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Client Surveys: A Valuable Tool in a Slow Market

 

In the face of a still-sluggish economy, most businesses count client retention among their top priorities. We all want to treat our clients well. We talk with employees about client relationships and about client expectations. But far too often, companies exhort staff to serve clients without asking clients what they think, and staff are shielded from client comments, good and bad.

If you shop online, you are accustomed to seeing merchant and product ratings, and you probably seek them out. Most internet shoppers have been queried by e-mail to rate their experience with a recent purchase. We are asked to judge straightforward transactions, most of which are conducted without direct human contact.

Can similar feedback be useful for businesses where projects are of longer duration, and personal relationships are key?

And how can they be adapted to work for AEC-oriented companies?

A well-implemented feedback system can be an effective component of an overall client communication strategy. Just asking for feedback demonstrates professionalism and commitment. One might expect to:

  • stimulate dialogue with clients;
  • identify opportunities for improvement;
  • engage staff;
  • track staff patterns and improve results;
  • create a client-centered culture;
  • identify references and collect testimonials.

There are many ways to obtain feedback. An outside consultant can conduct in-depth client surveys on the firm’s behalf; an individual of the firm can conduct telephone or face-to-face interviews; the firm can mail or e-mail survey questionnaires.

When a key manager or firm principal interviews clients using open-ended questions, the benefits go beyond getting the client to open up. The client feels valued, and the manager can follow up as needed. Though labor intensive, this type of survey allows a skilled interviewer to discover a client’s perceptions of the firm’s competitors, uncover possible new opportunities for work, and follow other threads as they arise.

To collect frequent, actionable feedback, many firms employ front line surveys, led by the technical professionals with direct client contact. In addition to post-completion, surveys may be sent at other milestones: after an important presentation or meeting; just after project startup to assess the contracting process; at periodic intervals during an ongoing project. Asking for the client’s buy-in at project startup may increase the response rate.

What kinds of questions should you ask?

  • In addition to questions about results – quality of the product or service, timeliness of delivery – it is important to ask about the client’s experience
  • How well do you communicate; how responsive are you; how easy is it to do business with you?
  • Ideally, you will also provide a way for the client to offer free-form comments, as well. Results and experience questions allow you to track responses over time, and to identify areas of concern. A word of caution – if you ask the question, you must respond to all low scores.
  • Finally, many surveys now incorporate the “ultimate question” – “How likely is it that you would recommend (Company) to a friend or colleague?”
    This question is designed to identify people who are your “promoters” or “detractors.“

Implementing a survey program can be quite time consuming but rewarding at the same time. The mechanics of the survey – sending the survey, compiling numerical data – are simplified with the use of widely available survey tools. In addition to generic internet-based tools available (Survey Monkey, Constant Contact, and many others), there are many industry-specific products, and consultants who can create customized surveys for you.

Koontz-Bryant has surveyed clients in several ways over the years. We found that our clients by and large had good things to say about us, and that there were a few areas in which we could improve. We have been regularly using the Client Feedback Tool created by DesignFacilitator for the past year. The tool is working well, and systematically allows us to collect valuable feedback and generate compelling client testimonials. We are able to look at our business from our client’s perspective, which encourages us to make positive improvements to our services and operation. This in turn allows us to grow despite a sluggish market.