Client Feedback Tool
  • Using Project Feedback to Increase Profitability

    Posted on October 9th, 2013 Ryan Suydam No comments

    Achieving consistent project profitability while maintaining strong client relationships is at the top of most firms’ goals and objectives. And, while there are certainly a number of variables that must be integrated to make this happen, asking your clients for feedback during the project plays a valuable role. I’ve identified two scenarios that are common in the A/E industry. Incorporating feedback into your project management process has been demonstrated to have a positive impact on both.financial growth

    Reduce (or eliminate) Re-work

    Streamlining the project delivery process is essential to creating project efficiencies that lead to increased profit on your job. But there are pitfalls to this approach unless you are getting regular project feedback from your clients. Let’s look at a scenario:

    You have done projects for one of your best clients for more than 10 years. You have developed a delivery process that seems to be working for them and it eliminates the need for your team to reinvent the wheel each time. Enter the new client project manager. This individual has their own set of expectations regarding how this project will proceed. And, although you all believe you were aligned when you left the kick-off meeting, suddenly there are 10 pages of comments to your first major submittal. They don’t like the format, they feel you have left out critical information, and generally they are looking for you to fix the problem which will require some significant re-work on your team’s part.

    How could project feedback have avoided this outcome? Firms that have integrated gathering feedback into their project management process understand the importance of requesting feedback after each milestone meeting or deliverable. In this scenario, a feedback request would have been sent after the initial meeting perhaps after the submission of the meeting minutes. This would give the project manager the opportunity to uncover gaps in expectations with this new project manager. Before his team began to move forward on the project, these gaps can be closed. In this scenario this would have meant deviating from the streamlined process at least a little, but that knowledge and flexibility would save many hours of re-work that kills a project budget.

    Avoid Scope Creep

    Scope creep is something most A/E firms understand all too well. You know what is needed to complete the project but the client is extremely cost conscious and asks you to remove several items to lower your fee. Depending upon the experience of the project manager involved, they may be able to complete the project to the client’s satisfaction. However, doing so will quite likely result in a lower profitability for your project. Let’s look at a scenario:

    You have been asked to design a renovation for a commercial building for a new client. This type of work is your specialty. You know all of the elements that will be needed to meet your client’s expectations for a successful project. However, when the client asks you to remove about 5% – 10% of the scope so that your fee will fit into their budget, you agree because this is a client that you really want to work with and your staff is a little light on work at the moment as well. As the project progresses, you run into problems because of the scope you removed and the client ‘forgets’ they asked you to remove these items and asks you to do what is needed to complete the project. Rather than ask your client for an increase in fee, you just finish the project with the fee you have been given. This involves both you and your team working extra hours and your profit still takes a hit.

    How could project feedback have avoided this outcome? Because this is a new client let’s assume that the opportunities to use feedback to avoid the fee reduction in the first place are limited. Requesting feedback from your client throughout the lifecycle of the project however, can play a significant role when the scope items you removed come back into play. Each time you send a feedback request to this client you are giving them the opportunity to let you know how well you efforts are matching their expectations. You are building the relationship with them that lets them know that you value your relationship with them and it is your goal to ensure the project outcome meets or exceeds their expectations. When the moment comes that the scope items you agreed to remove become essential to the project, this relationship will make the conversation to request additional fees more comfortable for both of you.

    Do either of these scenarios sound familiar to you? Visit our website or email us at answers@clientfeedbacktool.com to discuss how project feedback might increase your profitability metrics.

  • “I just love working with you…” Really?

    Posted on September 16th, 2013 Ryan Suydam No comments

    Your firm is committed to using client evaluation surveys to ensure project success. So what do you do when your client gives you all high marks and you just know it isn’t true?

    Recently one of our clients shared a story with me in which she was faced with this situation. Megan had been working on a project for Dee for several months. During this time there were a lot of times – certainly more than typical – when Dee came back with comments like, ‘well, that is fine but…’ Megan continued to feel that as hard as she tried to meet Dee’s expectations, there was something that was just not adding up.

