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Where Are We On Client Feedback Approaches?

post # 380 — May 23, 2007 — a Client Relations post

Along with hundreds of other consultants, I have advocated (literally for decades) that firms should have programs for systematic client feedback. However, these are not as simple to design and implement as one would like.

One thing that needs to get clarified right up-front is the purpose of getting client feedback. If it is a sincere effort at continuous improvement in quality and client satisfaction, then one would do different things than if it is a marketing exercise run by the marketing department (as it still is in some firms.)

As a third purpose, some firms try to design feedback systems to obtain input to the firm’s compensation scheme. The problem with this is that instead of the positive “let’s learn” aura surrounding the scheme, the client feedback can quickly turn into a negative “gotcha” system, perceived by the firm’s people as adverse and something to be suspicious of.

There are lots of alternatives out there on how firms get client feedback. First, when is it done? Mid-engagement, or at the end? Doing it in the middle allows for course-correction, but influences, positively or negatively, the engagement relationship itself.

Second, there’s the question of who obtains the feedback. Is it the lead service provider on the assignment? The marketing director? A third-party research firm? Retired partners/ senior executives?

Third is the question of coverage: do you try to get feedback on all work or just a sample? (The answer to this one depends on your purpose, of course. If you’re trying to use it as input to a compensation scheme, then you probably need broad coverage.)

Finally, there is the question of the medium you use to contact clients and get the feedback. Among the choices are personal visits, phone calls, on-line surveys, e-mails, mailed questionnaires.

My question to all of you out there is: what’s the state of play in 2007? Are firms having success with different kinds of client feedback approaches than they did in previous years?


Susan Martin said:

Obviously, the best time to ask for a testimonial is at the point which a client has just gotten a great result, but I believe if you really want to ensure that clients are happy and getting what they need; you must get feedback on an on-going basis, throughout the relationship.

If the person who works most closely with the client encourages on-going feedback from the very beginning, it sets up an environment where the client feels more comfortable letting them know how things are going for the life of the relationship. This way, services can be tweaked along the way to give them the most value, mis-understandings can be prevented and it can help offset any negative feelings that crop up when problems occur.

posted on May 23, 2007

R. Stipe said:

We implemented a program a few years ago where we included a short questionnaire with our invoices. We tried to make it very easy – less than a couple of minutes to complete, refold the page to close (staple or tape) and the return address was exposed ready to go. All it needed was a stamp. We expected that by sending with the invoice that some of these questionnaires would get stuck in the A/P department, or that not providing return postage would lessen our returns, but decided these were acceptable compromises. We did receive some isolated complaints from a small number of contacts within our largest client, that they didn’t like our repeated requests for feedback.

For a segment of our client base we decided to only send the questionnaires once per quarter and once we received one back we wouldn’t send another for the remainder of the year. We did not keep count on the number of questionnaires sent each month but in the first 18 months our returns were pretty good. Now however, they have dwindled to almost zero. I curious if others have experienced similar results, and whether there is a need to change the questionnaire questions on a regular basis.

posted on May 23, 2007

Nancy said:

I agree with susan. There should be constant interaction between you and the client inorder to know what they think in times of despair. It doesn’t have to be good all the time. Otherwise, there is definitely a problem.

posted on May 24, 2007

Sameer Panchangam said:

My thoughts on Client feedback would revolve around 2 aspects:-

1. If the service is good:

The response on most occasions come out and would get to know about it thru small emails, maybe on IM as well. And clearly indicate with re-order.

2. If the service isnt up to the mark:

On most occasions, the relation is mostly just about ok, more like a “lets get this done with” sort of impression.

posted on May 24, 2007

Sameer Panchangam said:

This is very similar to a relation between a Manager and his reportees.

The people who report to you are always your customers.

If the way you provide your service is Enthusiastic, Exciting… then definitely (you bet!) you are gonna get feedback. You dont even would have to send out a mailer/form (whatever!). They would automatically send a note or IM you to tell how fantastic the service has been!

posted on May 24, 2007

Matt Mason said:

Twice in the past four years I’ve put together an engagement survey based on what was recommended in “Managing the Professional Services Firm” – because we’re a geographically distributed firm, this was my opportunity to get direct feedback from remote clients as well as other stakeholders inside our clients about their impression of our performance. In both cases, the survey itself was collected via a project-specific website, but we tried different approaches to requesting the client’s feedback.

