers before you started.

    Creates a time crunch that may reduce individual quality. If your marketing department feels like a hamster on a wheel, some proposals are likely to be rushed. When that happens the worst case scenario may not be that your firm does not get selected, it may be the impression left by the quality of your submittal.

    Know your Firm

    In the end, all firms operate differently. Some firms feel more comfortable with hard, quantifiable data. Others make strong decisions with anecdotal information. When making the Go/No Go decision on proposals, those engaged in the conversation feel the best practice is probably to include some of both.

  • Do your marketing activities match your plan?

    Posted on August 14th, 2014 Sally Orcutt No comments
    Do your marketing activities match your plan?

    Every firm is unique and has different needs related to marketing processes and measurement. In an ever changing environment, understanding your firm’s current level of sophistication and how to impact continued growth for your firm is a constant need no matter size or complexity. Everyone has to start somewhere. When your team meets to discuss its desire for growth, often the first question is, How can our marketing efforts help us achieve our goals?

    Colorful Scoops of Ice CreamIn a live 90-minute FREE webinar, Sarah Gonnella Client Feedback Tool partner and Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at Full Sail Partners will help us see why this question is actually not the first question to ask. To understand how your existing marketing process can be leveraged to help you achieve your goals, Sarah suggests that the first question is, ‘what specific goals are you trying to accomplish?

    Avoid the time consuming (and costly) effort of trial and error marketing. When you attend the Top 5 Marketing Mistakes AND Steps to Avoid Them, you will learn:

    Effective marketing today is about much more than measuring hit rates. And, regardless of the number of people on your marketing team, the steps Sarah provides will help you close the gap between your existing processes and those that will let you achieve the results you (and your firm) want.

    Webinar will be held Thursday, August 21st from 1:00 – 2:30 (EDT). Space is limited to the first 100 participants. Register today to guarantee your spot.

    Full Sail Partners is a Deltek Premier Partner and 2012 Project Excellence Award Winner specializing in business consulting for project-based professional services firms seeking to use technology to improve business development and project financial management. Sarah is a past president of SMPS Atlanta and is currently serving on SMPS Atlanta’s Executive Advisory Committee and SMPS National’s Business Development Committee. She is a contributor to SMPS’s Marketer and blogger focused on educating firms on CRM best practices, technology trends and processes, and measuring social media and marketing metrics.

  • What is your ‘best project’ story?

    Posted on August 13th, 2014 Darren Smith No comments
    What is your 'best project' story?

    I had been working with the leaders of this firm for several months on the benefits of collaboration on project schedule, budget, and team satisfaction. We had shared ‘best project’ stories and agreed those were the projects where everything went smoothly and all members of the team just seemed to do what needed to be done to create a positive outcome. They wanted to create ‘best project stories’ on all their projects so they asked team members working on one of their large projects this question. 

    “How would you rate the overall collaboration on your team?”

    They found that almost 50% of those responding said the team’s collaboration was about what they expected. It met their expectations. Another roughly 19% exceeded expectations. Good news.

    But the leaders focused in on the top 27%. They wanted to understand what about the experience for these individuals had them rate the team’s collaboration as “Exceptional” or “Excellent”? For these team members, this was one of the ‘best project stories’. The leaders wanted to understand the behavior, quantify it (if possible), and spread it around like peanut butter to the other members of their project teams.Collaboration

    I worked with the leaders to dig deeper. They spoke with team members to better understand what, for them, made the project feel more collaborative than they expected. When we pulled together the information, we recognized the team had set up Rules of Engagement. Of course, they didn’t use that label, but their discussions and actions had the same impact. They managed their team interactions effectively and efficiently and created a positive experience for the team overall.

    So what did they do, and how can you (and they) spread these behaviors around?

    Rules of Engagement are the operational and relational rules that create ‘best project’ stories. Although oversimplified, the difference between the two are that operational rules provide team accountability and relational rules provide team strength.

    Behind operational rules is the idea that for a project to run smoothly rules must be established? How will communication be handled, deadlines be met, and deliverables reviewed. What are the rewards for the individual of adhering to those rules? What are the consequences if they do not? Think about a project that ran over budget (or schedule), did it have operational rules in place? Was there a breakdown in any of the rules? Were there consequences to the individual(s) involved?

    Relational rules serve a different purpose. Getting the relational rules right means identifying the skills and talents needed to make your project run smoothly (and profitably)? Then, take that knowledge and put together the strongest possible team of individuals you can. And, for those of you with multiple office locations, don’t forget that the skills and talents you need may not be sitting right in front of you. Be sure the person’s role on the team will allow them to use their talents. If your project is complex, it is not only a good idea to have someone whose talents include organization on the team, they must serve in a role where they can bring that expertise to the project.

    Learn more about using Rules of Engagement on your next project. Click here to download a 50-minute webinar that will increase the likelihood that all of your projects will run smoothly (and more profitably).

    Darren Smith (founder and CEO of CIMA Strategic) is a collaboration subject matter expert. He helps successful executives in design, construction, and healthcare elevate their leadership and energize their strategy & business development implementation through collaboration. Darren has conducted business in 20 countries across 10 industries. His clients include HKS Architects, The Society of Petroleum Engineers, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and Toyota. 