    For a number of years, Megan’s firm had elected to use client evaluation surveys. As a result, and because Megan really wanted to create a successful project for Dee, she decided to send her a survey. The survey asked Dee to consider specific points in the project process. It gave her a chance to share her thoughts on how things were going. The goal of the survey was to hear what Dee felt was important and to allow Megan to uncover what processes Dee felt were working well and which ones might be adjusted to work a little more smoothly.

    Much to her surprise, the survey came back with all top scores and the comment, “I just love working with Megan!” Holding Blank Score Cards

    Since her purpose was not to receive accolades but to serve her client more successfully, Megan set up a meeting with Dee to discuss the feedback results. She told her she really appreciated her taking the time to complete the client evaluation survey but she was a little concerned with the high scores. She told Dee, “I really enjoy working with you as well but I just feel that there is some way in which I could be serving you better.” Dee told her that she gave her the high marks because she knew other people would be looking at the scores. She said she really did like working with Megan and didn’t want her to get into any trouble.

    Megan thanked Dee and told her she really appreciated her thinking of her. She was quick to add, however, that she (and her firm) actually appreciate knowing what their clients are thinking even if the survey comes back saying that the client is not completely happy with something. She pointed out that the reason her firm uses client evaluation surveys is because they are committed to providing their clients with the best possible experience.

    So how does the story end? Megan and Dee had an excellent conversation. They talked about the processes Megan was using on the project and agreed on a few minor adjustments that Dee felt would really work a little better for her. In the end, the client evaluation survey actually worked just as intended. It opened the door to an excellent conversation.

    Check out more about the benefits of asking your clients how you can serve them even better.

  • Haters Gonna Hate (Yeah, We All Have Those Clients)

    Posted on September 5th, 2013 Ryan Suydam No comments

    A great article in the Washington Post points to research that validates this internet axiom – Haters are Gonna Hate.

    Now, scientists have taken it upon themselves to figure out whether this is true. Do verified haters tend to hate everything else they stumble upon? Yes, according to a new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. People who tend to hate things they already know about are (surprise!) more disposed to hate things they have not yet come in contact with.

    Read on, and you’ll find that the branded “haters” seem to be pre-disposed to negative opinions in general. I talk often about “those crazy clients” because – be honest – we all have them. Our feedback research suggests about 2-3 percent of your clients just cannot be pleased, no matter what you do.

    Knowing you have a hater as a client certainly helps matters and lets you adjust course to manage them. But, is there a way to figure out if your client is going to be a challenge for you all the time?

    How many of your hardest clients take valuable time and profit out of your organization – not to mention burning out your best employees along the way?

    What if we applied this research in the business development cycle? When you go to be interviewed by the client, take time to ask questions of your own. Target some towards relevant topics (“what have other firms like us done well for you in the past?”) but be sure to include other, more conversational questions. Not only do these questions promote a personal connection and humanize you and your firm – but look for trends in their answers. Is the client consistently negative across a broad range of topics and interests? Perhaps he’ll carry that same negativity into your relationship.

    If you run into a potential “hater” – consider specifically asking for feedback after the interview. Aside from cluing you in to the client’s disposition and temperament, it may help you win the award.

    So if you think you have a hater? Add 20% to your proposal. Don’t be afraid to lose the work. Let your competition get burned out by a demanding client, lose money, and wonder why your firm has better margins and happier employees. And if you win? At least there’s a great margin to make the pain worthwhile. Then, spend extra time creating a tremendous client experience, wow him with your awesome service, and turn his frown upside down.

  • An inside look at the numbers – reducing client problems by 83%

    Posted on August 28th, 2013 Sally Orcutt No comments

    How do you measure the results collecting feedback has on your business?  We continue to hear from our clients how using our feedback process has had terrific (and sometimes unexpected) results. Anecdotally, they have shared stories about the client who said they were really pleased with their service but would rather have a phone call than emailed meeting minutes. Then there was the client who said he really didn’t want to have to go back to his boss to ask for additional fees so would they please just include in the contract ‘whatever’ they thought it would take to get the job done!

    You might say that these don’t really seem like problems – just preferences. Exactly. However, left undiscovered, each of these clients may over time feel a little less satisfied with the relationship. These clients may not have told you that these are their preferences but according to a recent ACEC poll, they often feel as though you should ‘just know’.