The first go around, I had to do it all myself – and it eventually died from lack of response (perhaps 20% response rate – which, while interesting, wasn’t enough to motivate me to spend the required time on it).

The second go around, I had access to our corporate customer advocate (someone whose purpose was primarily to survey the customers of our product-side business – but who was happy to participate in the professional services side). She was able to get the response rate to about 45% through callls and e-mails – putting a human voice on survey communication. Unfortunately, the position has recently been eliminated at corporate – so we’re back to nothing.

So it’s not a happy story – it makes me feel like a “Fat Smoker” who has fallen back off the wagon again (with the help of the local culture).

I will say that at least for our company, we had to devote a not-insignificant amount of energy to get client contacts to respond. For better or worse, I did not have our consultants talking with the client about the survey during the project. I always have felt that while it may increase the response rate, the likelihood that it may alter the results to something that does not necessarily reflect pure performance. Whether it was our consultant influencing or gaming it – or the customer somehow holding it over the consultant – this seemed undesirable.

I hope to “get back on the wagon” soon, and give it another go.


posted on May 24, 2007

David (Maister) said:

The question I was trying to pose was not about whether a firm should collect client feedback, but HOW. There’s a “program design” issue here for organizations that goes beyond what sole practitioners can and should do.

In recent years, most of my clients have stopped using questionnaires and emails, because (as noted above) clients are bombarded with these things and have stopped responding. Accordingly, most systematic client feedback approaches are based on visits and phone calls.

However, it is my opinion that very few of them currently work as ture quality improvement or continuous learning programs. They have become a token gestufre, not a sincere desire to get better.

posted on May 25, 2007

Greg Krauska said:

David, I like to focus on priorities and extremes. I am brought in as a third party to seek input from the customer, either with or without the client present. On the priorities side, I think it is important to uncover the top priority issues in the room, whether good or bad, now or future. When the supplier arranges sessions with 10 clients who hate them and 10 who absolutely love them (extremes), mining the lessons from these exchanges yields incredible value.

posted on May 26, 2007

Irene said:

We must consider feedbacks as our way of developing our weakness and avoid sitting around doing nothing about it.

It’s indeed hard to face feedbacks everyday, but it’s a part of development. Busnisses wouldn’t succeed without complains.

posted on May 28, 2007

Nikhiel Sawhney said:

Feedback is essential at every stage of an engagement. Critical milestones whould be set and feedback should be sought at the end of each milestone. Early feedback sets the tone for an engagement and is a great tool for problem solving and getting on the right track.

I agree with David when he highlights how feedback has become more of a gesture than actually a tool for learning. With questionaires we’re asking clients to rate the problems as we see it. For a feedback to be effective it is imperative that we capture the client’s point of view, identify metrics and work towards effectively achieving the same.

I guess it’s all about maintaining Client Relationships at all levels. Feedback should be at all levels to get a holistic view of performence. Phone calls, emails, visits are the best way to gain perspective into the progress of an engagement.

posted on May 30, 2007

Matt Mason said:


I agree with you that during the engagement it’s all about Client Relationships – and that phone calls, e-mails and visits are great ways to get a holistic view of performance on a specific project.

But isn’t that at odds with what you said about identifying metrics? Don’t you need more structure than that in order to “learn” what we’re not doing well at an aggregate level?

The survey concept is not about a specific engagement- it’s about having a structured method for collecting consistent data at the end of each engagement to build the larger picture of where you need to improve. And you also had a good point about the “point of view” – the survey questions have to be crafted to reflect the client’s view of the engagement.

posted on May 30, 2007

Nikhiel Sawhney said:


This brings us back to the “Program Design” issue. How to design the most effective survey. The only problem I have with a survey is that there isn’t enough two way communication, it’s difficult to interpret results and would more or less require further clarification.

It does provide a lot of information, but how much does it contribute towards improving quality and learning at all stages of an engagement? Don’t we need something more to supplement a Survey?

posted on May 30, 2007