  • Your Biggest Blind Spot

    Posted on August 6th, 2014 Sally Orcutt No comments
    Your Biggest Blind Spot

     

    Every time Mike Phillips or Ryan Suydam (co-founders of Client Feedback Tool) speak they share with their audience the importance of asking clients for feedback throughout a project. If you’ve heard them, you know what I’m going to say next. “When you wait until the end of a project to ask your client for their feedback. It’s nothing more than an autopsy!” They’re right. What can you do at that point to impact the client’s experience on ‘that’ project?

    In Your Biggest Blind Spot, Rich Friedman, founder of Friedman & Partners (and Client Feedback Tool partner) shares a story he and Ryan discussed in which Ryan was the client. You guessed it, there were challenges in the service delivery. But, as Ryan was quick to share, the company providing us the service had a feedback strategy and did almost everything right. Unfortunately with everything they did right, all the General Manager could say was “I’m sorry your project didn’t turn out as you expected.”

    Download your copy of ‘Your Biggest Blind Spot’. Read the rest of the story and see the 5 ways to test your client feedback strategy to see if it is driving the value you want.

    Please share your comments related to feedback strategies you’ve seen that have worked (or not). We would appreciate hearing from you.

     

     

  • John Doehring shares ‘Ten Top Tips’ in Free Webinar

    Posted on July 23rd, 2014 Sally Orcutt No comments
    John Doehring shares 'Ten Top Tips' in Free Webinar

     

    Dad was right.

    My dad used to say “It doesn’t matter what you know if you can’t communicate it effectively.” My dad was born and raised in England. I still remember the way he used to cringe when he would hear us ‘butcher’ the English language.

    According to a 2008 NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) poll, companies rate the ability to communicate effectively above work ethic and teamwork when asked what skills they looked for in employees.

    Typically managers spend 75% to 80% of their time engaged in written or oral communication. Think about it, email, team meetings, client meetings (and calls), proposals, reports – these are but a few examples of the ways managers communicate each day.

    Tom Northrup, Management Consultant and author of “Five Hidden Mistakes CEOs Make” says that excellent communication skills create a more productive work environment while poor skills lessen productivity.

    We’ve collaborated with John Doehring to bring you “Ten Top Tips of Totally Terrific Communicators“. His 90-minute webinar brings a fresh and candid perspective on how members of your team can effectively and consistently enhance both internal and external communication. Those attending will learn how strong communication leads to:

    • Increased team motivation and commitment
    • Ability to build your firm’s reputation and increase sales
    • Stronger time management and organization
    • Greater client loyalty through understanding preferences

    REGISTER today (live webinar is this Thursday, July 24th (11 am CST, noon EST, and 9 am PST). Hear practical, actionable ideas and methods for increasing the communication skills on your team.

    Space is limited. (Note: You will receive a login confirmation reserving your space.)

    John Doehring is an industry expert and a nationally recognized speaker. His programs include keynote and focus sessions at regional and national conventions such as ACEC, AIA, NSPE, SAME, SMPS, and SEA. Attendees at his sessions consistently identify his ability to provide action items that can be implemented immediately as a core strength of his message.  

  • I’m Losing Clients and I Don’t Know Why

    Posted on May 27th, 2014 Sally Orcutt No comments

    We’re really pleased to have guest columnist Shari Harley share her insights on creating candid relationships with your clients. Shari is the author of How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide for Building Business Relationships that Really Work and is founder and president of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace.

    We’ve all had clients we thought were satisfied, and yet the next month, they’re off our books and we don’t know why. Your clients are under no obligation to tell you why they replaced you. In fact, without establishing the expectations for genuine communication at the outset, it’s easier for clients to disappear than to tell you what they don’t like about your services.

    It’s fine to get fired by a client. You might even make more money, with fewer headaches, if certain clients would take their business elsewhere. But it’s not fine, nor is it necessary, to be surprised by defections. Almost every defection is predictable and preventable when you have candid relationships with all of your clients.

    How can you develop client relationships so that clients will tell you the truth when they’re dissatisfied and give you a chance to retain their business? Here are a few suggestions from my new book, How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work.

    When kicking off new client relationships, tell your clients what to expect. Say, “We’re excited to be working with you. If we work together long enough, we’re going to make mistakes. We’d like the kind of relationship where you can tell us what is and isn’t working. Please know that we appreciate your feedback, and we’ll say ‘thank you.'”

    When is the last time one of your vendors admitted they’re human, told you up front that they know they’ll make mistakes, genuinely wanted your feedback, and promised not to get defensive when they got it? This kind of open dialogue will make your firm stand out and differentiate you from other equally technically qualified firms.

    The next step in the relationship-building process is to ask your clients questions that your competitors aren’t asking. The conversation might sound something like, “I want to be sure we’re meeting your needs and don’t want to have to guess what’s important to you. Can I ask you a couple of questions?”