    Well as much as we love hearing these stories (please keep them coming) we wanted to quantify these results for our clients. We decided to dig a bit deeper and let the actual clients surveyed tell the story, from their perspective.

    We analyzed all the feedback collected over a two year period. 24% of all replies included a score below “Met Expectations.” We then selected just the cases where someone who gave a low score at least once later responded to another survey from the same person.

    We found 1,121 vendor-client relationships that had feedback collected a second time after a low score was given.

    In these relationships, the occurrence of scores below “Met Expectations” went DOWN by over 83%. In essence, those who collected feedback and got a low score were able to adjust and demonstrably improve their service to those clients.

    Would you like to eliminate 83% of your client problems?

    In addition to an overall lower rate of low scores, the overall average scores went up noticeably as well.  If we draw a line for all feedback collected before the low score occurred, and compare it to all feedback collected after, we see the ratings move from just barely meeting expectations to consistently exceeding expectations.

    When you can exceed your client’s expectations, you will keep them around – building loyalty and maximizing the value of your relationship.

    If you aren’t already asking, don’t assume your clients are telling you everything.  When you ask for feedback, you will discover opportunities to improve.  Even better, once you discover a problem, the data shows you can fix it.

    Learn more by visiting our website or contact us at:

    answers@clientfeedbacktool.com   or   866-433-7322

  • I Love Great Clients

    Posted on August 23rd, 2013 Ryan Suydam No comments
    I Love Great Clients

    I just spent an hour and twenty minutes on a last-minute virtual meeting with a client. I wasn’t supposed to be in the office today, and only came in to catch up on a million things I haven’t had time for lately (like the massive expense report accounting is hounding me for). Honestly, though I do love this client, when the call came through all I could think about was what I had to get done today.

    But you know, the thing is, great clients have a way of making interruptions worthwhile. Today was a perfect example. Our time on the phone was both fun and thought provoking. She asked dozens of great questions and together we brainstormed seven wonderful ideas for new features that will make the Client Feedback Tool so much better. To be honest, I walked away with more value than I think I gave. I discovered this client is analyzing her firm’s feedback in ways I’ve never seen any firm analyze. And I realized that the consulting, advice, and strategy I offer to my other clients just got deeper, stronger, and…more strategic.

    But there’s more. I had a conversation with this client about two weeks ago that was more of a crisis intervention due to some very challenging feedback we received. We had let them down in delivery of a long-overdue scope item. (Yes, we’re human too – we just make sure to get feedback and tackle the problems head-on).

    As I write this after our conversation, I’m grasping to put my thoughts into words – but there’s a truth here that goes deep to my core. Today’s phone call is what we’re really all about and why we feel so passionately about what we do. Two weeks ago we dropped the ball with this client. However, because we have been soliciting feedback from them on an ongoing basis, they felt comfortable telling us they were disappointed. For our part, we stayed focused on how we could help, responded rationally and in a solutions-driven way, and kept the relationship in good health. This kept the lines of communication open for today’s great conversation where the client could ask me for help (she wants new features to enable new analysis).

    These are the kinds of clients I love. We can get down in the trenches together. Fix problems together. Create great new things together. Make each other better. And have a darn good time doing it, even if it sometimes throws off my to-do list. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my morning.

    Do you have any clients you love? Let me hear your stories in the comments!

    P.S. – if you’re reading this, dear client, thanks for being a great one.

  • 3 Ways Client Surveys Build Stronger Relationships

    Posted on August 12th, 2013 Ryan Suydam No comments
    3 Ways Client Surveys Build Stronger Relationships

    Each of your clients, like you, are individuals that have a unique definition for what a positive client service experience means to them. We can no longer treat everyone the same way – it just doesn’t work!  Sending client surveys Blog-Post-graphicgives your firm the opportunity to ask clients what that terrific experience looks like to them – each of them. It also gives you the chance to show that your firm is serious about their satisfaction and to build stronger relationships. As a result of the thousands of survey results and comments we’ve seen, we wanted to share with you the top 3 reasons clients want you to send them a client survey.

