Posted on November 5th, 2010 View Comments
It’s not enough to talk about feedback. You need a plan.
Feedback is perhaps the simplest, most effective way to dramatically enhance the quality of your firm’s projects and client relationships. But “doing feedback” seems to be so hard to make happen.
Mel Lester, at The Business Edge, blogged about the “Knowing-Doing” gap over at his excellent E-Quip blog. Take the 5 minutes to read that post, then come back to join us.
Mel pinpoints several reasons why firms fail to affect change in their organizations, and actually improve strategic areas (like client relationships). Knowing that feedback is important isn’t enough. You have to make doing feedback something everyone in your firm does.
A simple and powerful tool like our Client Feedback Tool provides an easy way to track feedback, measure results, and make sure feedback is happening. But having a tool and keeping it in the toolbox doesn’t help. Possessing a wrench doesn’t make you a mechanic. Fixing a car does.
Fortunately, doing feedback doesn’t have to be as hard as rebuilding an engine. The Client Feedback Tool allows anyone to get feedback, from anyone, any time. Focus first on creating a positive feedback environment, and build a cultural support for it. There’s no such thing as bad feedback. If you find people are fearful to ask for feedback from clients; or feel they don’t have access to clients – then focus instead on just getting feedback.
Set a goal. Perhaps everyone should get feedback once a week. Sound like a lot? How many different people do your employees interact with in a year? If they got feedback from peers, clients, vendors, managers, subordinates - anyone they work with – they could probably find at least 25 different people in a year. That’s asking each person only twice a year for feedback.
To get started, let them decide who to ask; just require that they do ask at a certain rate. Track how often people ask for feedback – make that the measuring point starting out. It’s easy to manage, clearly defined, and will give a broad dose of constructive input to each employee.
After several months of gathering feedback, your teams should be comfortable with the idea. In fact, most will have experienced many successes. Praise and reward these successes. Support the challenges and make a safe environment for identifying areas to improve.
Now that you have a culture of feedback awareness, you can focus on more specific goals with your feedback program. Direct more feedback towards clients in a systematic, phased approach. Leverage feedback to identify training needs, or to promote effective leaders. Incorporate feedback into more specific, broader quality assurance systems. Whatever your long-range goals are, they’ll be easily achieved once you have the feedback engine running.
The point is to start with something easy to measure, that will quickly effect behavior. Getting your team used to just asking is a great first step.
Posted on September 29th, 2010 View Comments
Do you ever wish for an easy way to be better than the competition? How about an ethical way to “cheat” your way to being the best?
I had a great conversation about client feedback with Lee Frederiksen, Managing Partner at Hinge Marketing. Lee is a behavioral psychologist by education, and has helped many architects, engineers, and other professional services firms engage their clients to build their brand and markets. During our conversation, he was reminded of a story where one group within an organization was accused of “cheating” because they kept winning performance awards. You can read the whole story on Hinge’s Blog. I’ve excerpted below:
As it turns out, [the winning group] had simply adopted the practice of handing out a rating form each time they performed a service and encouraging the recipient to fill it out. This simple practice had an amazing effect. It turned an intermittent system of feedback into one that provided almost continuous feedback to the professional providing the support. In short, they knew that each interaction counted. They suddenly became more “helpful” and it showed in their evaluation ratings.
What happened is a typical result of what we’ve seen with our clients who deploy our Client Feedback Tool within their organization. By engaging everyone in the process of collecting feedback, everyone becomes more aware of their performance – knowing it will be measured. By collecting feedback from clients during projects (not just after they’re done), those doing the work naturally begin to perform better for clients.
Feedback works to change performance. Decades of well-controlled behavioral research clearly shows that it does so under the right conditions. For example, feedback has to be frequent, timely, and objective.
So, how do you “cheat” and become better than your competitors in an unfair way? It’s really pretty easy. Collect feedback when you can do something about it (i.e., before the project is over). Get feedback as soon as you’ve just performed some work, while memory of it is fresh. Ask questions that are specific and focused on what was just delivered. Most importantly, have the people doing the work ask for the feedback! This is the quickest way to assure each person working for your clients is focused on the clients’ needs, and aware of his performance.
When you have an entire firm of client-focused professionals, working to meet each client’s specific needs, there will be no contest between you and the competition.
Posted on September 23rd, 2010 View Comments
DesignFacilitator’s Mike Phillips will be moderating today’s 2:30 Panel discussion
“Keeping Your Clients Happy and Loyal.”
Conference attendees can also visit the Client Feedback Tool table to learn more about the tool and what it can do to increase the prosperity of your A/E firm.
PSMJ’s Circle of Excellence represents the top 20% of firms participating in PSMJ’s Financial Performance Survey that achieve the best overall business performance in the A/E industry. This distinction is awarded based upon a combination of 13 performance benchmarks that measure business operations in terms of profitability, growth, cash flow, overhead control, business development, project performance, and employee satisfaction.
For more information on PSMJ, and their Circle of Excellence Awards and Conference visit PSMJ Resources, Inc.
