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 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 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 September 21st, 2009 View Comments
I blogged about the Johari Window a few months ago here. In summary, the Johari Window is a very simple and quick exercise that any two (or more) people can engage to give and receive feedback quickly, simply, and openly. I’ve recently come across two online implementations that are fun and easy to use.
For those social media fans out there, you can use the Facebook application to share feedback with your friends and associates. What you might learn about yourself is worth the effort.
If you don’t do the Facebook thing, you can use a stand-alone web version. No registration or hoops required, but it takes a bit more work to invite others to participate.
If you haven’t already, experiment with the Johari Window with some friends, family, and/or coworkers. After filling out the form and comparing notes, a discussion to understand the results may prove even more enlightening.
Ask for and give feedback daily!
Posted on August 31st, 2009 View Comments
Client Feedback Tool subscribers often ask what they can do to get people to respond to feedback requests. In this article, I offer some tips you can use to improve your response rate. In Part I, I addressed what you could do to prepare the recipient before you send the feedback request. In Part II, I will discuss techniques you can apply while creating and following up on the survey.
Many factors affect the likelihood of a recipient responding to your feedback requests. The factors include, but are not limited to, the recipient’s
· Quantity of received email
· Reaction to the email subject line
· Perception of the time and effort required to reply
· Perceived benefits of answering your request (Will it really make a difference?)
· Ability to remember to complete the survey later if it cannot be finished now
Sending the Survey
· Pick the right time
You might have looked at the list above and thought, “I cannot control the quantity of email my client receives.” That is true; but you can control when your survey invitation arrives. Consider how much email, especially spam, you receive between Friday afternoon and Monday morning. On a busy Monday morning, is one of your priorities answering feedback requests in your inbox? Our most experienced and successful Client Feedback Tool subscribers confirm that although it is often easiest to send surveys on a Friday afternoon, surveys sent between Monday afternoon and Thursday morning result in significantly higher response rates. We recommend sending surveys about 10 AM local time on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday.
· Make it stand out
Your survey invitation subject line should be simple and clearly identify that this is important information. One very effective technique is to start the subject line with the name of the project. Few people will trash an unopened email if the subject is one of their projects. The Client Feedback Tool makes this easy for you by automatically inserting the project name into the subject line of the survey invitation.
· Make it personal
By default, The Client Feedback Tool’s survey invitation email states that the feedback is important. Of course, this cannot match the sincerity of a short personal statement from you explaining why the recipient’s feedback is important to you— that it really does matter. You might also mention that the survey only takes about two minutes to complete.
· If the recipient does not reply
There are many reasons why a recipient may not initially reply. Misdirected mail, time constraints, forgetfulness, apprehension, the list goes on. What can you do about it? Follow Up! Let him know that his feedback really is important. Call or email him; or send him a reminder through the Client Feedback Tool. Chances are that after the first time, he will realize that his feedback really is an important part of your process.
· If the recipient does reply
Ironically, the correct action if the recipient does reply is the same as above— Follow Up! Let him know that you appreciate his response. If his response identified an issue or concern, that is OK— you have learned how to improve your process and his perception of it. If the response praised your efforts, thank him for the feedback. In either case, you have reinforced to the recipient just how important the feedback was to you.
We all understand that an open, bidirectional flow of information is in your best interest and that of your clients. The Client Feedback Tool is an essential conduit through which that information flows. In order to enjoy the most successful exchange of information through that conduit, consider employing the tips we presented:
Prepare your recipient. Before you send the survey, explain to him it that it will help you help him.
Send your feedback invitation mid-week. Use the project name in the subject line. Add a personal note.
Always follow up! This reinforces your sincerity, increases the likelihood of future responses, and most importantly, it helps you become his most understanding service provider.
Posted on July 27th, 2009 View Comments
I’ve already written once about the survey methods of the car dealerships/manufacturers (see Blog Entry “What Did You Expect?“) but I have to bring it up again. To keep from distracting you with my particular choice in a car, let’s just call it a Yugo.
This time, the manufacturer sent me an email with a subject line “Please share your thoughts on your new Yugo GV.” This subject shows that the sender knows exactly who I am and what I have purchased. Yet, they proceeded to ask which features I have on the vehicle, what type of vehicle it is, the cost of the vehicle, and how I financed it. They also asked me for the total number of men, women and children in the household. After I selected “1″ the survey still asked me to indicate the number of: children under 6, children 6-12, and children 13-17. Didn’t I just answer that?
My point is not just to rant (though I do enjoy ranting), but to point out that people collecting feedback sometimes ask questions that they already know the answer to. This comes across to clients as though you do not value their time and you don’t care enough to consider the information you already have before asking more questions. Let your clients know that their time and feedback is important to you by asking only relevant, specific questions. Ideally, their answers will provide valuable new information you can use to improve your service to that very client. Isn’t that why we ask for feedback in the first place?
Posted on June 18th, 2009 View Comments
DesignFacilitator subscribers often ask what they can do to get people to respond to feedback requests. Many factors affect the likelihood of a recipient responding to your feedback requests. The factors include, but are not limited to, the recipient’s
- Quantity of email in the inboxes
- Email service and manager’s spam settings
- Reaction to the email’s subject line
- Perception of the time and effort required to reply
- Discomfort answering questions they may think are about you personally
- Perceived benefits of answering your request (Will it really make a difference?)
- Ability to remember to complete the survey later if it cannot be finished now
In this article, I will offer some tips you can use to improve your response rate. First, I will address what you can do before you send the feedback request. In Part II, I will discuss principles you can apply while creating and following up on the survey.
Prepare the Recipient
Your client comes in Monday morning and the phone is already ringing. She answers the phone and pulls up her emails. Twelve new emails and another 23 in the junk mail (possible spam). She quickly scans the spam and almost instinctively asks: Does it appear safe? Did I expect it? Does it have a believable benefit? Do I want to see this? If the answer to any question is “No”, she deletes the message.
What if one of those discarded emails was your feedback request? To prevent your survey from winding up in the Trash folder, talk to your recipient before sending the request!
- Regardless whether you talk face-to-face, by telephone or via email; preparation or ‘pre-notification’ is critical. Use whichever format you desire, but be sure to let them know the survey is coming. That way, even if it was misdirected to their junk mail box, they will recognize it as valid business mail.
- People are often just as uncomfortable giving personal feedback as they are asking for it. That is why DesignFacilitator’s surveys are about your process, not about you. Explain this to your recipient ahead of time to help ease any apprehension he may have about telling you about you.
- Your recipient may have experienced surveys that branched to more questions, or said they contained five questions and in actuality, each question contained multiple questions. DesignFacilitator’s surveys typically take 2 – 3 minutes to answer. They do not ‘branch’ to additional questions. A question is one question, period. Your recipient will always know the number of questions up-front.
- You might explain that this is NOT a sampling survey sent to thousands of people. It is a specific request to evaluate the services you provided to that person so that you can fine-tune your process to best satisfy his needs. Although you cannot pay for his response or offer a chance to win $5,000, the incentive you offer is even more valuable: a designer or consultant whose process is tailored to the client’s needs.
In Part II, we will discuss concepts and actions you can apply while sending and following up on the feedback request.