    1. Ease or Dis-ease: Your clients want to be at ease in their relationship with you. They hired your firm in the first place because they believed you could provide them with a service they needed. So what happens when something is not exactly right? We all know that tension we feel when one of our relationships is not flowing smoothly. Your clients feel the same way. When you send them a client survey and give them the chance to let you know their preferences, it creates a greater sense of ease for them because you gave them a voice.
    2. Build Trust: Trust is a funny thing, it takes time to build and usually involves both positive (and negative) interactions. We all want to be seen as ‘an expert’ for our clients and sometimes may think this means there are never any miss-steps or misunderstandings. Clients understand that nobody is perfect – what they are looking for is corrective action when something has not gone as expected. The interactions you have with your clients often have consequences you may not even be aware exist. Your efforts impact a client’s reputation with their team, their boss, maybe even their clients. When you send a client survey and follow up in a timely manner, your clients grow in their trust that you will handle situations in a positive, professional manner.
    3. Creates Affirmation: Everybody wants to be appreciated and acknowledged. In fact it is such a basic human need, that we hear and read about client appreciation and satisfaction in a great many marketing materials. The reality is however, that more times than not, these are empty words and there are no actions behind the words.  When you send a client survey and follow up, your actions, not just your words, tell your client that you value them, their input, and their satisfaction. That is a very powerful message.

     

  • SMPS Build Business 2013 Recap

    Posted on August 8th, 2013 Ryan Suydam No comments
    SMPS Build Business 2013 Recap

    SMPS Build Business is always a fun event and last week’s annual gathering of marketers from the AEC industry was no exception. Hundreds of creative minds converged at Disney’s Swan and Dolphin in Orlando to share ideas, promote best practices, be inspired by some great speakers, and provide peer support to each other.

    Keynote speaker Dan Clark had a crowd of hundreds bounding between laughter and tears, as he encouraged everyone to stretch themselves and be their best right now and every moment. Dan reminded us to always carry with us our education, our character, our convictions, and our legacy.

    The annual SMPS Gala and Awards Ceremony provided a night of fun celebrating the achievements of members and affiliated companies, while also honoring key movers who moved on this year. I personally enjoyed seeing so many firms recognized for excellence in their craft.

    I had an opportunity to present a breakout session The Power of Feedback: Quality Driven Relationships to a nearly full room. The crowd was engaging and shared stories from their own experiences. Many were surprised how few professional services firms have a formal client feedback program (5%), and based on the hands raised in the room, those numbers were close to what our own group experienced.

    We left the room with a clearer understanding of the higher call we each have to not only practice our craft, but to do so in a way that is sensitive to each client’s unique needs and expectations. Creating exceptional client experiences is a key part of Dreaming Big – the overall theme of the conference.

    We also had a presence in the exhibition hall, and based on the buzz I can humbly (with pride?) say that we stole the show. One of our staffers created an amazing exhibit – the crazy big orange barrel monster pictured here.

    Towering Over the Exhibit Hall - The Responsinator

    Towering Over the Exhibit Hall – The Responsinator

    Rather than contriving a name for the beast, we had a naming contest. Of course, a conference full of professional marketers came up with a fantastic list, and choosing a winner proved difficult.

    Greg Dimech from Faithful+Gould came up with the winning name: “The Responsinator!” However, a late entry  by Jeff Kale from Ulteig would have challenged Greg. Jeff’s near-winning suggestion: “Coneman the Barrelbarian.” I knew the SMPS crowd would come up with better ideas than we ever could.

    Other entries included Highway Harry, Road Rage Randy, Conely, Ernie, Spike the Barrel, Felix Feeder, Minion!, Rodolpho (one of us loved that one), Stax, Big O’ Barrel Bob, Crunchy, Fred (a jab at Fred Redding – our Director of Business Development?), and Terrance. Have a favorite or an idea of your own? Post in the comments below.

    As always, Build Business was a great opportunity to connect with peers, network, discover new business opportunities, and have a lot of fun. For those who have never been, I hope you’ll sign up for the 2014 conference so we can meet next year in San Antonio!