    Here are a few questions I suggest asking:

    1. Who else did you consider hiring?
    2. Why did you hire us instead?
    3. How will you know we’re doing a good job? What does success look like?
    4. What are your pet peeves? What could we do that would annoy you?
    5. How often do you want to meet, and what should we discuss during our meetings?
    6. Are you a big-picture person or more detail-oriented?
    7. Do you want to meet in person or over the phone?
    8. How do you like to receive information? Printed, voicemail, email, or via text message?

    You can learn much of the aforementioned information over time by observing your clients’ behavior. But why wait? By the time you’ve observed clients’ preferences, chances are you’ve made mistakes that they aren’t likely to tell you about.

    Asking these questions is not a one-time event. Tell your clients, “I’m going to check in with you several times a year. Know that I genuinely want your honest feedback. We can’t fix problems that we don’t know exist.”

    Then you actually have to ask. Telling a client you’re going to ask for feedback and then not doing so is worse than saying nothing at all. Also, please don’t ask, “How are things going?” “How is it going” is a greeting, not a question. It’s vague. And if you ask a vague question, you’ll get a vague answer.

    Ask specific questions quarterly. Remind your clients that you really want their feedback. Promise them you’ll say “thank you.” If you become defensive – which is a very human and normal thing to do – apologize and do better next time. Every time you make it difficult to tell you the truth, you train people to replace you instead of giving you a chance to retain their business.

    When a senior leader humbles himself and connects directly with clients, this is perceived as a great value by the client. In my experience, clients will tell you the truth when you ask and make it clear that you really want to hear the answers.

    Asking for specific feedback and saying thank you is a true differentiator for your firm. And in my experience, few, if any, business owners are doing it. Not only will you establish stronger relationships with your clients by making it safe to tell you the truth, you’ll set yourself apart from your competitors.

    This guest column previously appeared in The Friedman Files in December 2013. Our thanks to Rich Friedman, Client Feedback Tool partner and President of Friedman & Partners and Shari Harley, president of Candid Culture, for sharing this with us. Client Feedback Tool is a recognized expert in the feedback business, particular for the A/E/C industry. Founded as an extension of an architectural firm, we remain committed to providing useful information to help firms build client loyalty.

    Want additional information on setting up a client feedback program:

    • Register for Complimentary PSMJ/Deltek/CFT Webinar featuring Collins & Burns and McDonnell – June 5 at 1:30 EST
    • Visit our website: www.clientfeedbacktool.com
    • Email: answers@clientfeedbacktool.com
    • Contact us toll free: 1-866-433-7322
  • Uncover what’s hidden (and other tips to increase your firm’s value)

    Posted on April 30th, 2014 Ryan Suydam No comments
    Uncover what's hidden (and other tips to increase your firm's value)

    Increase your Client’s Perception of your value

    You win a project and sit down at the kickoff meeting with your client. You discuss meeting frequency, deliverables, schedule and expectations. Everybody is positive and excited. Your client is convinced they hired the right firm for this project and everybody believes the project will be a success.

    Fast forward several months. You have finished the project and are asking your client to let you know how things went. You are surprised to see that a member of their team gave you a ‘did not meet expectations’ rating on schedule. Sure, there was one set of deliverables that were a week later than originally planned but you and the client’s project manager had discussed this and understood the delays were really due to workload on their side.

    What do you do now? You could go back and explain that the delay was really on their end but that doesn’t seem like such a terrific idea. The reality is, this project is complete and the client’s perception (at least for one individual) is that your firm missed a deadline. It is not possible to go back and undo or adjust this perception.

    Client Feedback Tool recommends that, as a best practice, you measure client expectations throughout a project. Only by capturing client perceptions early can you actively manage those perceptions and change outcomes to everyone’s advantage. Following are 5 advantages of this approach:

    Uncover the hidden. In spite of your best efforts, your client made some assumptions when you began the project that they likely did not share with you. They know what is most valuable to them and just assume you do as well. Measuring client expectations regularly lets you uncover those hidden assumptions, respond to them, and become their expert.

    What’s measured improves. You measure profitability, utilization rates, backlog, etc. Simply by measuring your client’s perceptions throughout the project, you will find their perceptions will improve because your performance will improve. Automatically.

    Builds client-centric culture. Staff know that your firm measures the metrics that are really important. Using an ongoing feedback process to measure client perceptions puts increased focus on client interactions. Staff will have their antennae up, looking for the unusual, and will typically reach out to clients even before you ask for feedback.

    Earlier problem identification. When a problem does arise on a project, the fact that you asked while there was still time to make a course correction decreases future problems and increases your value to the client. In fact, our research has proven that when you ask for feedback and follow up, problems are reduced by 83%.

    Increases staff satisfaction and retention. Most feedback is positive and encouraging. Your clients will demonstrate their appreciation and give you the opportunity to recognize your staff for the good work they do. Research shows that one of key drivers for staff retention is acknowledgment of the individual’s value and contributions. Letting your clients praise your key employees creates a win-win for everyone.

    Want to learn more about asking your clients for feedback, scheduling an online Demo by calling us at 1-866-433-7322 or visiting our website at www.clientfeedbacktool.com.