Posted on September 18th, 2010 View Comments
I recently accompanied an architect on a visit to a renovation project, to meet with his client. As we walked around the building discussing options for what do, the architect stopped and picked up a gum wrapper – without a hitch in the conversation. As we walked past the next trash receptacle, he threw the wrapper away. Later, on the other side of the building, he did the same thing with a cigarette butt.
The architect never said anything or made a show of what he did. Just very subtly “cleaned up” when he saw something needing attention. At the time, I didn’t really think anything of it.
Later, he gathered feedback from the client using our Client Feedback Tool, and one of the comments said this:
Thanks for taking care of my building. You even stopped to pick up trash. That’s not what I am hiring you to do, but it showed me you really care. Thanks for going the extra mile, and looking for ways to make the project better.
When I talked to the architect later about this feedback, he shared: ”That’s why I do these things. I always look for ways to improve what my clients hire me to work on. Even things that aren’t in my scope of work – if I can identify an area where I can help, it creates more value. It helps me become my client’s expert.”
You may be doing a dozen little extra things for your clients that you aren’t even aware of how much value they bring. How do you identify which pack the most punch? As you think of new ways to help and add value, are you measuring the results to confirm the extra efforts are creating additional success?
Start looking for ways to help – even little ones – then ask for feedback. You may be amazed at the results, and the added value you create with your clients.
Posted on September 1st, 2010 View Comments
One of my guilty pleasures is making sure I catch Scott Adams’ Dilbert cartoon every morning. Today’s is genius (at least, for those of us in the business of feedback). In three panes, Adams succinctly captures the challenges and pitfalls of so many efforts to collect feedback.
Anonymous surveys that collect demographic or statistical information can be very useful. However, surveys collecting feedback – particularly when that feedback about a service – are challenged greatly when attempted anonymously.
Fundamentally, the goal of collecting feedback is to understand his unique preferences and adjust your processes to fit his style accordingly. Feedback of this nature is inherently personal and unique. Providing a service (whether it be managing employees like the Pointy Haired Boss, or providing engineering expertise to a client) is not just a technical proposition. Services are provided by people to people. And since we’re all different and have individual preferences and approaches, there is no one-size-fits-all methodology.
Understanding this concept unveils the first challenge of anonymous feedback. When no name is attached to the feedback, it can’t directly benefit the respondent. When you receive anonymous feedback, and 99 out of 100 people love the way you do something, how much effect does the one dissenter have on your approach? You aren’t going to change everything for one person. However, if you knew who that one person was, you could adjust the process just for him (assuming it made business sense to do so).
Secondly, anonymous feedback demonstrates real challenges with trust. The respondent can’t trust you to actually do anything about the feedback given (because, after all, you don’t know who gave it). Or, he doesn’t trust the actual anonymity of the feedback. With all the tracking and tricks of technology today, how often do you really believe your anonymous feedback is truly a secret? Worse, what if you ask for feedback anonymously, and (without trying to) you figure out who gave challenging information. Now, you really want to respond, and fix the problem – but doing so is going to violate the “trust” you offered the client by offering an anonymous survey in the first place.
But what about the good anonymity provides? Won’t my clients be more honest?
Actually, you can get great, honest feedback, and get more of it – if the right person asks the right questions – to the right person at the right time. Therein lies the challenge of building a great feedback process. The most important aspect of collecting feedback from clients is to be sure the feedback is about the client – not about you. If you collect feedback in a manner that unveils the client’s preferences, and you respond by specifically helping the client more according to his expectations, trust is created. When you prove to the client that feedback matters, and that you act upon it, there is no need for anonymity to get honest feedback.
That is the paradigm where the healthiest relationships are developed and were lasting client loyalty is built.
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 May 27th, 2009 View Comments
Budget overruns, price negotiations, and zero-dollar line items. We’ve all done them, and if not, they’ve been asked for. Enjoy this little video for the next two minutes, and then come back for more:
Sorry for the cliche, but in “these tough times” everyone is angling for a discount. Thin margins are being attacked. How do you respond?
Consumers of professional services rely on your fear of rejection when they engage in discount games. What if I say no? Will I lose my client? What if he goes to my biggest competitor? These questions, in the heat of negotiation, often lead to reduced or eliminated profits – and worse, the loss-leaders.
What’s missing is information. Information you NEED to know to make good decisions. Fear comes from NOT knowing what your client thinks and feels about the services you provide. Fear leads to irrational, emotional decisions that erode profits, and ultimately reduce the long-term perceived value of what you provide.
Feedback, collected frequently and consistently, will let you KNOW what your client thinks. You can be confident to what level he VALUES your services. There may be clients who legitimately feel like they got less than they expected – but most are simply negotiating. With 50% margins, negotiation might be okay. But that’s typically not the case. A 10% discount will most likely lead to 50% of your profit evaporating before your eyes.
Start asking for feedback early in the relationship. Continue asking throughout the project lifecycle. Then, when the invoices go out, and negotiation begins, you know where you stand. You may still choose to drop your price – but most likely you will feel confident that it’s not needed. After all, you met or exceeded expectations consistently, so why should you?