     

  • Scores Don’t Matter!

    Posted on July 18th, 2013 Ryan Suydam No comments
    Scores Don't Matter!

    I just received an email from a vendor, after placing a large and complex order for software. This was a highly relational, professional service transaction, with an organization I’ve done business with for a decade. They know us, we know them, and we know they are the best at what they do.

    Here’s the email that I just received from the vendor:

     

    You may have seen these in the past, but I wanted to let you know that you may soon receive an email to participate in a customer satisfaction survey.  This is evaluating us as your solutions provider, and not evaluating the software manufacturer.

     

    There is a list of 5 or so questions, but the one I am personally evaluated on is the following: “How likely would you be to recommend your reseller to friends and colleagues as a provider of products and related services?”

     

    Anything below a 9 is considered unacceptable on my part.  I know I’ve just started working with you since I’m taking over for your previous representative, but please let me know if there is an area that I could improve if you are not able to score a “9” or better on that question.

    I’d argue that this is a perfect example of why feedback scores DON’T MATTER.

    I’m often amazed at how many times a service provider asks me to give him all top scores, threatening that otherwise he is personally damaged. I feel manipulated – as if my candid feedback won’t fix any problems I have – but instead get someone in trouble. And if I get him in trouble, how likely is he going to want to help me fix the problem?

    Now I’m stuck! I can’t use the feedback system to fix any problems, but I don’t want the vendor to be complacent about issues.

    The problem isn’t the guy who sent me the email – he’s just trying to do the best job he can. The real problem lies with the leadership who set up a punitive performance management system based on feedback scores.

    The scores don’t matter!

    If you establish a system where feedback scores directly affect compensation, advancement, reviews, or other employee outcomes, your employees will (on purpose or not) manipulate the system to get good scores. Whether they tell clients “anything less than an A is failing” or whether they simply don’t ask for feedback when they need it most – your staff will resist – and often reject the system.

    Let’s focus back on what feedback is really about – the CLIENT. Feedback always tells you more about the client, his expectations, and what’s going from his perspective. Feedback is designed, from the outset, to create a better project outcome for the client. The overriding purpose of the data is to enable your firm to take action and drive up client satisfaction. When the scores become about something else (employee performance reviews) the focus of the feedback is removed from the client, and directed somewhere else. Notice in the email I received – the feedback isn’t really about helping me – it’s about not hurting my representative.

    This is not to imply that your staff are not accountable for their feedback! But rather than focus on their scores, set your focus on metrics that actually drive the outcomes you want: better client service and satisfaction.

    The most important metric to track is your staff’s follow-up to feedback. Any exceptionally high scores should generate a conversation. Use them to identify what worked well and establish best practices for that client and elsewhere in your firm. Low scores need a prompt response to identify process improvements that prevent future problems. Make sure your staff follows up, documents the outcome and shares the results with others in the firm. It matters.

    You can also track other metrics – how much feedback someone asks for; their response rate; rate of repeat problems. All are “safe” metrics to track without marginalizing a project manager or encouraging him to game the system.

    Have any of you encountered manipulative feedback before? Are you currently using metrics internally that are having the wrong effect? Have you found any client satisfaction metrics that work really well? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

  • A Fresh Perspective on Performance and Evaluation

    Posted on July 8th, 2013 Ryan Suydam No comments

    Scores held in the air - imageMany of us are familiar with the idea of measurement improving outcome. Whether it’s Karl Pearson’s Law: “That which is measured improves” or the concept of losing weight by counting calories, we understand that measuring results is crucial to understanding how to improve results.

    But it’s not just the act of measuring – it’s measuring the RIGHT things and then utilizing what was learned from the results. When trying to improve the performance and evaluation of your team or team members, what should be measured (and how) become critical questions.

    Professional services organizations are beginning to follow the lead of other industries and explore areas such as Voice of the Customer (VOC), Client Experience Management (CEM), and Enterprise Feedback Management (EFM). And while 86% of organizations across all industries employ some form of customer/client feedback as part of their performance and evaluation strategy, only 5% of professional services firms do so.

    If you are planning to implement a feedback process, consider these three key steps to creating an effective performance and evaluation strategy powered by client feedback.

    1. Any measurement strategy should promote desired employee performance. Therefore, it’s important to measure things employees can control or greatly influence. If employees feel they are being held accountable for measurements beyond their sphere of control, they may reject the system, game the system, or lose hope. So when capturing client-centered metrics like feedback, don’t focus on the scores provided by clients. If you focus on feedback scores, rather than what employees do with scores, they may avoid feedback in the most critical situations. Instead, measure, monitor, and promote the successes of those who gather the most feedback, maintain the highest response rates, and follow-up most effectively to challenging feedback.
    2. Craft questions that measure improvable actions. Keep personalities out of your surveys. People don’t change quickly or easily. When faced with personal criticism, most people will reject the information. Instead, focus on the processes and practices of delivering the service. Processes are more easily documented, adjusted, and customized to a client.
    3. Measure early, measure often. Monitoring client expectations-the real source of success as a professional service organization-is just as critical as managing your income statement and balance sheet. You look at your financial reports every month, and carefully track progress over time – but when was the last time you looked at metrics from your clients’ perspective? How well are you doing for them? To maximize performance with clients, feedback cannot be a once a year (or once every five years) activity. Track constantly, during projects, when you have time to create better outcomes for your clients.

    The most important way to measure staff performance in a professional service firm is from the clients’ perspective. It’s really the client’s perception of reality that matters most. To summarize, to best measure performance and evaluate it from the client’s perspective:  make it easy and comfortable for the client to offer their feedback, have questions focus how well the process worked for them, and ask them often throughout a project, not just at the end.

    Measuring the right things the right ways ensures success in your performance and evaluation strategy. The science of measuring customer loyalty and behavior drives long term growth, committed customers, and a strong referrals.

  • Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That!

    Posted on June 28th, 2013 Ryan Suydam No comments
    Ain't Nobody Got Time For That!

    I don’t have time for feedback – I’m too busy to deal with more problems!

    First – you’re never too busy to find a problem early and head it off before it becomes a real headache. According to the critically acclaimed book Crucial Conversations (Patterson, Grenny, McMillian, and Switzler), each pro-actively discovered issue that leads to a necessary conversation saves one workday and $1,500. There’s always time to save time and money.

    Rather than being too busy to deal with feedback, most often people are simply concerned about what problems they may find, and uncertainty often leads to anxiety that can discourage asking for the feedback.

    Don’t fret! Good news is found in the results. We have facilitated tens of thousands of client relationship surveys, and discovered there’s really very little reason to worry.

    Let’s assume you send 100 surveys to clients. Overall, we’re seeing a 53% response rate, so you can expect about 53 replies. Of those, only 4% include low scores requiring a crucial conversation. That means of the 100 surveys sent, only two will likely need follow-up requiring more than a few minutes. Half of those conversations are with highly satisfied clients that simply want a small tweak to the process – they’re easy to work with and don’t take much time.

    What you’re left with, then, is one client for every one hundred surveys that may need some hand-holding and process improvement strategies applied. This is the conversation that, if missed, will cost you a day of work and $1,500 of wasted effort. The real problem is that these missed conversations lead to surprise problems that can come at the worst time. Who wouldn’t want to head these off early when you can invest an hour or two of management and avoid the chaos later?

    On the other end of the spectrum, of those 53 replies, 22% include some stellar scores and acknowledgement of what worked especially well. These innovations often highlight efficiencies that will allow you to save time while delivering a higher-value service. That’s a dozen chances to save time, or have short conversations with clients that drive real value.

    To send and manage one hundred surveys will take no more than eight hours of resource time. Each survey takes about two minutes to craft and send. Each reply requires only a few minutes to read and review. A few may require a short follow-up conversation to discuss the successes. One will likely take a ten minute conversation to optimize an otherwise good process. One may take an hour or two of work heading off a developing problem.

    That’s less time that you typically spend in one year walking to the printer and back! Taking care of clients is also a billable activity – this isn’t overhead and won’t hurt your utilization rates. This small investment of (billable!) time produces great results for both you and your clients – on the project right now, and for the relationship’s health years into the future.